Durham, N.C. — Police Chief Jose Lopez apologized Friday for any comments he might have made that offended the Durham community and created a wedge between his department and defense attorneys.
City Manager Tom Bonfield is investigating a complaint by Assistant Police Chief Winslow Forbes that includes an allegation that Lopez said a defense attorney wounded in a drive-by shooting in June deserved to be shot.
Lopez said he doesn't recall making the comment, but because he cannot definitively say the comment wasn't made by him or one of his subordinates, he took responsibility for it.
"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 during a news conference. "I would never condone such a comment being made as a personal statement, as an organizational statement or as an opinion."
Lopez called it "regrettable" that Forbes' allegation leaked out, saying it could damage the trust the police department has built in the community in recent years.
"It really does bother me that it would get out of a private meeting and actually hurt someone and bring the unintended consequences that it did," he said.
As part of his investigation, Bonfield interviewed the people who were at the meeting where the comment was allegedly said.
"I can say none of those recollections were thoroughly consistent with the allegation," he said Friday.
Caitlyn Thomson, Forbes' attorney, said Lopez's public apology isn't credible.
"He either said it, or he didn’t. Anybody that said something like that would know if they said it," Thomson said. "I still firmly believe my client that Chief Lopez said exactly what my client alleges he said about the shooting of an innocent attorney bystander in his front yard in Durham, and that’s not acceptable."
Several defense attorneys wrote letters to city officials condemning the alleged comment, saying it showed a lack of respect for the attorney who was shot and for the service defense attorneys provide in the justice system.
Lopez said such worries are misplaced.
"Law enforcement officers work very closely with attorneys on a daily basis, and I sincerely respect the work that they do," he said. "We all work together to obtain justice for the victims of crimes and to ensure due process for those charged."
He said he doesn't feel that anyone in the department is out to get him by publicizing the allegation, and he and the department are working to maintain the perception that Durham police are committed to improving the community.
City Councilman Eugene Brown called the whole incident "much ado about nothing."
"He made a stupid joke," Brown said. "Who among us have not done that?"
City officials issued a statement Thursday discrediting other allegations made by Forbes that Lopez discriminated against black officers, saying an internal investigation found no evidence to back that up. Officials said an allegation that he violated the city's nepotism policy also was unsubstantiated.
"I can honestly say and adamantly say is that I have not discriminated against anyone here in this organization. Being a man of color, it's not something that I would be doing," Lopez said.