Durham, N.C. — City officials are investigating Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez, who is accused of saying a public defender should be shot.
The allegation was one of many made by Assistant Police Chief Winslow Forbes in a three-page complaint filed Aug. 15. Durham officials said an outside consultant hired by the city was unable to substantiate other allegations in the complaint, such as Lopez discriminating against black police officers.
Attorney David Hall was struck by a stray bullet during a June 22 shooting on Gray Avenue, and Forbes claims that Lopez said a few days later that Hall deserved to get shot because he is a public defender.
A spokeswoman for the Durham Police Department said Wednesday that Lopez couldn't comment on the allegation while it is under investigation.
"If he made that comment, it's extremely disturbing to me," said James Williams, one of several public defenders to write letters to city officials complaining about the allegation. "It's the main reason I wrote the letter because it displays a significant lack of appreciation of the importance of the work that criminal defense attorneys and public defenders do."
City Manager Tom Bonfield is handling the investigation, and officials said it should be wrapped up soon.
Stephen Mihaich, who retired last year after more than 27 years as a Durham police officer, has publicly defended Lopez.
"A lot of times, you don't really get to see the side of the chief that his people would see," Mihaich said. "He really cares about the people that work under him, and I think he cares about the community."
He said he wishes Forbes' complaint were handled better.
"Everyone has the right to complain, but bringing it to the media and having it tried in the court of public opinion is wrong," he said. "What happens if this complaint is unfounded? All these negative things are out there, and you can't take it back. It's like firing a gun – once the bullet goes downrange, you can't take it back. Same thing with words."
Williams, however, said Lopez should face "some significant consequence" if Bonfield determines that the chief made the statement about Hall's shooting.
"For the chief to say, if he said it, that public defenders deserve to be shot is a shocking lack of appreciation of the importance of the work that criminal defense attorneys, including public defenders, do day in and day out," he said.