Durham News

Charns: Forms show Durham police officer shot himself

Riley's attorney Charns: Lopez needs to go.

Alex Charns, attorney for Carlos Riley who was found not guilty of shooting a Durham police officer last week, says Durham Police Chief Lopez should be removed from office. Staff video by Chris Seward
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Alex Charns, attorney for Carlos Riley who was found not guilty of shooting a Durham police officer last week, says Durham Police Chief Lopez should be removed from office. Staff video by Chris Seward

The defense attorney for Carlos Antonio Riley released documents he says show a Durham police officer shot himself in a struggle during a traffic stop three years ago.

At a press conference Monday, attorney Alex Charns said the documents show the Durham Police Department intended from the start to pin the shooting on Riley despite what the evidence said.

“They knew the officer had his own weapon in his hand when it went off,” Charns said. “From the very beginning this was a case that shouldn’t have been prosecuted.”

A jury last week acquitted Riley of all but a robbery charge tied to the Dec. 18, 2012, traffic stop that left Officer Kelly Stewart with a gunshot wound to his right thigh.

Charns said law enforcement’s handling of the Riley case, which became a touchpoint in the community debate about alleged police bias, reflects a larger issue.

“If they did it to Carlos Riley, who else are they doing this to?” Charns said.

Charns released evidence that wasn’t introduced at trial, including a gunshot residue analysis information form filled out by Durham Police Department employee “M. Coble” about an hour and a half after the shooting.

The form included handwritten information about Stewart’s activity between the time of the shooting and the time of the gunshot residue collection, which stated the officer and suspect struggled in a car, with “1 shot fired by officer.”

The News & Observer provided a copy of the form to Police Department spokesman Wil Glenn on Friday afternoon. Glenn referred a reporter Monday to testimony during the trial. The form wasn’t introduced during the trial but was provided to Charns beforehand as part of the discovery process, in which the defense receives documents such police reports, statements and other evidence.

Reached at Monday night’s City Council meeting, Police Chief Jose Lopez said he had been too busy to review the document given to police Friday and that staff would look into the matter. He said he was not going to get into a debate with Charns.

Charns said he didn’t present the form during the trial because he didn’t want to lose the opportunity to have the first and last closing argument. In general, if defense attorneys don’t present evidence, they reserve the right to have the last word with the jury.

Charns also provided a Durham Police Department Forensic Service Unit Crime Scene Field Notes form filled out by a crime scene investigator “Jones” that stated a gun was taken from an officer during an altercation and that the officer “fired gun.”

DA’s office criticized

During the press conference, Charns also criticized the district attorney’s office for actions taken before and during the trial.

On Aug. 3, prosecutors requested an in-chambers meeting to discuss “whether Mr. Charns was ready to go forward with the trial,” according to notes Superior Court Judge James Roberson read in court last week.

The discussion, which included Charns, District Attorney Roger Echols and Assistant District Attorneys Stormy Ellis and Donya Strong, was moved to open court after Charns insisted it be put on the record.

Ellis expressed concerns about whether Charns was “in tune with the criminal rules and procedures,” Roberson said, reading his notes. Ellis asked the judge to remove Charns as counsel, or extend the trial until Charns familiarized himself with criminal procedure.

Charns, who has been an attorney for 32 years and has tried numerous cases alleging police misconduct, said he was “flabbergasted.” He said prosecutors were trying to put a wedge between him and his client.

Efforts to reach Echols for comment Monday were unsuccessful.

Durham County Public Defender Lawrence M. Campbell said he is unaware of other instances in which prosecutors asked that a public defender be removed.

“That would be a matter for the client to raise and not an assistant district attorney,” he said.

After the jury gave its verdict, Charns made a motion for sanctions against the prosecution citing that and other incidents, including not being given access to workers compensation documents that Charns said described the shooting as an accident.

Roberson denied the request for sanctions and numerous other requests for mistrials though out the trial.

Virginia Bridges: 919-829-8924, @virginiabridges