Suspect in officer’s shooting sentenced to 10 years
A man whose family claims he’s a victim of racial profiling received a 10-year federal prison sentence in connection with the 2012 shooting of a Durham Police Department officer.
The sentence was the maximum Carlos Antonio Riley Jr., 22, could have received after pleading guilty to a count of being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Riley’s lawyer, Michael Archenbronn, has already served notice that he’ll appeal the sentence to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
“We got maxed out, so there’s no place to go but down,” Archenbronn said, alluding to the possibility that an appellate decision in Riley’s favor could cut his sentence. “It’s not like there’s any risk.”
Riley’s case stemmed from the December 2012 shooting of Officer Kelly Stewart, who suffered a leg wound but quickly returned to duty.
Accounts of what happened that day vary.
Riley’s family claims Stewart, working in plain clothes, stopped their kinsman’s car without cause and, enraged, attacked him. They allege Stewart shot himself in the leg as he was drawing his weapon.
But federal prosecutors told U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder a very different story.
They contend Stewart conducted a traffic stop, asking for and receiving Riley’s license and registration. He was standing next to the car, its door open, when the engine revved and the vehicle began moving forward.
Stewart ordered Riley to stop, held on to car as it traveled 175 to 200 feet, and finally reached inside and pulled the hand brake.
The officer and Riley then fought. Stewart pulled his pistol, but he and Riley ending up wrestling for control of it. As they did, the weapon fired.
Prosecutors stopped short of alleging Riley pulled the trigger. But they charged him because he took the gun and, by Stewart’s account, pointed it at the wounded officer.
Riley was a convicted felon at the time, on probation for a 2011 conviction in state court on charges of selling and possessing cocaine.
Federal prosecutors claimed jurisdiction over the case because Stewart’s pistol had been manufactured out of state.
Riley’s July 2013 plea deal specified that he accepted it “because he is, in fact, guilty.”
Schroeder wound up postponing sentencing in the case three times, in part because Riley and Archenbronn contested one prosecution claim that factored into the length of the potential maximum sentence.
“Our position was he did not commit a robbery against the officer,” Archenbronn said, adding that the possession-by-a-felon charge would normally carry only a three- or four-year sentence.
He added that Schroeder had given that argument a “careful and meticulous” review, ultimately disagreeing with the defense before pronouncing sentence on March 26.
There are more charges in the case pending against Riley in state court, but Archenbronn said he couldn’t shed any light on what may happen with them.
The Riley/Stewart affair was the first of a series of officer-involved shootings that have generated intense criticism of the Police Department.
Last year city police shot and killed two men, Jose Ocampo and Derek Walker. Ocampo had a knife in his possession, and Walker was in a standoff with officers downtown with a gun in his possession. Another incident followed in November, when 17-year-old Jesus Huerta died in police custody of what authorities say was a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
The Huerta case sparked a series of demonstrations that included the vandalism of police headquarters and a downtown substation.
Riley’s extended family includes a prominent civil-rights lawyer, Durham native Walter P. Riley, and a West Coast hip-hop star, Boots Riley. Both have spoken up on his behalf, Boots Riley taking to Facebook late in 2012 to appeal for help from “folks doing social-justice work in the Durham area to help us expose this case of a victim of police brutality.”
City officials in addition to dealing with the fallout of the shootings are also pondering their response to racial-profiling complaints lodged by groups including the local NAACP and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.