In an interview, Police Chief C.J. Davis said her department would not have warned that a white supremacist march might be on its way to Durham last month because the information was not credible.
Sheriff Mike Andrews’ decision to alert community leaders led to the closure of the courthouse, a gathering of hundreds of people downtown Aug. 18 and multiple arrests.
But after a presentation to the City Council on Thursday, Davis said law enforcement never had credible information indicating white supremacists were coming.
“I would never send out information on one call,” she said in the interview. “We get calls all the time. We get three calls sometimes.”
Groups don’t rally without chatting about it, and there was no chatter about people coming to Durham, Davis said. When police do hear something they contact federal partners to get additional information, she said.
“We just shouldn’t have those kind of knee-jerk reactions to information,” Davis said. “We’re professionals with information. We know how to handle intelligence information. When information like that ends up in the hands with other individuals that don’t know what to do with it, they kick it out, and it turned into this thing.
“Basically, what happened, we weren’t responding to the KKK coming to Durham,” Davis said “We were responding to that fact that, OK, buildings are closed now. If you close your buildings, that is confirming that something is happening.”
Once that happened, Davis said, the Police Department had to deploy officers.
In a statement last month, Andrews said his department was still verifying the information when it shared it “as a courtesy and in an abundance of caution with key individuals.”
“Had my Office never said a word and the Klan never arrived, it would’ve been a normal Friday in the Bull City,” Andrews said. “Had it never given key leaders advanced warning and the Klan arrived, my Agency would've been criticized for being silent with prior knowledge, albeit unverified."
When asked directly, Davis said she wasn’t being critical of the county.
“I don’t want to say that either because I have to continue to work with county,” said Davis, who became the city’s top cop last year after working in Atlanta for 28 years. “My experience is my experience. My experience comes from big city. And if we respond every time somebody sends something, we would be utilizing resources on a daily basis.”
Still, her comments continue an ongoing debate about how law enforcement has handled recent protests, from the felonies facing protesters who toppled a Confederate statue downtown Aug. 14 to the charges against counterprotesters who responded to the rumored white supremacist march four days later.
In a presentation to the council, Davis said the Police Department spent nearly $25,137 to cover the Aug. 18 protest, including nearly $24,000 for overtime and related benefits.
County Manager Wendell Davis said the county put safety first.
“I think the sheriff’s job along with law enforcement is to exercise as much prudence as possible,” Wendell Davis said. “We had some intelligence. We acted on that intelligence and public safety was of the utmost importance. We exercised whatever prudence we had to exercise to make sure people were safe.”
He said the county is calculating how much it spent on policing the protest and related costs.
On Aug. 17, the county received information from an unknown source that the Sons of Confederate Veterans were planning a demonstration in Durham at the County Courthouse the next down around noon, according to Chief Davis’ presentation to the council.
The next day there was a joint law enforcement meeting at 7:45 a.m. where they attempted to verify the information.
“Even after we had that meeting, there was no additional information to support that anybody was coming to Durham,” Davis said.
In preparation for a possible event, the county activated the Emergency Operation Center and the Durham County Sheriff’s Office also activated a Unified Command center, according to the presentation.
Around 10 a.m. there was another law enforcement meeting to discuss how to handle counterprotesters.
Officials agreed the county would handle the area in front of the old courthouse, and the Police Department would handle outside of the area, Davis said.
The number of people who showed up with weapons caught law enforcement off guard, Davis said. Police identified 12 to 15 individuals openly carrying weapons, including a semi-automatic rifle, which Davis said she had never seen in her career.
There were conversations about the best way to handle those with weapons.
“A lot of folks think it’s best for people to jump right in and get the folks with the guns,” Davis said. “We would have had some serious problems if we would have done that.”
In a couple of instances, police did stop people from bringing weapons into the crowd, Davis said.
A state law makes it illegal to bring weapons to a demonstration, but the definition of demonstration isn’t specific.
Instead of using police resources to identify and arrest the individuals after the protest, the department wants to work with organizers to prevent weapons from being brought to future events, Davis said.
“We would like to have more discussion with our organizers on the front end, so that maybe we could help in some way to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Davis said. “Of course we have had internal conversations about how we plan to deal with it in the future.”
Sheriff Mike Andrews appreciated Davis’ calls for sending a message to the public that guns are unacceptable at a peaceful protest, said Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Tamara Gibbs.
The Sheriff’s Office has identified and charged at least three people with weapons violations since the event.