Courtroom 4D ran a bit like a zoo.
The electric candy-pop of someone’s phone accented the hum of whispers, laughs, and shuffling that was so regular it almost became white noise. There was an anxious itch in the air, each person in a hurry to leave the wood benches as soon as they possibly could. Meanwhile, Judge Doretta Walker bantered with courtroom latecomers, and no one seemed to mind one another.
A middle-aged man, wearing an oversized tweed coat over a grey pair of basketball shorts, stood before the judge ready to present himself in court.
“Go outside and tuck in your shirt, Mr. Williams,” Judge Walker sighed. “I should not see red underwear.”
Her voice was sharp, with the frustration of a parent and the sass of someone who had seen it all before.
On to the next case. “Shantal Parham,” the judge called out.
Parham, a 31-year-old with straight, black hair and a neat pink cardigan, walked up to the witness box to testify at Durham County District Court. She claimed the defendant, Jessica Smith, assaulted and threatened her.
Parham had filed for a restraining order and lodged a complaint with the magistrate months before the trial. Today, she wanted to find a resolution.
Parham spoke to the court firmly and with resolve. She recounted the day of the incident, April 4, which began with a visit to her apartment’s leasing office. After noticing that her rent was higher than usual, she sat down with the leasing agent, Jacqueline Washington, to sort out the bill.
This conversation caught the attention of Smith, the assistant property manager.
Tensions quickly escalated as Parham and Smith disputed the rent prices. Parham told the court that Smith blew up, shouted profanities at Parham, and began to get aggressive. Parham quickly called the police, who then arrived and filed an incident report.
Parham described walking to her mailbox with her children later that day, when Smith ran up to her.
“I ought to whoop your ass!” Smith said. Parham was taken aback.
Smith also suggested that as the property manager, she had access to all the apartments in the complex. “She said she’d watch my apartment, have someone stand in my apartment to watch me,” Parham recounted. “Mrs. Smith spat in my face.”
A collective gasp rose from the back of the courtroom. “Oh my god, that’s crazy!” The once apathetic crowd listened attentively to Parham’s story.
Smith, Parham claimed from the witness box, attacked her in front of her kids. That touched a nerve. She wanted the court to set things right.
“The state calls Jacqueline Washington.” The prosecutor turned his attention to the next witness.
Washington, the leasing agent, was an older woman with graying hair and a cool-toned jacket. She gave her version of the story, backing up Parham’s allegations. Her voice was crisp and dignified, full of the conviction that her truth meant something here.
“The treatment she received was unfair,” Washington said of Parham. “Mrs. Smith was not following the proper procedure.”
“I didn’t like the way the residents were treated,” Washington said. She had since quit her job at Falls Pointe Apartments. This incident with Smith played a large role in that decision.
“Why are you testifying today?” the defense attorney asked Washington.
“Because it’s the right thing to do.”
Washington’s words rang in the courthouse, which now stood silent.
The state found Smith guilty on two counts of misdemeanor assault. She would have to attend an anger management class and complete community service.
During the recess, Parham and Washington walked into the hallway together. They greeted each other with a warm hug.
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