Former SRO gets 8 weeks in jail for body-slamming Vance middle school student
Posted January 7, 2021 12:22 p.m. EST
Updated January 7, 2021 9:11 p.m. EST
Henderson, N.C. — A former Vance County school resource officer will spend about eight weeks in jail for assaulting a middle school student a year ago.
Warren Durham pleaded guilty to assault of a child under 12 and willful failure to discharge duties, and prosecutors dropped a misdemeanor child abuse charge against him.
In addition to the 55 days in jail on the assault charge, District Judge John Davis suspended a 45-day sentence for failure to discharge duties and placed him on probation for 18 months. Durham's law enforcement license is suspended until he completes his probation.
"This kind of behavior cannot be tolerated," Davis said.
The Dec. 12, 2019, assault was caught on a Vance County Middle School security camera and then leaked on social media. The footage shows the boy, who was 11 at the time, walking down a hallway with Durham, who then slammed the boy to the ground twice and dragged him by his shirt down the hallway.
An assistant principal drove the boy home after finding him unconscious in his office.
"It was the worst day of our lives," the boy's mother, Nina Spencer, said in court. "I’m very hurt by this. My child been hurt by this. My family has been hurt by this. I just want justice to be served."
The boy suffered a concussion and remains on medication, his family said. He has been home-schooled since the incident.
Durham, who was fired by the Vance County Sheriff's Office after the incident, apologized in court Thursday for his actions, saying his primary intent as an SRO was to keep guns out of school and to prevent bullying.
"I enjoyed working with those kids. Some of those kids called me 'Papa,'" he said.
Defense attorney Mikael Gross said Durham suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder following several deployments in th Middle East during his 31-year military career and didn’t even remember the incident with the boy.
“I snapped. I can’t tell you what happened or why," Gross said, repeating what Durham had told him.
Durham has been receiving mental health treatment through the Department of Veterans Affairs, Gross said, and jail time would stall his progress.
District Attorney Mike Waters said Durham knew he had chronic PTSD and still worked in a school where something could set him off.
"Like we all saw, this was a horrific act," Waters said. "Nothing – no matter what, any provocation – nothing could rise to the level of what we saw."
The prosecutor sought the maximum penalty against Durham of 105 days in jail and said he should have his law enforcement license revoked.
"Who would hire him?" Davis asked.
Waters said he didn't want to leave the possibility open.
"He was not a good fit to be a law enforcement officer," he said. "The community, citizens, this family, they need to see that he was punished."
"I say this to the sheriff’s department: You all knew this man had this problem. Why did you all hide this man?" said Rev. John Miles, the boy's grandfather.
Waters previously said he couldn't pursue felony charges against Durham because the boy's injuries weren't more severe. Miles said state law needs to be changed to allow more serious charges.
"We as a community got to go to Raleigh and change these laws that allow a police officer or sheriff’s deputy to put their hands on kids, and they get by with a misdemeanor," Miles said.
He called Durham "a bad apple" who should never work in law enforcement again.
"His apology was weak. It was insincere," he said. "He used [PTSD] to try to help his case."
Still, he said Durham isn't representative of most law enforcement officers.
"There should be some serious aggressive training," Miles said "You’re in the school system, [and] you’ve got to help the kids. You’re not there to bully the kids. You’ve got to help them."
Davis also ordered Durham to continue his mental health treatment and to choose eight nonprofit groups where he can speak publicly about his recovery.