Durham leaders face a second lawsuit about policing statement that mentioned Israel

A second lawsuit has been filed against Durham leaders over a City Council statement on militarized policing that had a reference to Israel.

A lawsuit filed in Superior Court by Durham County resident Deborah Friedman on Dec. 6 claims that Mayor Steve Schewel’s emails from his personal email account to other City Council members violates open meetings law. Attorney Jonathan D. Jones of J.D. Jones Law in Durham is representing Friedman.

On April 16, the Durham City Council endorsed a statement opposing militarized policing that included a reference to Israel in a memo from the police chief. At a work session meeting on April 5, Schewel introduced the policing statement, which the council voted unanimously to endorse after hours of public comment at the April 16 meeting.

The Friedman lawsuit includes two emails from Schewel sent to three council members each from his personal email address. The emails included the policing statement he wrote and a memo about policing from Police Chief C.J. Davis that is referenced in the statement.

Schewel is quoted from his email in the lawsuit telling council members that he “labored long and hard over it and I hope it meets your approval. My plan is to introduce it at the work session and put it on the agenda for council approval on April 16. I’m sure the public will want to discuss it then.”

The lawsuit claims that Schewel’s emails were an “electronic meeting” and that no public notice was given.

Another lawsuit was filed this fall related to the policing statement, too. That civil discrimination lawsuit was filed by two volunteer Israeli police officers against the City of Durham and Police Chief C.J. Davis.

A draft report of a Durham Human Relations Commission subcommittee about the policing statement says that Council members use personal email too much for city business instead of their council email addresses. The Human Relations Commission, an advisory board appointed by City Council, has not voted on the draft report yet. It may at its January meeting or later before making a recommendation to the council. The draft also says the statement caused tension in the community. Jewish leaders have called for the statement to be revised to exclude the reference to Israel.

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