A 19-year-old Durham man and his attorney want to know why he was pulled over, had his car searched and was arrested, only to have the charges dropped.
Ledarius Samuel was one of five men charged with murder who left jail in late January after a judge unsecured his bond, saying prosecutors had a weak case against him. The Herald-Sun reported on the cases in early March, and Samuel appeared in a video with one of the stories.
Samuel, 19, was re-arrested March 7, two days after after the news coverage, and charged with felony breaking and entering of a home. He was also charged with possession of a firearm by a felon, a felony, and carrying a concealed weapon, a misdemeanor.
The charges were all dropped by March 27 by District Attorney Roger Echols.
"There is no credible evidence to link the defendant to the breaking and entering," Echols stated on the March 15 notice of dismissal of the breaking and entering charge.
Now his attorney Allyn Sharp, Samuel and his family say law enforcement may have been targeting the teenager because of the bad publicity and to send a message to Judge Orlando Hudson, who unsecured the bond. They also say Samuel's rights were violated: from not allowing him to see his attorney to not returning his cell phone.
"This is an example of an abuse of power on behalf of law enforcement officers,” Sharp said. “I certainly think this may not have happened to Ledarius were he not a young black male.”
Echols said dismissals days and weeks after an arrest aren’t unusual and and that law enforcement and prosecutors have different standards.
“Presently, I don’t have a concern that law enforcement is unlawfully targeting him,” Echols said.
Echols, however, said he would prefer that law enforcement had more evidence before charging Samuel, beyond the arresting officer's determination of probable cause — the reasonable suspicion that a crime may have been committed.
"Probable cause doesn't get us a conviction," Echols said.
Questioned in robbery
Samuel, 19, was charged with murder, assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury, and four counts of robbery with a dangerous weapon in the Jan. 12, 2017, shooting of Felipe Aleman Perez, 42, on South Roxboro Street. Sharp says her client was picking up his mother and buying shoes during the robberies, and surveillance video proves it. A prosecutor said some of the footage isn't clear enough to identify Samuel.
In addition to those charges, Samuel is on probation after being convicted of conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon in 2016.
At the end of January, Hudson unsecured Samuel's bond for the 2017 murder and other charges, citing weak evidence.
About a month after he left jail, Samuel was arrested by sheriff deputies and charged with the breaking and entering and gun charges. After his arrest, Samuel was also questioned by a police detective investigating a fatal March 3 robbery.
Sharp said police asked whether Samuel was at the scene of the robbery, and he said he didn't know anything about it.
Here is what a search warrant application says about the fatal robbery in which police say the alleged robber was strangled:
A man parked his car at an apartment on Courtney Creek Boulevard and soon noticed two men following him. One later identified as Jyireh Lamour Holeman approached him holding a gun in both hands.
The man grabbed the gun and struggled with Holeman, putting him in a choke hold until he passed out. Police found Holeman dead on the ground and a gun lying near him at 9:52 p.m.
When police pulled over Samuel’s SUV four days later on March 7, they found Holeman’s cell phone in the car.
In an interview, Samuel said he, Holeman and Taijay Devon Surles had gone to Southpoint mall and returned to Surles’ house. Holeman walked off around 9:30 p.m., and Samuel left about 10 minutes later, he said.
“I had to work the next day,” said Samuel, who works at McAlister's Deli.
In the warrant, investigator D.L. Cramer states surveillance footage from a gas station next to Surles’ house shows a dark SUV, like the one that Samuel was driving, leaving Surles’ house at 9:05 p.m. and returning around 10:11 p.m.
Samuel said he wasn’t involved in the robbery and that Holeman had charged his phone in Samuel's car and walked off without it.
On March 21, a couple of weeks after questioning Samuel, police charged Surles, 18, with attempted robbery with a dangerous weapon and conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon in connection with the incident.
The Police Department declined to comment for this story or say whether Samuel is a suspect in the fatal robbery.
Questioned in breaking and entering
Here is what Samuel, his lawyer and court records say about the breaking and entering case and related March 7 arrest.
On March 7, Samuel said he had left a meeting with his attorney and stopped at a convenience store.
Samuel said he went inside, and a friend, Jamaal Lowery, hopped in the Honda Pilot he was driving — which was Samuel’s mother’s SUV — and pulled off “and told me to follow him to somebody’s house on Weaver Street.”
Samuel and Sharp said they don't know why Lowery jumped in his car.
"I got no choice but to get in his car," Samuel said. "He was already pulling off."
Samuel got in Lowery’s car and followed.
A Sheriff’s Office deputy pulled over Lowery in Samuel’s mother’s car on the way, Samuel said.
Samuel pulled over and asked what was going on, he said. Samuel said he was told they were investigating the smell of marijuana in his mother’s car, a breaking and entering and a homicide.
Law enforcement searched both cars. They found a gun in the glove compartment of Lowery’s car and charged both Lowery and Samuel with possession of a firearm by a felon.
Sharp said she doesn’t believe deputies had probable cause to charge Samuel with breaking and entering. Since they didn’t have probable cause for the breaking and entering charge, the cars shouldn't have been stopped or searched.
“I think it was an unlawful search of his co-defendant’s car,” Sharp said.
Sharp also questions why Samuel was charged March 7 for a breaking and entering that deputies alleged happened Feb. 12. The Sheriff’s Office told her that they received information they said linked Samuel to the breaking and entering on March 1, but deputies didn’t ask officers to be on the lookout for Samuel until March 6, the same day that The Herald-Sun article came out.
Deputies claimed they had evidence of a car similar to Samuel's mother’s car being used in a breaking and entering, but didn’t tie Samuel or his mother's car to the location that he was charged with breaking and entering, Sharp said.
Also at the scene of the Sheriff’s Office traffic stop, search and arrest, was Police Department investigator E. Ortiz, the lead investigator in Samuel’s 2017 murder and other charges.
“When I first seen Investigator Ortiz, him and his partner, they looked at me and they both smiled,” Samuel said.
Sheriff's Office Maj. Paul Martin declined to comment, except to say, "I expect an attorney to represent her client as forcefully and vigorously as possible, and we will continue to do our job in a very thorough manner, also."
Samuel said he asked for his attorney at the scene of his arrest, on the way to the Sheriff’s Office and on his way to the interview room.
He was told they would let him call her.
Martin said investigators followed proper procedures, including having Samuel sign a waiver of his Miranda rights.
"Any insinuation that we have done anything wrong is totally false," Martin said. "Once the entire story is known, then the truth will prevail."
Samuel said he did sign the waiver but only because he was told that was the only way he could get some more information about the breaking and entering that investigators were accusing him of.
After Samuel was arrested, a friend alerted his mother, and she called Sharp. Sharp went to the magistrate’s office, police department headquarters, and Sheriff’s Office searching for her client.
When she found him at the Sheriff’s Office, she said she wasn’t permitted to see him until after the questioning had ceased.
Law enforcement questioned him about the breaking and entering and the March 3 robbery that led to the death of Holeman. Ortiz wasn’t in the interview, but his partner was asking Samuel about Holeman’s death, Samuel said.
Samuel was denied bond at his first court appearance, but it was set at $50,000 after the breaking and entering charge was dropped on March 15.
After the gun charges were dismissed, Samuel was let out of jail March 27.
A search for the cell phone
When Samuel left jail, he was told the Sheriff's Office wouldn’t return the phone without a court order.
Sharp had a court order signed March 28. On April 23, she received a search warrant application signed by Sheriff's Office Detective R.P. Lounsberry indicating the Sheriff’s Office sent the phone to the FBI on March 27 — the same day Samuel was released — so it could be unlocked and allow officials to look for evidence of a breaking and entering or possession of a firearm by a felon. The search warrant is dated April 5.
Sharp says the search warrant is invalid.
Samuel’s mother said she feels like Samuel doesn’t have a chance after his first conviction, because when police need someone to be charged with a crime, they come after him.
“I just feel like they’re out to get someone, anyone, for anything, just so that they can say we have someone,” she said. “And it’s not just my son. It’s daughters. It’s other women’s sons.”