Lawyer: Police used excessive force against Durham cyclist

May. 09, 2014 @ 08:13 PM

A local lawyer says he won a client’s exoneration this week after convincing Durham’s chief District Court judge that city police used “excessive force” against the man, breaking his arm in the process of arresting him.

The lawyer, Scott Holmes, told his Facebook followers that he possesses “outrageously offensive” video of the incident from a police cruiser’s in-car camera. He posted a still photo drawn from it that appeared to show an officer holding someone on the ground.

Holmes declined a request Friday from The Herald-Sun for a copy of the video, saying he plans instead to turn it over to the FADE Coalition for potential use in a news conference on May 22.

“My plan is to let them use the video,” he said, noting that the group also could turn it over to the City Council.

May 22 happens to be the council’s next opportunity to receive a report from Durham’s Human Relations Commission that, among other things, urges elected officials to give a civilian panel more authority to investigate complaints against police officers.

FADE is short for Fostering Alternatives to Drug Enforcement. The group is among those that have accused the Durham Police Department of racial profiling.

Police likewise declined a Herald-Sun request for the video. Deputy Police Chief Larry Smith said in-car camera recordings are normally considered the “record of a criminal investigation” and thus aren’t public record under state law.

Holmes identified his client as John Hill, a name corresponding to that of a man listed in court dockets as having been scheduled to appear Thursday to answer charges of resisting arrest and running a red light.

Hill, who is black, was pedaling a bicycle at the intersection of South Alston Avenue and East Lawson Street when the Sept. 28, 2013, incident happened, Holmes said.

The officer stopped Hill and accused him of running a traffic signal by entering the intersection while the light was red and continuing as it turned green, Holmes said.

Hill immediately denied having run the light, and the officer responded by noting he had a video camera in his car. Hill demanded to see the recording, but the officer told him to sit down.

When he didn’t, “the officer grabbed him by arm and slammed him to the ground,” Holmes said, identifying the officer only by his last name.

Holmes said Chief District Court Judge Marcia Morey heard the case on Thursday and ruled favorably on his motion to toss the case, on constitutional grounds, as having resulted from an unlawful arrest.

Morey couldn’t be reached for comment.

Several of Holmes’ Facebook followers urged him to file a federal civil-rights lawsuit against the city on Hill’s behalf. Those favoring that included David Hall, a Durham-based attorney who’s been working with the FADE Coalition and the related Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

Holmes himself said the officer involved “needs to be [criminally] prosecuted for assault inflicting serious injury.” He conceded, however, that such a prosecution is unlikely.

To another follower, Holmes also acknowledged that police have a difficult job.

“Our police face horrible choices and risks,” he said. “They feel like they have to handle every encounter with aggressiveness. This leads to a militarized police force that treats citizens as if they are an occupied population.”

Holmes is prominent locally for having represented people charged with violating the city’s panhandling laws, and people arrested in Raleigh during the NAACP-sponsored “Moral Monday” protests at the N.C. General Assembly.

He also has represented the family of Jose Ocampo, who died last summer after being shot by a city police officer.

Police say Ocampo was holding a knife and ignored orders to drop it. Ocampo’s family, however, maintains he was trying to hand the weapon to the officers.