Wake County prosecutor Colleen Janssen has resigned from the district attorney’s office after misconduct allegations arose over her handling of a drug-related shooting case in 2014.
In a brief statement issued by her attorney Friday, Janssen said she was stepping down in an effort “to put an end to the distraction that this inquiry has caused.” Janssen said she was proud of the work she had done during her decade at the district attorney’s office and had “always tried to conduct” herself in a “professional and ethical manner.”
Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman issued a statement saying she had accepted Janssen’s resignation but also appreciated her work over the span of her career.
“On behalf of the District Attorney’s office, we appreciate her commitment to serving the people of this county over the last ten years in hundreds of cases, and it is by the arc of this career that her work will be remembered,” Freeman said. “As prosecutors, we deal daily with tragedy and the unspeakable. No one knows this better than Colleen and her family who have paid a huge price. In our pursuit of justice and our zeal to protect our community, we must hold strong to our objectivity and guarantee to each defendant the benefit of his or her rights. Our office remains committed to honoring the public trust.”
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Janssen’s resignation comes nearly two weeks after Freeman suspended Janssen with pay to look into misconduct allegations detailed in a N.C. Court of Appeals ruling issued on June 21. The three-judge panel unanimously agreed to overturn robbery convictions for Bashiri Sandy and Henry Surpris.
Sandy and Surpris contended that they had been denied their right to a fair trial because Janssen urged a Raleigh police detective to delay bringing drug charges against her key witness in their case until after the men had been tried.
Janssen corresponded, through her personal email account, with the investigator who planned to bring drug charges against her key witness, according to the ruling, but failed to disclose information to defense attorneys who could have used it to raise questions about the prosecution during the robbery trial.
Sandy and Surpris were accused of stealing $1,153 and a ring from Marcus Shu-Aib Smith and shooting him afterward outside his home on Brook Knoll Place. At trial, Janssen contended that Sandy and Surpris went to Smith’s home, knowing he would have a large amount of cash because he was a “club promoter.”
Janssen disputed the defendants’ allegations that Smith was a marijuana dealer, though she had information from investigators that showed they had seized 150 pounds of marijuana from the place where he stashed his drugs two months before the trial of Surpris and Sandy, according to the appellate case.
At their trial in 2014, Sandy and Surpris said Smith was a marijuana dealer who had not come through with drugs they had purchased. Instead of going inside his home and disturbing his family to retrieve what they were owed, they said Smith gave the men the money and jewelry. They contended that Smith shot at them as they were leaving his home. They went to Rex Hospital for treatment of their gunshot injuries and were arrested after that.
“I am not disputing that the defense has the right, if they can put on that evidence at some point, but as of right now, the concept that Mr. Smith has an ongoing marijuana operation is not in evidence,” Janssen argued when the defendants put forward their allegations about Smith.
Smith was arrested after the robbery trial and convicted of drug trafficking charges.
In preparation for Smith’s trial, Janssen’s emails were discovered. One of them, from a Yahoo account, went from Janssen to the Raleigh detective investigating Smith on July 27, 2014.
“I am ... reaching out to you because Marcus Smith is the victim in a fairly nasty home-invasion case of mine that is set to go to trial in the very near future, so I’d like to talk to you a bit about it, as well as educate myself on what your investigation entails, before anything too much further happens,” Janssen wrote.
Freeman said Friday she did not plan to seek new trials for Sandy and Surpris.
The Court of Appeals ruling overturning the convictions was issued the same day that Kelvin Melton was convicted of orchestrating the kidnapping of Janssen’s father in 2014, while trying to exact revenge on Colleen Janssen. She had prosecuted Melton in 2012 in a case that led to him being declared a violent habitual offender and receiving a life prison sentence.
Federal prosecutors contended at the kidnapping trial that Melton, while in prison, had sent people by mistake to the Wake County home where Janssen lived. That’s when he was kidnapped.
It remains unclear whether the review of Janssen’s cases will have any impact on the Melton case.
Freeman said late last month that she expected the N.C. State Bar to review the misconduct allegations against Janssen.