Durham police chief speaks out about innocent NCCU student's arrest
Posted March 5, 2014
Durham, N.C. — Durham's police chief said Wednesday that the case of a 20-year-old man who spent nearly a month in jail last year for a crime he didn't commit is an example of the criminal justice system working as it should – despite how it might be perceived.
"If someone can find a better system, then I'd like to look at it," Chief Jose Lopez said. "At this point in time, the community needs to understand that the police department was working within the justice system and that justice system did work for this young man."
Lopez is referring to Lewis Little, a sophomore communications major at North Carolina Central University, who was jailed for 24 days in June and July after he reported finding a man dead in the middle of an east Durham road near the site of a violent home invasion.
Within 20 minutes after police arrived on June 20, Little said last month in an interview with WRAL News he was handcuffed in the back of a police car and was later jailed under a $1.425 million bond on burglary, kidnapping and other charges.
Lopez said Little's arrest was based on a witness who identified him as being involved in the crime.
Officers never heard Little's alibi – that he was in the neighborhood visiting friends – because, while at the scene where the body was found, he invoked his rights to an attorney – something Little says he did only when he was at the police department and realized he was a suspect.
"If he had said, as he is stating now, that he was visiting friends across the street, we could have verified that that night and then moved on," Lopez said. "He would have moved from suspect to witness in a matter of moments. That did not occur."
Police continued to review the details of the case and found Little's alleged involvement questionable.
'We were just looking at his connection to the individual involved, his connection to the area," Lopez said. "We were looking at what the victim witness stated, and those things just didn't seem to add up for the investigators. They were not comfortable."
Investigators took their concerns to Durham County prosecutors, who dismissed the charges prior to Little's case going to a grand jury.
Despite frustration by some in the community, Lopez said that the fact that Little is free today is proof that the system works.
"The police department worked within the system as the system is supposed to work," he said. "Positive resolve – although it may not appear to be that – has occurred here. Mr. Little has a bright future if he chooses to go in that route."
Little, however, has said that even though he's been cleared of the charges, the arrest is still on his record, and that has affected his ability to find a job and housing.
He's now trying to get his record expunged.