Local News

Durham police chief speaks out about innocent NCCU student's arrest

Posted March 5, 2014

— 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.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • Kristin Byrne Mar 6, 2014
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    He wasn't arrested with for anything to do with the dead body. He was arrested because there had been a home invasion at a nearby home and the home owner told the cops that this kid looked like one that had broken into his home.

    Little did give the cops an alibi. He told the cops how they happened upon the body. The cops had his story the whole time, they just chose to believe the witness, who wasn't credible.

  • Todd Jenkins Mar 6, 2014
    user avatar

    What kind of stupid criminal justice system says that being in jail for one month for a crime you didn't commit is the system working just as it should….Fired!! is the way the system should work…

  • Stephania Sidberry Mar 6, 2014
    user avatar

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    I'm in agreement here. We can debate all day long whether it was the right thing to do to ask for a lawyer or not, but to take over three weeks to verify his story is sad. I can't imagine it took that long to get him a court appointed attorney once he asked for one. So either way, the system partially failed this young man.

  • Lightfoot3 Mar 6, 2014

    "Is when they started asking him anything - he asked for a lawyer" - RealStory

    Probably because he could tell they had suspicion in their voice, and they were asking unrelated questions to his phone call (i.e. fishing for stuff).

    "But id surely tell them what I was doing at that time, in that location (if im innocent that is)" - RealStory

    And if they decide that YOU'RE the one they are going to prosecute, they'll take ANY deviation in your words (like you were off your time by a few minutes) and present that as an indication of your deception to a jury.

  • John Smythe Mar 6, 2014
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    Yes! Sue them for....what you said. Declaramation of character???

  • bakerbillwade Mar 6, 2014

    "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"...what kind of statement is that? A college student who tries to do the right thing and spends a month in jail and then the police chief speaks in a prejudicial way. I hope Mr. Lewis does get a good lawyer and sues for the pain and suffering the chief caused. We need a non-biased police chief. Unbelievable!

  • PJM Mar 6, 2014

    None of us were there and can say what we would have done or would not have done. I probably would have reported it while on my way home.

  • disgusted2010 Mar 6, 2014

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    When all rational arguments fail, play the race card and most people will become so terrified they will stop the discussion.

  • PJM Mar 6, 2014

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    EXACTLY....those who are suppose to protect and serve are not to be TRUSTED! They will take your life because of your skin color and prejudices and not think twice.

  • KnowsItAll Mar 6, 2014

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    "things have to be investigated."

    24 days worth of investigation just to check out the guy's story? that alone is reason enough to fire Lopez. No wonder the body count is so high in Durham. Our police can't catch the real perps so they just lock up the first black guy they get a hold of.