Local News

Wanted man took probation officer hostage before Durham shootout

Posted January 21, 2011 11:52 a.m. EST
Updated January 21, 2011 7:00 p.m. EST

— A Durham man who was killed Thursday night in a shootout with law enforcement took a probation officer hostage before exchanging fire with officers, according to a search warrant released Friday.

Members of the U.S. Marshal's Service Joint Fugitive Task Force went to a home at 404 Macon St. at about 8:10 p.m. to serve warrants on Jerome Maurice Thompkins, 35, who was wanted on three counts each of first-degree sex offense involving a child, indecent liberties with a child and crime against nature.

Authorities had information that Thompkins was living at the house, and a woman who answered the door gave officers permission to search the home, police said.

While officers were inside, Thompkins appeared with a handgun, forcing officers to retreat outside. However, Hope Nichols, a Durham County probation officer who was assisting with the case, wasn't able to get out of the house before Thompkins grabbed her, took her holstered handgun and handcuffed her, according to the search warrant.

All of the other people inside, including two children, were able to get outside, the warrant states.

Officers ordered Thompkins several times to drop his weapon and come outside. In response, he fired several shots at the officers from a bedroom window, police said.

Chapel Hill police officer Preston Oppegard, a member of the fugitive task force, fired his weapon in self-defense, killing Thompkins, police said. No one else was injured in the exchange.

A man who said he lives at the home with his girlfriend and two children said he was at work Thursday night when a relative called him and told him that he needed to go home.

"They said, 'You need to get home. They've got your house surrounded,'" said the man, who declined to give his name. "I was trying to ask questions about what's going on, and they said they had my girlfriend hostage and my children that was in the house."

The man said several shots were fired inside and outside the house, and the rear window of his car was shattered.

"I'm still trying to figure out what's going on," he said.

A neighbor who declined to give his name described the shootout as terrifying. He said he was watching television when he heard gunfire and hit the ground. Police later came to his back door and took everyone in the house and other neighbors to a safer location, he said.

The Chapel Hill Police Department is conducting an internal investigation into the incident, and the department has asked the State Bureau of Investigation to conduct a criminal investigation. Oppegard has been placed on administrative duty until both investigations are concluded, which is standard procedure.

The SBI collected shell casings, a .38-caliber handgun, a .40-caliber handgun, bullet fragments and other items from the home, according to the search warrant.