Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts tagged as “Shootings”

In city with surging shootings, police looking for armed man terrified children and mothers

By Charlie Zong
and Cameron Oglesby

As Durham faces a surge in gun violence this year, it’s not just shootings that can pose risks to residents.

Police videos released this week show how terrifying it can be for children and parents when officers rush into a neighborhood looking for someone they believe is armed and dangerous.

Teenager Jaylin Harris and two young friends were playing tag on the lawn at Rochelle Manor apartments on Aug. 21 when Durham police arrived. Officers were responding to a 911 call that reported a Black man in a white tank top who was armed and selling drugs out of an SUV parked near where the children were playing.

The videos, recorded by officers’ body cameras and a Rochelle Manor security camera, show Jaylin, the 15-year-old, watching from a rear corner of a building as officers scouted the building and the parking lot. 

After an officer saw him, the teen went behind the building toward the other side. At least four officers drew handguns and ran after him as residents and children nearby screamed.

Jaylin’s playmates, 8-year-old Zakarryya Cornelius and an 11-year-old boy, cowered on stairs next to him as officers ordered Jaylin to the ground. One officer briefly pointed his gun toward one of the younger boys before recognizing that he was a kid. The officer then cuffed Jaylin’s wrists behind his back and yanked at his tank top and shorts to frisk the teen.

As adults rushed to the scene, officers ordered them to keep a distance. Makeba Hoffler, Zakarryya Cornelius’s mother, arrived frantic and nearly hyperventilating. She begged an officer to let her get her boy. Once she beckoned her son and the 11-year-old boy over from the stairs, she tried to help Jaylin.

“He’s a baby. He’s a child, he just turned 15,” an anguished Hoffler said, pointing to Jaylin. “Please take them cuffs off him!” 

“Well we’ve got to figure out what’s going on,” an officer replied.

With Jaylin Harris at left, Zakarryya Cornelius thanked people for showing support at a rally on their behalf in September. The boy’s mother, Makeba Hoffler, stood behind him, to the right. Photo by Henry Haggart

Officers uncuffed Jaylin after about 2 minutes and 30 seconds. They told the teen to sit on the sidewalk. Before letting him go, one officer told Jaylin that he should not run from the police.

Long wait for videos

Superior Court Judge Josephine Kerr Davis ruled in September that City Council members could see the body camera footage. But the city could not release it to the public until after the Durham Police Department finished an internal investigation, Mayor Steve Schewel said. The investigation was completed last week.

After the investigation, Police Chief Cerelyn Davis disciplined two of the seven officers involved in the incident, including a one-day suspension of Officer Zack Starritt, according to City Attorney Kim Rehberg. 

Release of the footage was long overdue, said Hoffler. She said she requested that the videos be made public within days of the incident, when the mothers of the children involved met with Chief Davis.

“We should have had it by that Monday. They just stalled a lot,” Hoffler said, referring to the police department. “They didn’t want it released because we were in the right, and they were wrong.”

Attorney Daniel Meier, who represents officers involved, said the footage showed that officers followed the department’s procedures.

“They’re responding to someone with a gun, they’re going to have their weapons ready,” Meier added. “They see a person who matches the suspect run, they’re going to detain them.”

Meier stressed that he didn’t believe anybody involved had acted inappropriately. “The officers did nothing wrong here but the kid didn’t either,” he said, referring to Jaylin, the teen. “He just got caught up in an unfortunate situation and, I mean, this is what policing is.”

But Schewel said he thought that a 15-year-old handcuffed for even two minutes and 30 seconds was restrained for too long in that situation. “I think that he should have been immediately uncuffed,” the mayor said.

“I can certainly see why that was so traumatic,” he added. “It would have been for anyone. And I could certainly see why it was what it was for his mother, and for all the people who were there. It would have been incredibly traumatic.”

Although Schewel said he couldn’t speak to the exact reasoning behind Chief Davis’ decision to discipline the officers, he made clear that he supported her response.

“Clearly, the officers made a mistake in identification. And it was a mistake that I’m sure has very adverse consequences for this young man, and for the other children who were there watching and their families,” said Schewel. 

Gulf between families, police

Fear swept through the people present when police started chasing Jaylin. 

Surveillance cameras showed two small boys who immediately raced up the stairs on the other side of the building to get indoors. But other young children clung to parents and watched from a distance while Jaylin was handcuffed on the ground.

The fact that residents and police officers don’t know each other is repeated again and again during the videos. Officers and parents made clear they feel that’s a serious problem, but for different reasons.

After Jaylin was released, Ashley Harris, his exasperated mother, told an officer that Jaylin was a child. Police should not have pointed guns at him no matter what, she said.

“I understand you’re upset — Ma’am, we’re responding to a 911 call, a person with a gun,” the officer said, explaining that the police had no way of knowing Jaylin was just a child.

“And he don’t know y’all, that’s what I’m saying,” Harris said. “Y’all are killing people, he’s terrified.”

“When officers come out here, and they respond to a threat — somebody out here called, alright? We don’t know nobody out here. We don’t know if he’s 15 or 25,” said the officer, who asked Harris if she wanted him to call Jaylin the following week.

“No, I want y’all to stay away from my kids,” Harris said. 

Months later, the mothers are still trying to help their children cope with the incident.

“How can I tell my kids to trust you when the last thing they remember was you holding a gun to them?” Hoffler, the mother of Zakarryya Cornelius, who turned 9 the day after the incident, said during an interview this week.

“We still got to be careful calling the cops to our own house because they’re so gun happy,” she added. “Now we have to protect our kids from the people who’re supposed to be protecting us.”

Hoffler said officers needed to get to know the community so they would be familiar with kids who are usually outside playing, rather than treating them as suspects. An increasing number of teens aged 15 to 17 are participating in gang-related shootings in Durham, Chief Davis revealed in a recent interview.

“If they came around and got to know these kids, they’d have a whole different perspective with how they approach our community,” Hoffler said. “They would have known it’s the same boys out here every single day doing the same thing.”

Hoffler said she hoped the release of the footage would lead to more accountability for the officers involved.

“I hope they review this case again and take more action against these officers, take them off the streets for a little bit,” she said. “What if it happens to someone else’s kid and they aren’t as lucky as our kids were? Is that what it’s going to take?”

“One day, that’s a little vacation for him,” she said, referring to the 8-hour suspension handed to Zack Starritt, one of the officers at the scene.

9th Street Journal reporters Charlie Zong and Cameron Oglesby can be reached at charlie.zong@duke.edu and cameron.oglesby@duke.edu.

At top: Recordings from body cameras and surveillance video capture police handcuffing a teenager at Rochelle Manor. The footage from August shows Durham police responding to a 911 report that an armed man was seen at the apartment complex. Mothers say police were wrong to point guns towards kids and handcuff a teenager. City officials released the video this week after police investigated the officers’ behavior and disciplined two officers. Video edited by Cameron Oglesby.

A tale of two cities: Lessons for Durham about ShotSpotter

A gunshot goes off.  

In many neighborhoods, no one calls the police. 

But in more than 100 cities, the sound is picked up by audio sensors, and computers quickly triangulate the location of the sound. 

Meanwhile, in a room in California, audio experts sit behind several large monitors that are filled with red and green maps. They monitor the alerts from the sensors and, if they determine the sound was indeed gunfire, they quickly alert the local police. 

The whole process takes approximately 60 seconds, according to ShotSpotter, the company that sells the technology. That enables officers to respond quickly and – city officials hope – reduce the likelihood of injuries and further shootings.

In June, the Durham City Council voted down a measure to implement ShotSpotter, citing insufficient data about the service and other budgetary priorities. But after a spate of recent shootings, Council Member Mark Anthony Middleton is urging them to reconsider.

“Kids in Durham are being trained to jump in the bathtub when they hear gunfire,” he said. “They’re getting soldiering skills at eight or nine years old.” 

As Durham deliberates, Middleton and others can learn from the experiences of two North Carolina cities with very different experiences with ShotSpotter. In Charlotte, officials decided ShotSpotter wasn’t worth the money. But, in Wilmington, officials like the system so much they want to expand it.

Charlotte: “Closed circuit cameras and license plate readers are actually more effective”

In 2012, Charlotte had high hopes for ShotSpotter.

The city was about to host the Democratic National Convention and wanted to be prepared for potential gun violence.

Patrick Cannon, then the mayor pro tem, told the City Council that ShotSpotter was a smart investment.

“I know we don’t like talking about guns … but having a system for the long-term is something I believe is really important to this community,” he said.  

At the time, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department bought a contract covering two square miles in the center of downtown, only a fraction of the department’s 473-square mile jurisdiction. Cannon said the technology might make the city safer because of its ability to alert police officers in real-time.

But ShotSpotter didn’t live up to its promise. In 2016, the City decided to abandon its $160,000 contract with ShotSpotter. 

Police said ShotSpotter often didn’t result in arrests. Another problem: false alarms, which strained police time and resources.

Crystal Cody, Charlotte’s Public Safety Technology Director, said that ShotSpotter solved a problem that Charlotte didn’t have.

“The premise of the technology is to be alerted to gunfire in the absence of someone calling 911,” she said. “But, in our city, we’ve found that primarily citizens call 911. We are already on route to it, just about as soon as we get the information from ShotSpotter.” 

ShotSpotter wasn’t worth the investment, said Cody. The city canceled the contract.

“We have found that closed circuit cameras and license plate readers are actually more effective,” said Cody.

Wilmington: “You’ve got to start using 21st century technologies to address crime now”

Wilmington has had a much better experience. After using ShotSpotter for nearly nine years, the city recently signed a contract to expand services with the company. 

In Wilmington, ShotSpotter covers a six-mile radius. Officials used data to determine neighborhoods that had high incidents of gun violence, which decided the locations of the sensors. 

Deputy Police Chief Alejandra Sotelo said she’s pleased with the technology because it speeds up the process of dispatching police officers. 

When people call the police, it slows the process. A ShotSpotter alert can often be faster than a 911 call, which needs to go through a dispatcher  Even a one- or two-minute delay can mean life or death for victims of violent crime, Sotelo said. 

It’s so good, Sotelo said, that some people might trust the system a little too much.

 “One of the things we have noticed since we’ve implemented this technology is that people often don’t call 911, which is concerning. They think ShotSpotter will just pick it up,” she said.

Wilmington has seen a reduction in crime in the last few years. “Our overall violent crime numbers have gone down, and this year we’re proud of a record low,” said Sotelo. She thinks this might be correlated with the implementation of ShotSpotter. 

Sotelo said ShotSpotter doesn’t need to generate arrests in order to be effective. 

“We use it as a tool to get to the scene and gather evidence quicker. You still have to go through the investigative process” to make arrests, Sotelo said.

The Wilmington Police Department liked ShotSpotter so much the city has expanded its use. As of this month, it was the first in the nation to complete training for the ShotSpotter Missions tool, a data analytics program that forecasts crime and preemptively dispatches police.

“You’ve got to start using 21st century technologies to address crime now,“ she said.

Sotelo said she would like to see a system of cameras integrated with ShotSpotter. Video footage would help identify victims and suspects, something the current tool does not do. 

As for Durham, Sotelo recommends the city do its research. “I could tell you how great it is, and I do think it’s a great, but make sure you go to other cities. Come to Wilmington, see how it works and what officers think about it.”

Above, a screenshot of a ShotSpotter display. Photo from ShotSpotter

Update: Security guard arrested in hotel shooting

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with new information about Smoot being charged.

Durham police arrested a security guard in connection with a shooting at the HomeTowne Studios hotel on Highway 55 in South Durham on Aug. 23.

Reginald Smoot, 24, was charged with assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, according to Durham police spokeswoman Kammie Michael. He served three days in the county jail before posting a $100,000 bond.

Michael said Smoot was employed as an unarmed security guard at the extended-stay hotel but was not on duty when the shooting happened.

According to a search warrant, witnesses told investigators the security guard shot Vincent Smith, 45, on the third floor of the hotel. Smith was found with a single gunshot wound in his left chest.  No information on his condition was available.

Before and during the shooting, Smith used his iPhone to record a fight with the guard, the warrant said. He began recording after the security guard pulled a gun on him, according to Smith.

Managers at the hotel declined to comment on the shooting. 

The HomeTowne Studios hotel, located in the 5000 block of Highway 55, has been the site of two other shootings this year. On August 9, a man was shot in the arm at the hotel. And in January, 28-year-old Wallace Hayes was found shot to death inside his room.