Durham News

Durham city manager responds to police racism claims

City Manager Tom Bonfield released his long-awaited response to alleged racism in the Durham Police Department on Monday in a 131-page document posted on the city website.

The response ( bit.ly/1v9LC6H) addresses each of the 34 recommendations the city’s Human Relations Commission submitted in May, after a six-month investigation concluded “racial bias and profiling (are) present in the Durham Police Department practices.”

Bonfield also responded to 10 recommendations from the city’s Civilian Police Review Board.

Among the commission recommendations were requiring written consent forms for traffic-stop searches, which Bonfield has endorsed.

“The Durham Police Department will begin requiring Written Consent to Search forms for all consent searches of premises and investigative encounters,” his report says. “Consent searches associated with vehicle stops will require documentation by audio or video recording, or written or verbal consent.”

The commission also recommended independent, quarterly analysis of traffic-stop data and regular psychiatric evaluations of police personnel.

Bonfield responded that the Police Department is now to provide an analysis to the city manager semi-annually, but leaves its preparation within the department. As for the psychiatric evaluations, he responded that the city administration “finds no basis to support the recommendation.”

Concluding his executive summary, Bonfield wrote:

“It is the City’s desire that this review and the (city) Administration’s recommendations signal the repairing and re-building of a trusting relationship between the Police Department and all segments of the Durham community.”

Bonfield will formally present his response at the City Council’s Thursday work session. Before the response was posted Monday, Councilman Steve Schewel said he was pleased that Bonfield “has spread a wide net” in preparing his response to the commission proposals.

Besides meeting with community groups, Schewel said, “he has also reached out to city managers and police chiefs around the state, and outside the state to try to find ways in which other police departments and cities are dealing with some of the issues raised in the Human Relations Commission report.”

Bell said he would be willing to hear public comment after Bonfield’s presentation Thursday, but doesn’t expect the council to take immediate action.

The commission’s report and Bonfield’s response come at a time when multiple events over more than a year have called Durham police actions into question:

• A deputy police chief is suing the city, Police Chief Jose L. Lopez and Bonfield, claiming he was passed over for promotion because he complained about racist attitudes and behavior in the department.

•  Police are investigating whether an officer violated department policy in pursuit of a suspected drug trafficker who hit an oncoming car, killing himself and the other driver, on Aug. 1.

•  In July, Lopez said the department had begun an internal review on its handling of the 2008 homicide of Abhijit Mahato after the acquittal of suspect Laurence Lovette left questions about the quality of the investigation.

•  Police are investigating a claim that officers, following department policy, have lied about responding to 911 calls when trying to serve domestic violence warrants.

•  In June, Officer Samuel Duncan was suspended without pay for 40 hours and required to take remedial training in the handling and transporting of prisoners, due to his failure to follow proper procedure after arresting teenager Jesus Huerta on a trespassing warrant in November 2013; Huerta died of a gunshot wound police say was self-inflicted, while handcuffed in the back seat of Duncan’s patrol car.

•  In May, Chief District Court Judge Marcia Morey dismissed charges of resisting, delaying and obstructing an officer after seeing video of the officer using undue force on a man he had stopped for running a red light on a bicycle.

•  In April, police announced seven department employees, including six sworn officers, were disciplined for keeping parts of confiscated firearms that had been ordered destroyed, Chief Jose Lopez said.

• In December 2013, police used tear gas to break up a memorial gathering for Jesus Huerta. Police said officers acted only after some members of the crowd threw rocks and firecrackers at them, but some witnesses and participants said no objects were thrown and the gathering was peacefully disbanding when police acted.

•  In August 2013, Lopez was accused of saying that a bystander wounded in a drive-by shooting deserved it because the bystander was a public defender. The bystander was not, in fact, a public defender, and Lopez later said he did not remember making the remark although “someone may have” and apologized.

•  In July 2013, Officer R.S. Mbuthia fatally shot Jose Adan Cruz Ocampo, 33 a suspect in a non-fatal stabbing. The incident prompted complaints of undue force, but after the State Bureau of Investigation concluded that Ocampo was holding a knife in a threatening manner when he was shot, District Attorney Leon Stanback announced there were no grounds for legal action against Mbuthia.