Crime & Courts

CMPD chief: Arresting West Charlotte band director at church was ‘indefensible’

CMPD Chief Kerr Putney listens to Mecklenburg Commissioner Vilma Leake during a community meeting at First Baptist Church-West to discuss the April 17 arrest of West Charlotte band director Duncan Gray. Gray, accused of taking indecent liberties with a minor, was taken into custody during Sunday worship at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church.
CMPD Chief Kerr Putney listens to Mecklenburg Commissioner Vilma Leake during a community meeting at First Baptist Church-West to discuss the April 17 arrest of West Charlotte band director Duncan Gray. Gray, accused of taking indecent liberties with a minor, was taken into custody during Sunday worship at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church. qcitymetro

The decision to arrest a West Charlotte High School band director during Sunday worship at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church was a “failure in leadership” and “indefensible,” CMPD Chief Kerr Putney said Monday at a community meeting.

Duncan Gray, 58, was arrested April 17 and charged with taking indecent liberties with a minor. He was released later that day from Mecklenburg County Jail with bail set at $50,000.

Police later revealed that a former West Charlotte student and member of the school’s band had accused Gray of sexual assault.

Speaking to clergy and community members Monday at First Baptist Church-West, Putney said that while the arresting detectives had legal authority to apprehend Gray at Friendship, they exercised poor judgment in doing so.

“We can meet the legal standard, and what we did was lawful,” said Putney, but added that what the officers missed was an “ethical standard.”

“As is customary in Charlotte, as we all know, a house of worship is not where we make an arrest,” the chief said.

Clergy members express concerns

Some members of Charlotte’s black clergy were incensed following the arrest, questioning why detectives could not have arrested Gray at his home or elsewhere.

The Rev. Ricky Woods, senior pastor at First Baptist-West, told Putney he was “very, very hurt by what they did to Friendship.”

“If that happens at one of our leading churches,” he said, “how much at risk are these marginal religious groups?”

Mecklenburg Commissioner Vilma Leake, who also attended the meeting, said she was “grieved” by where the arrest took place.

“We are not mad, but we are upset,” she said. “We are awfully upset that that brother would be taken out of church in handcuffs.”

Putney said he met with Friendship’s pastor, the Rev. Clifford A. Jones Sr., to apologize. He also said that while the arrest was made at the church, the arresting officers did not enter the sanctuary. Rather, Putney said, the suspect was notified to meet the officers outside the sanctuary.

But, Putney noted, the technicalities of the arrest could not be used as an excuse.

“I never thought I’d have to create a policy that speaks to common sense and morality,” he said. “To me, it’s an ethical issue to go into a house of worship and snatch someone out.”

Putney said Gray should have been followed and arrested after he left the church: “We know where he is, we know where he lives. This is not the location to make the arrest.”

‘Manifestation of bias’

As tensions flared in Charlotte following the police shooting of Jonathan Ferrell, an unarmed black man, African-American churches in the city played a significant role in helping law enforcement connect with an angry community. At Monday’s meeting, Putney recognized the historical role the Black church has played.

He said that CMPD’s leaders have undergone a year of cultural competency training at Johnson C. Smith University and that this training would be used to train other leaders and street-level officers. Putney said the department is also working with UNC Charlotte to identify what personal characteristics are most needed for effective community policing. Those characteristics, Putney said, eventually will be used when CMPD recruits, hires and promotes officers.

The department has worked with officers to identify “unconscious biases,” said Putney, and he called the arrest at Friendship a “manifestation of bias.”

“But for race, I don’t think we would have had the same experience,” he said.

Still, Putney said he was hopeful that good would come from the incident, and he told those who attended the meeting that the arrest would mark the beginning of a larger conversation within CMPD.

“Out of something negative, something positive can come,” he said. “It’s a matter of our willingness to do the work.”

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