Judge Tosses Assault Charges Against Ex-Durham Cops
Posted November 1, 2006 8:24 a.m. EST
RALEIGH, N.C. — Because prosecutors never established that a crime occurred in Wake County, a judge on Monday dismissed assault charges against two former Durham police officers in connection with a fight outside a Raleigh bar.
The Durham Police Department last month fired Gary P. Lee, 38, and Scott C. Tanner, 33, following an internal investigation into the July 20 incident outside Blinco's Sports Restaurant & Bar on Glenwood Avenue.
Lee and Tanner were charged with misdemeanor assault in the case, which went to trial Monday.
After three hours of testimony, however, defense attorney Tommy Manning asked District Judge Debra Sasser to drop the charges because the state failed to establish the crime happened in Wake County. Sasser agreed and dismissed the case.
"You have to allege and prove that the offense occurred in the county where you're being charged. There was no evidence that Blinco's or wherever these facts occurred was in Wake County," Manning said.
Rene Dennis Thomas, a 29-year-old cook at Blinco's, told authorities that he exchanged racial slurs with a group of men in a truck speeding through the restaurant parking lot. He also alleged that one of the men tried to punch him and that another kicked him.
"The whole situation was out of hand to begin with," Thomas said Monday. "A lot of the testimony they said about me was true. I did go off the deep end, but the whole point was they were police officers, and they never said it."
According to court documents, Lee attempted to strike Thomas and tackled him, causing him to fall to the ground, and Tanner kicked Thomas in the head.
Three other Durham police officers, as well as a former Durham officer who had resigned from the department prior to the alleged assault, had also been under investigation by Raleigh police, but were later cleared of criminal charges.
The officers, who were off duty at the time of the alleged assault, had been at Blinco's that night for a going-away party.
Officer James Griffin witnessed the incident and testified that he saw Lee charge at Thomas.
"He pounded his chest, took his shirt off, ran toward Mr. Thomas and swung at him," Griffin said.
After Thomas fell to the ground to protect himself, Griffin testified, Tanner kicked Thomas in the head.
Thomas said he was neither surprised nor upset by the dismissal of the charges. He said he's just glad to have the whole case over.
"They're officers, they're in law enforcement, that's how things go their way. It is what it is," he said.
A spokeswoman for the Durham Police Department said Monday night that the firings weren't related to the criminal case, and Lee and Tanner wouldn't be rehired.