Durham facing 3rd possible lawsuit over city’s policing statement and Israel

City of Durham logo on the side of City Hall.
City of Durham logo on the side of City Hall. dvaughan@newsobserver.com

The Durham City Council’s 2018 statement opposing militarized policing that mentioned Israel has drawn its third legal complaint.

The North Carolina Coalition for Israel sent a complaint to interim City Attorney Kimberly Rehberg seeking a resolution before filing a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the city of Durham, all its City Council members, and Durham Human Relations Commission members Andrea M. Hudson, Diane Standaert, John Rooks and Mikel Barton.

In January, the Human Relations Commission decided not to ask the City Council to remove the reference to Israel in its April 16 statement opposing police training with foreign governments that engage in military-style policing.

The statement included part of a memo from Durham Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis in which she said the department has no exchanges with Israel. Jewish leaders and groups had spent several months calling on the council to revisit the statement and remove the word “Israel.” Mayor Steve Schewel, who wrote the statement endorsed by the rest of the Council, said he does not plan to revisit it.

Complaint plaintiffs are the N.C. Coalition for Israel, Kathryn Wolf, Rabbi Jerome Fox and Perri Shalom-Liberty. Since the Human Relations Commission’s decision, coalition members have addressed the council about anti-Semitism during meetings. Clifford A. Rieders of Rieders, Travis, Humphrey, Waters & Dohrmann, and D. J. O’Brien of Brooks Pierce are representing the plaintiffs.

The complaint claims the plaintiffs and city’s Jewish community “have been discriminated against based upon religion and nationality” because of the statement. If the city won’t negotiate within the next month, the coalition plans to file the suit in federal court, they said in a release from Rieders’ firm.

Interim City Attorney Kimberly Rehberg said Tuesday that she has seen the complaint and referred it to outside counsel.

“The City Council is not interested in having a pre-filing negotiation, so the case will just go into litigation,” Rehberg said.

This case and two previous lawsuits have been referred to Kennon Craver, a private law firm in Durham.

Two lawsuits already filed

In December 2018, a lawsuit was filed in Superior Court by Durham County resident Deborah Friedman claiming that Schewel’s emails from his personal email account to other City Council members violates open meetings law. Attorney Jonathan D. Jones of J.D. Jones Law in Durham is representing Friedman.

It followed another lawsuit filed in Superior Court in October by two Israeli volunteer police officers, Moshe Eyal and Itay Livneh, claiming the city’s actions violate a section of the North Carolina Constitution that says no one shall be discriminated against because of race, color, religion or national origin, The News & Observer previously reported.

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