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Complaint: Durham police chief said public defender should be shot

Posted September 4, 2013

— 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.

Public defender James Williams Defense attorneys upset over police chief's alleged comment

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.

46 Comments

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  • Top 5 Beaters Sep 6, 9:45 a.m.

    Fire him.
    Obamacare for everyone

    you name says it all.

  • phantasmeros Sep 5, 1:27 p.m.

    There is one fact in this issue that must not be overlooked. Assistant Chief Winslow Forbes has an agenda, a common one in this state for those who share his race. And wouldn't you know it, attorney David Hall is a part of that agenda and shares the only trait that matters..right? Absolute bias, absolute selfishness, absolute discrimination.. all of these so carefully and deliberately carried out by those who claim to be so against it. Some, who claim to want to see something end, and yet work so hard to keep it alive.

  • Obamacare for everyone Sep 5, 12:39 p.m.

    Give me a break. It's not really just a figure of speech if it actually happened and the chief was confrirming his opionion that the man was deserving of being shot.

    What a black eye for the city if Lopez isn't fired within the next week.

  • torchhappysean Sep 5, 12:27 p.m.

    "In that position, he has to know better, especially being chief of police in a city which has a serious problem with shootings.
    Fire him."
    Obamacare for everyone.....Well now I wonder how many times you have said the
    EXACT same thing about someonebecause you were frustrated with the waythings are. He probably echoed what many, many people think when every time they turn on the news there's yet another murderer, dope dealer, drunk driver, or bank robber getting off with a mere slap on the hand due to "plea bargaining" instead of getting the harsh 10 yr, 20 yr, or life sentences that they really deserve... But in the end I feel sorry for him because he's probably going to be another victim of political correctness....

  • LovemyPirates Sep 5, 12:22 p.m.

    First, someone should remind him that the US constitution guarantees a person be represented and if that person is a public defender, so be it. And right after he is reminded of this right, he should be removed from office.

  • rwbe Sep 5, 12:20 p.m.

    I have been in Law Enforcement 25 years the comment he made about the Public Defender is a figure of speech. I have heard it from Judges, Attorneys, Police Officers and people on the street.A different comment would have been better. As for the Deputy Chief's complaint he is as high as he can go there is no discrimination by the Chief against the Deputy Chief. As for the officers, I know a lot of Durham Officers and I think he has been pretty fair. If I correct on there process you apply for promotion, go before a board, they rank the officer on a list. The Chief can use the background history of the officer along with that of the board in his decision. The personal information about complaints and performance in most cases is not available to the board for use. You have a disgruntled Deputy Chief with an axe to grind. The Chief and officers cannot trust him now. Transfer him where he has the least contact with officers and the public you can find. Preferably vehicle maintenance.

  • domotamasi Sep 5, 12:19 p.m.

    I think the complaint is probably over-kill. How far does this constraining of the English language have to go before it becomes impossible to speak without running everything through a lawyer. Wait, can I use the word over-kill in this context?

  • Offshore Sep 5, 12:15 p.m.

    Full quote and context please...preferably audio/vid footage. We've seen what Fox "News" does with quotes to twist words. Without that, you've got nothing.
    JustOneGodLessThanU

    Why just single out FoxNews? They all do it, you know, everyone knows it. You haven't called out any other network.

  • carrboroyouth Sep 5, 12:14 p.m.

    I thought he was using the figure of speech until I read that the man actually was shot and he said the guy "deserved it." That's a bit much... public defenders are important and he shouldn't talk down to them like that.

  • scousler Sep 5, 12:05 p.m.

    He should be fired or at a minimum fined and receive an official reprimand.

    Our constitution provides for an adversarial prosecution-defense in an attempt to seek justice. Public defenders, police and prosecutors are all essential to the process.

    This system may breed rivalries among the participants, nevertheless, the chief should know better and being a public figure - should keep comments like that off the record.

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