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Attorney: Durham police chief's shooting comment indicative of greater issue

Posted September 16, 2013

— Comments that Durham's police chief is accused of making about a local attorney who deserved to be shot are indicative of a greater problem within the police force, the attorney said Monday.

"The alleged statements made by Chief Lopez are not the bigger issue," David Hall, a criminal and family law attorney, said Monday. "They are an indication of the culture that we seek to change."

Hall was an innocent bystander struck by a stray bullet during a June 22 shooting on Gray Avenue.

In the days following the shooting, Lopez reportedly told members of his department that Hall deserved to be shot because he is a defense attorney, according to an Aug. 15 complaint filed by Assistant Police Chief Winslow Forbes.

The comment came prior to a press conference about the number of homicides in Durham involving black men – either as suspects or victims.

"It's very difficult to separate the racial issue from the disparaging remarks Chief Lopez made about public defenders," said Daryl Atkinson, an attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, and a member of the group Fostering Alternative Drug Enforcement. "It's because public defenders are the people's defenders."

FADE led a march Monday evening from the Durham Police Department to City Hall to raise awareness of what it calls racist policies within the police department.

The group says other recent incidents highlight the need for change. It cites the July 27 shooting death of Jose Adan Cruz Ocampo as an example.

Durham police protest Protesters say Durham police force has race problem

Ocampo was shot and killed by a Durham officer responding to a stabbing call on Park Avenue. Police said he was shot after he refused to drop a knife, but witnesses and Ocampo's family questioned the officer's actions and whether lethal force was necessary.

"When you think about people who go through our criminal justice system are black and poor, when you make disparaging comments against the people that represent that group of folks, you are essentially making disparaging remarks against those people," Atkinson said.

Lopez said Sept. 6 that he doesn't deny the comment but said he also can't recall making it. He apologized for it and for creating a wedge between his department and defense attorneys.

"I can assure you that any comment that may have been made among my peers of this organization concerning the defense attorney was not made with malice, and I apologize if it offended anyone," he said. "I would never condone such a comment being made as a personal statement, as an organizational statement or as an opinion."

FADE says it would like to see Lopez and other city leaders participate in what it calls racial equality training.

"It gives us a common understanding from which to start our dialogue, and hopefully the cultural and institutional change we all seek to make Durham a better place for all Durham residents," Atkinson said.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • llf Sep 18, 2013

    come one ppl. how did this become a race issue. its the cheif of police making a poor statement on a defence attorney.

  • BubbaDukeforPresident Sep 18, 2013

    Lopez has a point. Defense attorneys are more interested in the money than they are in justice.

    What Lopez allegedly said is the same thing that is said by people in the military and any job that one is required to put their life on the line for others. These jobs are under appreciated and exposes the soldier/law enforcement officer to the darker side of society. Often you wonder if you're making things better or worse. What Lopez said was a rhetorical comment, not an intention to harm someone. We are overly sensitive today. This is not progress. It's whining at its worst; and divisive. Give it a rest.

  • disgusted2010 Sep 17, 2013

    Attorney: Durham police chief's shooting comment indicative of greater issue

    Correct, the racism of the attorney.

  • didisaythat Sep 17, 2013

    I hope the Chief is not taking a moments thought on this issue. There is a subject with a gun at an intersection in downtown Durham and several of the people here are worried if the Chief made a bad joke.

  • keithjinnc Sep 17, 2013

    At the time of the shooting the defense attorney who was shot made a statement to the media basically defending the person(s) who shot him. He didn’t hold a press conference or protest to cry out for the community to come together and put an end to the violence! Yet the chief of police makes a joke and the same person who defended those who shot him couldn’t find a soapbox to leap up on quick enough… "There is a bigger picture here, and it's not about the individual," "I mean, yes, a bad decision was made by telling a joke, but did it affect the community, you have to ask yourself, 'How?' Get over it! It was a joke…..

  • keithjinnc Sep 17, 2013

    Lopez should have been fired. End of story. “Obamacare for everyone”

    Your screen name definitely explains your comment! I guess the chief should have stuck to “blonde” jokes… Really people, this story and protest are about as news worthy as the morale Monday’s stuff. Public defendants are public servants themselves and I am sure this public defender has probably made a joke or two himself about law enforcement personnel. Chief go back to work and focus on what’s important, the safety and wellbeing of your community and your officers. BTW; May be time to find a “loyal” assistant chief who would not stroll over his mother to get ahead!

  • dollibug Sep 17, 2013

    Law enforcement should know better. Seems like there are a lot of people who have NOT been properly trained for the positions that they are in. Communication, training and interpretation of the laws are the main issues which make the world go round and there are lots of people who are lacking in some of them or perhaps all.

  • arfamr1008 Sep 17, 2013

    Next course of action for liberals...outlaw ALL humor and sarcasm in the workplace!!

  • didisaythat Sep 17, 2013

    Thank you for the person that is now in charge of what police officers can and cannot joke about. Can I get the number to the office of what I can and cannot say for the next time I am at a party and want to make a joke?

  • forddp Sep 17, 2013

    LEOs always make exaggerated comments about defense attorneys. I was a defense attorney for a number of years and heard them all the time. If I had gotten bent out of shape everytime I heard one, I would be in Guinness as the world's greatest human pretzel. Usually I would respond by saying something about doughnuts.