Durham County

Durham police chief says department didn’t warn public soon enough about dangerous man

Durham Police Chief CJ Davis speaks to the media in the Durham City Council chamber.
Durham Police Chief CJ Davis speaks to the media in the Durham City Council chamber. cliddy@newsobserver.com

Police Chief C.J. Davis says the department failed to notify the public quickly enough about a dangerous man’s three-day crime spree.

Rollin Anthony Owens Jr. was arrested June 20 and charged with one attempted robbery and four robberies, all involving demands for cash and menacing threats made from behind a pointed gun.

In an email to City Manager Tom Bonfield, Davis wrote, “initial information should have been relayed to the public on Monday morning, after reports revealed the crimes were possibly connected.”

Owens is charged with robbing a father in the presence of his two children on June 17, attempting to rob a man on Morgan Street on June 18, robbing two brothers late at night that same day, robbing a man June 20 and 30 minutes later forcing a man, woman and two children to withdraw cash from an ATM and drive to Target as to purchase items for him.

Owens was arrested at that Target, located on Durham-Chapel Hill Boulevard, after a wary employee called the cops. He was held on $1 million bail.

The Police Department notified the public of Owens capture and released information about his alleged crimes to the public in the days after his arrest.

Burch Avenue resident Jeremy Thornhill wrote to the City Council to ask why he and his neighbors hadn’t been told that an armed robber was at-large close to where they live.

“I am aware that crimes happen and cannot always be prevented,” Thornhill wrote. “I do not write to you regarding the occurrence of the crime itself, but rather the extremely poor response to it on the part of the Durham Police Department.”

Davis’ June 30 email to city leaders addressed Thornhill’s concerns.

The Police Department typically releases information about crimes which result in “life threatening personal injury or death, or are otherwise ‘considered shocking to the conscience,’” Davis said.

“This incident falls within that scope; however, on-duty DPD personnel responded to the incident primarily as a robbery, and only began internal communication regarding the crime,” Davis wrote. “It wasn’t until Monday morning that investigators determined three incidents from Saturday and Sunday were connected.”

Police commanders and watch commanders will now undergo “refresher training” on notification protocols for significant incidents, Davis said.

Colin Warren-Hicks: 919-419-6636, @CWarrenHicks