Local News

Durham Officers Placed on Leave Amid Investigation

Posted November 8, 2007 4:54 p.m. EST
Updated November 9, 2007 10:27 a.m. EST

— Several Durham police officers have been placed on leave pending a major internal investigation, and WRAL has learned the probe might center around sexual misconduct.

Police Chief Jose Lopez said Thursday that the allegations surfaced shortly after he took over the department in September. He said less than 10 officers, ranging from rookies to veterans, were involved, but did not reveal any other details surrounding the accusations.

When asked by WRAL's Julia Lewis whether police officers are under investigation for having sex with prostitutes, Lopez replied, "At this point and time, we are conducting and investigation into some allegations of misconduct."

"It's not about secrecy. It's about confidentiality," he told WRAL. "You don't want to smear a good officer because of an allegation until we've gotten to the bottom of it."

For more than a month, the department's internal affairs division has been investigating the officers and the allegations.

Lopez said enough evidence has been gathered to warrant placing several officers on administrative leave this week. Others officers have been exonerated by the investigation, he added.

"We're going to make sure that we identify the officers involved and that we take proper action," he said.

He said if the investigation finds that any officers violated the law, he will not hesitate to dismiss them from the force.

"Officers here I've spoken to know I don't accept any criminal activity or any violations of our general order," he said.

Lopez said he was looking into whether there should be a criminal investigation and has contacted the Durham prosecutor's office and federal authorities.

Most of the police department and City Council members had been kept in the dark about the situation. After WRAL approached Lopez about the situation, Lopez held a closed-door meeting to brief city leaders. The meeting lasted less than 30 minutes.

"If we had given information to the public," Lopez said, "we'd have also given it to the individuals we're looking at, and we would've tipped our hand and our investigation would've been over and done with."

The investigation never posed a risk to public safety, he said, adding that he wasn't sure how long the probe would last.

After the briefing, Durham leaders expressed confidence in Lopez's ability to deal with the allegations and investigation.

"In any organization, you're going to have individuals that from time to time do the wrong thing," City Manager Patrick Baker said. "It's important that the department deals with them effectively and quickly."

"All of our police officers do an excellent job," Councilman Eugene Brown said. "We hate to see one or two of them tarnish, but we're not going to let them tarnish the entire department."

Durham police have been involved in other misconduct cases in recent months.

Scott C. Tanner and Gary P. Lee were fired last year after a cook was beaten up outside a Raleigh sports bar. Tanner was convicted of assault in April, while Lee was cleared of criminal wrongdoing.

Officer Talisa Little was charged in August with simple affray in connection with a fight outside a Raleigh nightclub. The charge was later dismissed.

Lopez said situations like these are an unfortunate reality of the job and that he is prepared to deal with them.

"This is something you don't like to see, but this is a reality," he said. "I have to take action, and that's what I'm doing."