Salisbury Police Chief: Body cameras should have been used during Lafayette St. house search

Published 3:00 pm Tuesday, November 15, 2016

By Amanda Raymond

SALISBURY — Salisbury Police Chief Jerry Stokes said body cameras should have been used during the incident that led to an officer-involved shooting on Nov. 3.

After the local chapter of the NAACP held a press conference  at Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church on Tuesday to voice questions about the incident, Stokes later held a briefing to address some of those questions.

The community is still recovering from the death of Ferguson Claude Laurent Jr., a 22-year-old black man who was shot by police during the execution of a no-knock warrant at a mobile home at 625 E. Layfayette St.

During a previous press conference, Stokes said after the department’s Special Response Team entered the house, Laurent fired once at police and Officer Karl Boehm, a member of the Special Response Team, fired back twice.

Medical personnel that were on the scene administered first aid and Laurent was taken to Novant Rowan Medical Center, where he later died.

In a statement, Stokes said there were certain things they could not currently address because the investigation is on-going by the State Bureau of Investigations.

During the press conference, the Rev. Nilous Avery, pastor of Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church, said he and the other clergy members and community leaders at the press conference understood the need for the case to follow the right process in order to be thoroughly investigated, but the community still deserved answers to pending questions.

“…We are continuously in the community among residents who are afraid that the loss of life of another young African American male will be forgotten and business as usual will resume,” he said.

Avery said truth, transparency and trust were their ultimate goals.

Avery mentioned that no body cameras were used during the search. He said Stokes previously told him the team did not use body cameras so they would not reveal their tactical plans.

“We continue to question no body cameras because now we have only the words of those who were on the scene and a young man who cannot speak for himself,” Avery said.

Stokes said the department has concluded that body cameras should have been used during the search.

“After reviewing this incident, the SPD acknowledges that body cameras should have been worn in this tactical operation,” the chief said in the statement. “In the future, our officers will wear body cameras during all operations.”

Other issues

The NAACP press conference raised several other issues.

Scott Teamer, president of the Salisbury-Rowan chapter of the NAACP, said after reviewing the search warrant, he wanted to know what the evidence was that supported the use of a no-knock warrant.

“We have to wonder, would this same procedure have been done in an affluent community,” Teamer asked.

The Rev. Patrick Jones, pastor of New Zion Baptist Church, also wanted to know what led the police department to ask for a no-knock warrant.

“What vital information did they get that compelled this type of warrant that ended the life of a young African American male?” he asked.

Al Heggins, owner and founder of the Human Praxis Institute, said when community members feel threatened with violence and reach out for help, they expect help based on “conciliation, restorative justice and peace.”

“Right now, the use of a no-knock warrant in the black community has the look and feel of escalated violence,” she said.

She also asked about the criteria used to determine the need for a no-knock warrant.

During the briefing, Stokes said the police department presented their evidence to a Superior Court judge who “agreed with the detectives’ assessment and signed the no-knock warrant.”

He stated state code 15A-251: Entry by Force, which allows officers to break and enter into a premise or vehicle to serve a warrant if the officer announces his identity and purpose and the officer is not being allowed in or is being “unreasonably delayed.” They are also allowed to break and enter a premise if there is reason to believe that announcing their presence would “endanger the life or safety of any person.”

“The evidence presented to the judge met all of this criteria that giving notice would endanger the officers involved in serving the warrant,” Stokes stated.

Method questioned

Avery also asked if alternate methods could have been used to search the property, especially since the neighborhood is “heavily populated where the houses and the trailers are very close in proximity to each other.”

“This actually created a violent and confrontational situation where none apparently existed before,” he said.

Stokes said the incident happened while children where in school and “the neighborhood was fairly quiet.” He again stated that the warrant was to search the premises for evidence to support the investigation, not for any specific person.

He said using other methods could have also led to dangerous situations, saying that if they had tried to arrest Laurent while he was in a vehicle, it could have led to a vehicle pursuit.

“That’s dangerous as well, and many times more dangerous,” he said.

Avery said they want to know how many shots the officer and Laurent fired and where on Laurent’s body was he shot.

He also asked if there was any evidence to lead the police department to believe the occupants of the home were “violently dangerous,” other than information from an informant.

The warrant said the occupants of the home were suspects in armed robberies and other weapon-related crimes.

Avery said they were hopeful that they would receive some answers from the police department.

“We are in no way here condemning our police department,” Avery said. “We thank God for them, for those that serve to protect, and we certainly want them to trust us and we want to trust them because we can only get through this when we work together and not apart from each other.”

At the briefing, Stokes also said the State Bureau of Investigations is leading the investigation into the incident and the Salisbury Police Department will not be able to conclude their internal investigation until the State Bureau of Investigations has completed theirs.

Contact reporter Amanda Raymond at 704-797-4222.