Local News

Man pleads guilty to wounding Durham officer

Posted December 9, 2009 1:08 p.m. EST
Updated December 10, 2009 6:15 a.m. EST

— A Durham man wept in court Wednesday as he tried to explain how he shot a police officer who was responding to reports of a break-in and gunfire in July.

Thomas Rashawn Monroe, 23, pleaded guilty to assault with a deadly weapon and common law obstruction of justice in the July 2 shooting of Officer D.J. Youmans.

"I'm sorry. I didn't intentionally do no crime," Monroe said. "I just ask that you forgive me. More than accept my apology, forgive me."

Youmans, who joined the Durham Police Department in June after spending two years with the New York Police Department, was working with a training officer when a report came in about gunfire and a break-in at South Square Townhomes, 3300 Shannon Road.

Monroe fired his gun through his front door as the two officers approached, and Youmans, 32, was hit once in the stomach when the bullet went under his protective vest.

Public defender Lawrence Campbell said Monroe was only trying to defend his family after someone fired about 30 shots into his apartment that night. Monroe was inside with his mother, sister, brother and niece, Campbell said.

Monroe's mother called 911, but no one ever told her officers were on their way, Campbell said. Also, no one in the apartment heard the officers announce their presence, he said.

"He can see shadows moving. He can hear people talking. He does not know that it's the police," Campbell said.

Durham County Assistant District Attorney Jim Dornfried said the officers knocked on the door and announced their presence. Monroe's actions were more reckless than a case of self-defense, he said.

Monroe said he thought someone was trying to kill his whole family.

"I was scared. I didn't know if they was just going to bust the door down. I didn't hear the police knock," he said. "So I just let out a shot. I didn't know it hit him. I didn't know it hit anybody. I was just going to scare them away."

Police have never figured out who shot into the apartment.

Youmans underwent surgery at Duke University Hospital and spent more than three months recovering from the injury before returning to duty in October.

He asked that Monroe get the maximum prison sentence, saying that his injuries were still more severe than the toughest sentence.

"One of the things that stands out to me is the act of recklessness, whether it be me or anybody coming up to the door," he said during the sentencing. "It's hard for me or any reasonable person to justify the actions of shooting through a closed door, not knowing who is behind that door, not knowing whose life you put in jeopardy.

"This is not 'Rambo.' This is not television. Once you fire a round, you have to be responsible for where that round goes," he said.

Superior Court Judge Ronald Stephens compared the case to that of Peyton Strickland, the Durham teen who was killed three years ago when a New Hanover County deputy fired through a closed door as authorities were serving a search warrant. A grand jury declined to indict the deputy in the case, the judge noted.

"There are legal questions here that, if it had been tried out, that frankly are legitimate, and I don't know what a jury would have done in this case," Stephens said.

He sentenced Monroe to 29 to 44 months in prison on the charges but suspended all but six months of the jail time. Monroe also must serve three years on probation.

Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez said he hopes the sentence sends a message that gun violence won't be tolerated.

But Andy Miller, president of the North Carolina Sheriff-Police Alliance, said sending Monroe to jail for six months does nothing to discourage future assaults on law enforcement officers.

Monroe has been in jail since his arrest, meaning he has already served five of his six months behind bars.

Cynthia Bridges, Monroe's mother, said she had hoped her son would be home by Christmas, but she said he would put his life back together after finishing his jail time.

"We're sorry that the police officer got hurt. We didn't mean to hurt anybody. It was an accident, and we are really sorry about that," Bridges said.