Local News

Durham police officers accused of pulling guns on boys playing tag

Posted August 27, 2020 7:03 p.m. EDT

— The Durham Police Department is investigating an incident last week in which several officers are accused of drawing their guns on three boys playing outside an east Durham apartment complex and handcuffing one of the boys.

Fifteen-year-old Jaylin Harris and 9-year-old Zakarryya Cornelius said they were playing tag with an 11-year-old friend last Friday at the Rochelle Manor Apartments complex when the officers confronted them.

"As soon as we come around the corner, we walk into five cops pointing guns at us saying, 'Freeze!' and 'Get on the ground!'" Jaylin said. "So, we were just thinking, like, what did we do? We didn’t even do anything wrong."

"I was just terrified," Zakarryya said.

Jaylin said the officers patted him down and handcuffed him, all while guns remained pointed at him and his young friends.

"I asked them, 'Why am I getting arrested? What’s going on?'" he said. "They didn’t say anything. They didn’t tell me anything. They didn’t say, 'Sorry for the inconvenience.' They just kept going about their day.

"I’m like, 'I hope I don’t die today,'" he added. "I didn’t make any wrong movements at that time or anything like that – Just outside playing tag and walked into guns pointed at me."

Zakarryya's mother, Makeba Hoffler, said she saw the incident unfold and ran over with a 3-year-old in her arms to stop the officers.

"Even as I proceeded to run toward the officer screaming, 'They are kids,' their guns were still drawn," Hoffler said. "'I’m going to die tonight.' That’s what I was thinking because, like I said, I was not going to bury my son, and I was not going to bury none of these kids."

None of the boys was charged with a crime, and police later told the families that they had received a report of someone who matched Jaylin's description who had a gun and was selling drugs at the apartment complex.

"Durham officers responded to this location several times earlier in the day for weapons related calls," Police Chief C.J. Davis said in a statement Thursday. "The Durham Police Department remains fully committed to working with the residents of Rochelle Manor Apartments, as well as our entire community, in maintaining safety."

Hoffler said that explanation doesn't justify the way the boys were treated.

"These are good kids. They’re babies," she said. "There’s no justification. There’s nothing that they can say or do to make this all right. ... What if these kids would have kept running because they were so scared? The officers would’ve shot. Our babies would’ve been at Duke Hospital."

The families met with department officials Wednesday night hoping for an apology and an assurance that such an incident wouldn't happen again, but they left disappointed.

"It was a waste of time because the same way they had the guns on the kids' heads and didn’t care, that’s the same way they was looking at that table and didn’t care," Hoffler said.

"I was hoping for like something like a big outcome or anything, but they way they looked, you could tell they didn’t really care," Jaylin said.

Mayor Steve Schewel said he doesn't know the specifics of the incident, but he trusts that Davis will resolve any problems.

"All of our communities need to be safe from violence, and that includes any violence that might occur or fear of violence that might occur when police are involved," Schewel said.

"We are equally sensitive of the need to promote trust and positive interactions between our officers and children," Davis said in her statement. "We remain steadfast in our desire to continue to have these important conversations so that we can ensure all members of our community receive the service they expect and deserve.”

Hoffler said that she hoped Durham would be better than other cities where police have shot Black men.

"I told my kids not to hate cops. Now, how can I explain to them not to hate the same people that put a gun to them?" she said. "I’m still upset. I’ve never had a gun pointed at my head, but my 8-year-old did."

The boys said they now fear police.

"Every time I see them, I feel like I got to get on the ground," Zakarryya said.

Jaylin and his mother, Ashley Harris, said they plan to seek therapy because they are struggling with post-traumatic stress.

"Every time I go outside or something, I got to turn around or look over my shoulder," Jaylin said. "Is there police over there, or am I going to have to do the same thing over again?"

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