A family is relieved. A group of community members feels justified. And the city’s police chief is disappointed.
Those were the reactions Friday at the end of a court case that some in Durham saw as a result of police racial profiling. A jury found Carlos Antonio Riley not guilty of shooting a Durham police officer during a traffic stop three years ago.
Riley’s supporters claim that he was stopped because he was black and that the officer shot himself while trying to make an illegal search.
“Justice has been won today,” Patricia J. Riley, the defendent’s grandmother, said after the verdict.
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After nearly 10 hours of deliberating, jurors acquitted Riley of all but one of the charges against him after a 2012 stop left Officer Kelly A. Stewart, 29, with a bullet in the leg.
The jury of 10 men and two women found Riley not guilty of reckless driving and counts of assault on a law enforcement officer.
Instead of finding Riley guilty of the more significant crime of robbery with a firearm, they found him guilty of common law robbery for taking Stewart’s property.
Durham County Superior Court Judge James Roberson sentenced Riley to a minimum of four years and four months to a maximum of six years and eight months for the robbery, in addition to state charges of possession of a firearm by a felon. Riley had pleaded guilty to the latter charges before the trial.
Defense attorney Alex Charns said he plans to appeal.
In addition to Friday’s sentence, Riley was sentenced in February 2014 to 10 years after he pleaded guilty in federal court to possession of a firearm by a felon. He’ll serve the state time on top of the federal sentence.
Riley’s case became public three years ago after police announced they were searching for a service revolver and badge that belonged to Stewart, an investigator who has been on the force since 2007.
Stewart testified that he pulled Riley over because he was “fishtailing” down the road and that Riley shot him as the men struggled when Riley tried to leave the traffic stop.
Riley, now 24, was arrested later that day.
Three days later, Riley’s public defender said Stewart’s gunshot wound was self-inflicted.
By August 2013, Riley’s case was being held up as an example of racial profiling. Rallies demanding police accountability and community oversight were held across the city.
“This case is about race,” said Nia Wilson, executive director of SpiritHouse, a Durham-based community organizing and arts organization that participated in the rallies. “This trial should not have ever happened.”
Police Chief Jose Lopez released a statement Friday that said the department is “disappointed” with the verdict.
“We respect our justice system and the jury’s decision,” the statement said.
During the trial, prosecutors contended that Riley escalated the traffic stop by appearing nervous and then attempting to leave. When Riley started to leave, Stewart jumped into the car Riley was driving. During a struggle, Stewart lost his badge, handcuffs and gun, which Riley used to shoot him in his right thigh, Stewart testified. Then Riley threw him out of the car and took his personal cellphone, Stewart said.
The defense argues Riley was pulled over because he was black and that Stewart, who is black, didn’t call in the traffic stop because he didn’t want to increase his statistics on pulling over African-Americans. It maintains Stewart attempted to execute an illegal search and pulled the trigger during a struggle.
Jurors were instructed to find Riley guilty of assault on a law enforcement officer inflicting serious injury if it was proven that Riley assaulted Stewart by “intentionally inflicting a gunshot wound to the victim’s leg”; assault with a firearm on a law enforcement officer if it was proven that Riley attempted to do Stewart harm, pointed a gun at him or put him in fear of being harmed; and a second count of assault with a firearm on a law enforcement officer if it was proved that Riley took Stewart’s gun and shot him in the leg.
Karen Judd, Riley’s mother, said the family plans to celebrate.
“We are all going to gather together and celebrate that the truth has prevailed,” she said.