Foolhardy, at the least

Jan. 21, 2013 @ 04:18 PM

There is much that we don’t yet know about an incident early Friday involving three Durham police officers.

But what is known is disturbing.

The episode apparently started with the alleged theft from an unnamed club on Ninth Street of an iPhone, a wallet containing police identification and a coat.

Subsequently, several people apparently pushed their way into a residence in an effort to recover the property. Someone in that residence fled, was pursued to another home, and assaulted there, according to the police.

When police responded to calls at those homes, they arrested six people – three of them fellow officers.

Durham Police Lt. Ryan A. Freeman, Durham Police Officer Stacy L. Armstrong and Durham Police Officer Erin V. Espinola were charged with one count each of false imprisonment and assault. Armstrong also was charged with two counts of breaking and entering, and Freeman and Espinola were each charged with one count of breaking and entering.

The officers were off-duty when the incidents occurred.

Bear in mind that the incident is under investigation by the department’s Professional Standards Division, and perhaps some exculpatory explanation will emerge.  But Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez was fairly blunt.

“We wouldn’t have charged them if we didn’t believe the charges are true,” Lopez told The Herald-Sun’s Keith Upchurch Friday evening.  “We’re confident that the charges are true.”

Noting the officers were charged with misdemeanors, Lopez said he thought there was no “felonious intent.”

Based on the police account, the poor judgment of the officers involved was colossal.  Perhaps in a bit of excessive enthusiasm, they thought they could retrieve some lost or stolen items without any trouble, and underestimated how badly things would unfold.

But police officers above all should know that settling grievances this way can lead to no good end. And they certainly should understand – as we are confident the vast majority of Durham police do – that they are held to the highest standards of the law.

To the department’s credit, it has moved swiftly to deal with this. Lopez immediately put the officers on administrative leave and, he said, “they were stripped of their police powers.”

We look forward to a full explanation of the events when the department’s investigation is complete, and we expect that the department will redouble its efforts to assure that every officer understands the consequences of foolhardy actions.