Local News

Durham Officer Acquitted in Theft Case

Posted December 7, 2000 6:00 a.m. EST

— A jury on Friday acquitted a former Durham police officer who was accused of stealing money from a citizen during a traffic stop.

In the civil case, officer Stanley Harris was accused of stealing $2,200 from John Johnson during a 1999 traffic stop. Johnson says the stop was an unconstitutional search and seizure.

The jury struggled for two days with the decision, but after 22 minutes of deliberations Friday morning, the panel returned with an acquittal on all charges.

Jurors notified the judge Thursday that they did not think they could reach a unanimous agreement on all issues involved in the case. They sent a similar note Wednesday.

Juror Millie Eastep says she was convinced of Harris' innocence by the trial's second day.

"I think there was a lot of soul-searching goin on, and reviewing what the judge's actual orders were," she says. "There was a problem with burden of proof."

Defense attorney Barry Winston says Harris was happy with the outcome.

"As soon as the verdict was over, he shed some tears of gratitude and joy. He was very pleased and relieved it was over."

"We fought hard for the Constitution," says Johnson's attorney, Alexander Charns. "We didn't prevail, but we fully intend to appeal."

Charns did not detail the grounds on which he will seek an appeal, but he expects the case to return to court within two years.

The attorney did say he will urge an investigation into the dismissal of one juror. He was dismissed Thursday when the court learned that FBI and SBI agents were searching his home.

The special agent handling the case says that he could not discuss the particulars of the case, because the investigation continues.

Charns questions the timing of the dismissal.