Thursday, July 05, 2007

Flashback: Police raid in Durham ruled unconstitutional

Laughter erupted when [DPD deputy chief Ronald H.] Hodge said he didn't "recall that the Durham Police Department has been involved in something where we made major mistakes in the past five years." - Brianne Dopart, The Herald-Sun (June 6, 2007)

"Police raid in Durham ruled unconstitutional" - Demorris Lee, The News & Observer (July 11, 2002)

A high-profile Durham police raid of an apartment complex in February was unconstitutional, and the actions of some officers amounted to "tortious or criminal conduct," Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson ruled Wednesday after viewing television news footage of the search.


Hudson's order jeopardizes the criminal cases against at least six people charged in the Feb. 15-16 raid on the apartments at 1835 Cheek Road. It bolsters the public defender's efforts to have criminal charges dismissed on constitutional grounds in other court venues.

It could also help others pursue civil claims against the police or the television station.


Hudson did not specify what actions of officials he viewed as possible criminal conduct.

Durham Public Defender Bob Brown focused on questions of constitutional violations. "If you find people committing crime, you should arrest them," Brown said. "But you don't have the right to do a wholesale search of a neighborhood. It's unconstitutional."

An internal investigation by the police, conducted at the request of the Durham NAACP, found no misconduct on the part of officers, although it did recommend some minor procedural changes.

Police officials conducted an "exhaustive investigation" and did not find any policy or procedural violations or violations of state law, interim Police Chief Steve Chalmers said in an April 4 report to City Manager Marcia Conner.

Arnetta J. Herring, an attorney for the Police Department, said the footage of a WTVD cameraman at the scene wouldn't change the conclusion of the investigation. "I didn't see any constitutional violation, and the order is a judge's opinion," she said Wednesday. "They [officers] did a fine job. I saw nothing on here that would say anything illegal happened."

Hudson had a different interpretation, based on testimony from police officials, residents and Mayor Bill Bell, and on viewing the WTVD footage. It showed officers breaking open doors, frisking residents and lifting cushions off chairs and sofas.

"Here the Durham police have executed seven search warrants for specific residences, but attempted to increase the scope of these warrants ... to a general warrant to search all individuals in the housing complex," Hudson wrote in the 13-page order. "These actions violated the constitutional rights of all the residents 'to be free from searches derived from search warrants based on less than probable cause.' "

More than 100 Durham officers, two National Guard helicopters, 10 State Bureau of Investigation agents and other law enforcement agents participated in the two-night operation. Officers seized heroin, crack and powder cocaine, marijuana and prescription narcotics, and two pistols.

The raid, which was witnessed by Chalmers, Bell and the WTVD cameraman, included searches of several apartments, foot patrols of the complex and license checkpoints. Police made 35 arrests on 36 felony charges, 20 outstanding warrants, 65 traffic citations and two charges of driving while impaired.

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