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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

New Details Emerge About Controversial Durham Drug Bust

Posted by on Wed, Apr 13, 2016 at 3:45 PM

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Last Friday evening, officers from the Durham Police Department's HEAT (High Enforcement Abatement Team) unit entered a residence at 3417 Misty Pine Avenue and made several arrests. The incident was caught on video by Vera McGriff, who owns the home and was among those arrested. The video, which now has nearly 200,000 views online, depicts a chaotic scene that suggests the officers' actions were overly aggressive. 

Today, McGriff released a statement about the incident. 

"We were subject to the physical assault and terrorizing actions from a gang of police officers that included assaults with batons, an officer's gun, tasing and over four hours of handcuffed detainment," McGriff says. "All the while my elementary school aged children watched these vicious attacks."

McGriff continues: "When they seized my home and we lay tased, swollen, bruised, cuffed and helpless on the floor, it felt like I was surrounded by an unruly gang that meant me and my family nothing but harm. The terror, by these officers, did not stop when my 11 year old son, recently home from the hospital, began to vomit and seize. Nor did they stop when my 10 year old daughter screamed and called out to her mommy in fear. They did not care about any of us as human beings."

McGriff is demanding a thorough investigation of the incident "using a racial equity lens"; the disbanding of the HEAT unit, which a recent report found to engage in patterns of racial profiling; and the immediate termination of the five officers who "forced their way into my home and terrorized my family."

A memo from city manager Tom Bonfield to members of the Durham City Council indicates that at least one of those requests is being acted upon. Bonfield acknowledges that a complaint from residents regarding the incident has been filed, and that a formal review of the incident by the DPD's internal affairs division, involving interviews with both the officers and the residents, is underway.

"I have asked [interim] Chief [Larry] Smith to expedite this review as much as possible without jeopardizing the investigation," Bonfield writes. "Chief Smith has also advised me that he intends to meet with members of the community tomorrow to review and discuss this matter."

In a separate memo to Bonfield and the council, Smith gave some background about the events that led to officers conducting the "knock and talk" on Friday, April 8. 

Smith notes that the department had received numerous calls about Khadir Cherry selling drugs in an apartment complex across the street from 3417 Misty Pine. On Monday, April 4—four days before the incident last Friday night—Cherry was arrested and charged with felony possession with intent to manufacture and sell, after being found with five individually packaged grams of marijuana on his person. Cherry also had a prior felony drug arrest. 

"The numerous hand-to-hand transactions that were observed by apartment employees over the past three to four weeks, and the prior felony drug arrest, and the [Monday, April 4] arrest [of Cherry] is what led HEAT 2 to conduct a follow up investigation at 3417 Misty Pine Ave," Smith states. "It is reasonable to suspect that based upon all these factors more drugs and the items often associated with them, such as weapons and money, may be located at Misty Pine." 

Cherry was subsequently arrested again during the Friday bust, and charged with additional counts for intent to sell and distribute. He was also charged with assault on a government official, resisting a public officer, and possession of marijuana paraphernalia. Three other individuals present in the home, including McGriff, also face charges stemming from Friday's bust—assault on a government official, resisting a public officer—though only McGriff's "maintaining a dwelling" charge is drug-related. 

Regarding the lawfulness of the home search, DPD public affairs manager Wil Glenn tells the INDY that "a search warrant was obtained by HEAT prior to searching the home," but that "the home was secured prior to the search warrant." 

More to come, no doubt. 

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