Durham-based attorney Scott Holmes can't help but laugh when the police report is read to him over the phone.
After all, the alleged language used by his thirty-four-year-old client, Kevin Love, toward Durham police officer R.A. Ingram was pretty salty. But Holmes is quite certain about one thing: his client was likely charged with "resisting, delaying, and obstructing" a police officer because he is black.
And he says he has the stats to prove it.
Holmes says Love was arrested on February 8, 2015, for "taking a picture of an officer who was conducting a traffic stop. An officer got pissed off at him for trying to record him and charged him."
According to Ingram's report, Love "stopped and said, 'You are a real dickhead.' He then attempted to talk to the driver. I asked him to leave. He left, circled back, and talked to the driver again. He gave the driver his phone number."
"It started because I had received a seatbelt violation," says Love, "and about five or ten minutes after he let me go, after giving me the ticket, I saw him on another street, where he had stopped a car—it was like a BMW with dark tinted windows—and he was talking to the guy behind the passenger seat. And I knew the guy."
Hoping to prove in court that Ingram (who is also black, according to Love) was "just out there harassing people" that day, Love stopped and snapped a picture of the officer, who was in a patrol car. Ingram told Love to leave, and they argued.
"From my patrol vehicle, I asked Mr. Love to leave," Ingram wrote in his report. "He told me to 'shut the fuck up,' and remained talking to the driver."
Holmes says there's no way to know whether Ingram's report accurately reflects Love's comments. "The dash cam doesn't have audio, so you can't hear their conversations," he says.
According to Love, he was stopped again by Ingram and two other officers about a half an hour later, arrested, and taken downtown for booking. He was released on a $500 unsecured bond and had to rescue his car from a towing lot, which wasn't cheap, he adds.
In the end, the audio-free dash-cam video was innocuous enough to get Love's case thrown out of court.
Holmes, an N.C. Central law professor, points out that many defendants—like Love—sign a waiver affirming that they won't need a court-appointed attorney to represent them for a nonviolent "resist, delay, and obstruct" charge, which is filed entirely at the discretion of an officer and, in law enforcement circles, is sometimes referred to as "contempt of cop."
Holmes says that, when he was in private practice, he sought out people charged with RDO and offered to defend them pro bono. He considered it a public service.
"One of my areas of pro bono service and concern was the kind of situation where somebody was charged with obstructing justice—and that's their only charge," he says. "Because, usually, in those situations, the police have engaged in some kind of misconduct and are trying to cover it up by charging the person with obstruction—or 'resist, delay, and obstruct.'"
He and his law students have recently compiled statistics showing that—as he put it in a tweet earlier this month—"90% of the people charged with nonviolent discretionary charge of obstructing an officer in Durham in the last 18 months were of color."
Holmes supplied the INDY with a list of those arrested for RDO between August 1, 2015, and February 29, 2016. He and his students found that, out of 195 people charged just with RDO—a class 2 misdemeanor usually not punishable by jail time, though the costs can be considerable and the arrest stays on a person's record permanently—only twenty were white.
Such disparities aren't unique to Durham. In recent years, studies have shown disturbing statistics for resisting-arrest charges in big cities like New York and San Francisco. A WNYC report showed that 15 percent of New York City officers made a staggering 50 percent of resisting-arrest charges in the city. And only 5 percent of those cops filed 40 percent of those charges, which shows how subjective they can be. Strikingly, the data also revealed that NYPD cops were far more likely to charge black people for resisting arrest than whites.
San Francisco's stats from 2010 through 2015 are similar to Durham's. African-Americans there were eight times more likely than whites to be charged with resisting arrest.
In an email to the INDY, Durham police spokesman Willie Glenn said the department was unable to confirm the accuracy of Holmes's findings. "This is not data the department has compiled," Glenn wrote.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Resisting, in Black and White"