Crime & Courts

Durham police officer fatally shoots man in public housing complex

A woman overcome with emotion is led away from the scene near the location of a police officer-involved shooting at McDougald Terrance housing project in Durham, NC on Nov. 22, 2016.
A woman overcome with emotion is led away from the scene near the location of a police officer-involved shooting at McDougald Terrance housing project in Durham, NC on Nov. 22, 2016.

A man fatally shot by police at a Durham public housing community Tuesday had made a sudden movement for his waistband before the shooting, Durham Police Chief C.J. Davis said.

Three officers speaking to the man at McDougald Terrace near Wabash and Dayton streets then began to struggle with him. The officers reported that they heard a gunshot and one of the officers fired his gun.

A gun that did not belong to police was found next to the man’s body, Davis said. None of the officers was hit by gunfire, but one was taken to the hospital with a leg injury.

Police had not released the civilian’s name as of Tuesday evening, pending notification of his family, but the community coalition FADE (Fostering Alternative Drug Enforcement) and others posted on Facebook that the victim was Frank Clark.

Tuesday’s shooting was the fourth fatal officer-involved shooting in Durham since 2013. It came less than 24 hours after the Durham City Council approved the purchase of police body cameras, with one council member saying the city would regret not having them if there were another officer-involved shooting.

Violent crime surge

The three officers were investigating recent violent crimes and doing a neighborhood canvas in the city’s District 4, where Davis said robberies and violent crime have increased at least 20 percent in the last three months.

Police flooded the area after the shooting with help from sheriff’s deputies and state troopers.

The N.C. State Bureau of Investigation is investigating the incident, which is standard in shootings involving police officers. The three officers, whose names were not released, have been placed on administrative leave – also standard procedure.

The officers were members of the Violent Incident Response Team, which focuses on “gathering intelligence and following up on violent-crime incidents,” according to a Police Department statement.

“The Police Department’s approach has been to gather intelligence through various non-confrontational types of conversations and communication, neighborhood canvassing so that we can identify specific individuals that have been responsible for some of the violent crime, drive-by shootings, gang activity that we have seen in that community,” Davis said.

After the shooting, the police reached out to local ministers to help encourage dialogue, Davis said, as well as Anthony Scott, the director of the Durham Housing Authority, which operates McDougald Terrace.

No dash camera footage caught the incident, but the Police Department is asking any individuals with video to share the information.

After the shooting, FADE released a statement saying “community policing killed this young man.”

The Police Department was in the neighborhood “not because anyone had called them to be,” but because they decided to put this neighborhood under surveillance, the statement said.

“They stopped this young black man because he was walking around his neighborhood, not because he was breaking any law,” the statement said. “Now this father, brother, uncle and son, this man who was loved, is dead.”

Body camera debate

The City Council voted 5-2 Monday night to pay $1.4 million for 530 body cameras for officers, which they will start testing in December and distributing to patrol officers in January.

When city council members debated the merits of buying police body cameras after the passage of a state law that limits the general release of camera footage without a court order, Councilman Steve Schewel was among the five of seven council members that supported the purchase.

“But suppose there is a police-involved shooting in Durham and we had passed up a chance to purchase these cameras,” he said. “I wish we had body cameras when Jose Ocampo was killed, or when La’Vante Biggs was killed.” It would have helped their families, the Police Department and the community, he said.

On Sept. 5, 2015 police fatally shot 21-year-old Biggs.

Police say Biggs was suicidal and holding a weapon when police responded to 911 calls from him and his mother in the 1700 block of Angier Avenue. The Durham NAACP and Shanika Biggs say police mismanaged the situation and that Biggs’ death could have been prevented.

In 2013, police shot and killed two men. Jose Adan Cruz Ocampo, a suspect in a stabbing, was shot four times after police yelled at him to put a knife down when he pulled it from his back pocket. Derek Walker, upset about losing custody of his son, was shot after he pointed a gun at police and himself during a standoff downtown.

Virginia Bridges: 919-829-8924, @virginiabridges