Local News

DA: Case 'Still Open' Against Deputy in Durham Teen's Shooting

Posted December 14, 2006 9:53 a.m. EST
Updated December 14, 2006 6:19 p.m. EST

— New Hanover County District Attorney Ben David said Thursday that he plans to proceed with a case against a former deputy accusing of fatally shooting a Durham teen during a raid two weeks ago.

Cpl. Christopher Long was indicted Monday on a charge of second-degree murder in connection with the Dec. 1 death of Peyton Strickland. But a judge dismissed the charge Tuesday after the foreman of the grand jury said he checked the wrong box on the indictment form and that members of the grand jury didn't find enough evidence to charge Long with murder.

David met Wednesday with officials from the Special Prosecution Section of the Attorney General's Office to discuss the grand jury's reversal to determine what to do next. He declined to answer specific questions about the investigation Thursday but said the case would move forward.

"This case is still open. The investigation is ongoing, and future court action is anticipated," David said.

The grand jury that heard Long's case has completed its term, and a new grand jury will be empaneled in January, he said.

Strickland, 18, a Cape Fear Community College student from Durham, was shot to death at his Wilmington home by deputies serving arrest and search warrants. Strickland and two friends were charged with assaulting a University of North Carolina at Wilmington student last month and stealing two PlayStation 3 consoles from him.

UNC-W police asked for support from the New Hanover County Sheriff's Office during the arrests of the suspects in the case because of the potential that they were armed and dangerous, authorities said. Strickland had an earlier arrest on a felony assault charge.

Nine heavily armed deputies accompanied UNC-W police to Strickland's home to serve the warrants. Three deputies fired shots into the home, and evidence showed some shots were fired before Strickland opened the door.

Long, 34, told investigators he mistook the sound of a battering ram officers were used to break open the front door to the house as gunfire.

Strickland, who was unarmed, died of a gunshot wound to the head.

Long was fired by the New Hanover County Sheriff's Office a week after the shooting.

David said he continues to support Wilmington-area law enforcement, but that the circumstances of Strickland's death required a complete criminal investigation.

"An investigation is a search for the truth, and as I said from the start, we will go where that truth leads," he said.

But Michael McGuinness, Long's attorney, said David should let the grand jury's decision stand.

"The grand jury, after hearing all of the evidence that the state chose to present, said there was no probable cause that Christopher Long committed any crime," McGuinness said. "Where will it all stop? The third trip to the grand jury? The fourth? The fifth?"

He said it's highly unusual for a case to be brought back before a grand jury after an indictment has been declined once.

"How many of those cases have ever been sent back for a second bite at the apple?" he said. "Maybe there have been some, but we have not been able to find them."

The state Fraternal Order of Police also came out in support of Long, issuing a statement that said the grand jury's decision that there wasn't enough evidence to indict should be respected. The FOP also has started a fund-raising effort to help Long and his family.

David declined to comment on possible charges against Long, whether the grand jury understood that they could indict Long on a lesser charge under state law or questions about a conflict of interest with a grand jury member who is married to a deputy.

"Cases must be tried in court and not in the media," he said.