Durham County

Viral social-media post questions Durham police officers’ use of force

Sierra Dunne posted photos and text to Facebook questioning how a crash investigation led to a woman being forced to the ground and arrested in front of her 2-year-old son.
Sierra Dunne posted photos and text to Facebook questioning how a crash investigation led to a woman being forced to the ground and arrested in front of her 2-year-old son.

City officials want to know how a weekend crash investigation led to a woman being forced to the ground and arrested in front of her 2-year-old son.

A Facebook post described what happened after a car driven by Madeline Massey was hit by two cars on U.S. 15-501 around 11 a.m. Saturday. The three drivers pulled over to the side of the road. One car left, but the second, which included passengers UNC students Sierra Dunne and Suad Jabr, stayed and waited for police.

“One cop came, and after about 15 minutes, we had at least 10 law enforcement, mostly Durham police there to handle 5 people and a baby,” Dunne said in the post shared 1,300 times by Tuesday afternoon. “They forced a young black woman involved in the wreck to the ground (it supposedly took 2 large male cops to overpower a petite woman) and arrested her for drunk driving WITHOUT doing any tests first, even though it was her car who was hit by someone else.”

“(Madeline) Massey was arrested for no reason and her child was taken from her today after another car hit her and left the scene early,” Dunne’s post said. “She was hit twice by other cars and the Durham police violently arrested her for it.”

City Councilwoman Jillian Johnson emailed the post to City Manager Tom Bonfield, asking him to look into it. Councilman Steve Schewel said in an email to Bonfield that he agreed the incident needed to be investigated.

Bonfield said he spoke with Police Chief Cerelyn “C.J.” Davis, and the incident is being reviewed.

When Dunne and Jabr questioned officers’ actions, police threatened to charge them with a misdemeanor if they didn’t leave, Dunne and Jabr said in an interview.

Police spokesman Wil Glenn wrote in an email that Massey was charged with driving while impaired; two counts of resisting, delaying and obstructing officers; two counts of malicious conduct by a prisoner; misdemeanor child abuse; and assault on a law enforcement officer inflicting injury.

“Due to Ms. Massey’s agitated state on the scene (spitting, kicking), inability to follow directions, and aggressiveness toward officers, standardized field sobriety tests were not administered. She later refused a breathalyzer at the magistrate’s office,” Glenn wrote. Glenn said there is dash camera footage of the incident.

According to criminal records, Massey has a history of clashing with law enforcement and other officials, including a pending charge in Orange County which accuses her of trying to bite an officer.

But Dunne and Jabr, both 20, said Massey didn’t appear intoxicated and that officers escalated what was a calm situation and used excessive force.

Friend’s funeral

In an interview, Massey, 23, said she had picked up her son after spending a night at a motel the night before.

She and her friends were drinking at the motel Friday night after attending a funeral of a friend who died in a car crash. Massey said she had one beer and about three shots of Hennessy cognac. She stopped drinking around midnight, she said.

Massey, who was driving, picked up her 2-year-old from her aunt’s house around 10 a.m. Saturday. Massey, her brother and son were riding down U.S. 15-501 in the center lane when a car hit hers, pushing her car out of its lane. And then her car was hit by another car. Dunne said the fender bender occurred around 11 a.m.

The three cars pulled out of traffic. The driver of the first car that hit Massey’s car gave Massey her information and left. Dunne and Jabr, who were in the second car, stayed at the scene waiting for police.

“Everyone involved was super nice and we exchanged (contact) info,” Dunne’s social media post stated.

A police officer who arrived became agitated as he tried to sort out what happened, Massey and Jabr said. He separated the people in the two different cars.

Massey said she kept trying to explain that the first driver had left the scene, but he didn’t seem to believe her.

“I probably got a little out of tone. I don’t think that should have made him go that angry,” she said. “I was upset because he kept trying to make me feel like I didn’t know what happened.”

Massey said the officer asked whether she had been drinking because he smelled alcohol that she had spilled on her shirt. Massey told him she had been drinking the night before. The officer then “swooped her legs” with his feet and she “fell straight to my face,” she said.

Jabr said she couldn’t hear what was said, but she saw one of the officers trip Massey, and he and another officer put their hands on her and and were holding her shoulders and back. Massey is 5 foot 5 inches and weighs 120 pounds.

“I think I was just kind of a little shocked,” Dunne said.

Massey wasn’t aggressive, but it appeared she may have spit in the direction of the officers after she was handcuffed and before she was put in the car, Dunne said. Massey said she spit blood out of her mouth after her lip was cut during the incident, but not at officers.

Massey said her son was taken to the hospital and picked up by a friend of the family.

Posting bail

Massey said she didn’t refuse to do the breathalyzer at the jail but asked that a female officer be present. She was released around 7 p.m. Saturday on $21,000 bail.

Massey, who described herself as a full-time mother, said she used money she inherited from her grandmother to pay a bail bondswoman $1,000 and that she owes her another $1,000. She also paid $300 to retrieve her car after it was towed from the scene.

Criminal records indicate Massey has a history of clashing with law enforcement and other officials.

In 2010, Massey was charged with assault on a government official or an employee, resisting a public officer and assaulting a school employee or volunteer. The charges were dismissed as part of a deferred prosecution agreement, according to the records.

In 2011 Massey pleaded guilty to resisting a public officer in Orange County. In 2012 Massey pleaded guilty to assault on a school official Orange County.

In 2013, Massey pleaded guilty to resisting a public official in Orange County.

Massey also has a pending April 2016 charge in Orange County of assault on a government official or employee – the incident report says she tried to bite and kick the officer – and a March 2016 charge of fleeing and eluding arrest.

Efforts to reach Massey for further comment Tuesday were unsuccessful.

Community organizer Nia Wilson noted, however, that the witnesses said Massey was complying with officers who investigated Saturday’s crash.

“Having a charge against you for what a police officer considers noncompliance and whether you have actually broken the law are two different things,” said Wilson, executive director of the Durham nonprofit SpiritHouse.

Staff reporter Tammy Grubb and news researched Teresa Leonard contributed to this article.

Virginia Bridges: 919-829-8924, @virginiabridges

Body cameras

In November, the Durham City Council approved the purchase of 530 body cameras for Durham police officers. About 120 body cameras have been deployed, with Districts 1 and 4 complete, said police spokesman Wil Glenn. The department is distributing cameras to District 2 now.