Community reacts to city’s request for opinion on warrants

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 2, 2017

By Amanda Raymond

SALISBURY — Residents have mixed feelings about the city’s decision to ask the North Carolina attorney general’s opinion on the city’s authority over specific tactics used by the Salisbury Police Department.

The city announced its plans in a news release Tuesday.

The City Council wrote that a number of residents have contacted the council about the Police Department’s use of no-knock warrants after the officer-involved shooting of Ferguson Claude Laurent Jr.

A member of the Police Department’s Special Response Team shot Laurent, 22, during the execution of a no-knock warrant on Lafayette Street in November. Laurent later died at a local hospital.

Since then, some residents have requested at City Council meetings that the council ban police use of no-knock warrants.

The council said it will not make a decision on the use of no-knock warrants until it hears from the attorney general and also will not comment on the shooting until the State Bureau of Investigation has completed its investigation.

At one of the first City Council meetings after the incident, Al Heggins, representing the group Women for Community Justice, presented a petition to ban the use of no-knock warrants.

In an email, Heggins said Women for Community Justice is “pleased” that the city is seeking advice from the attorney general.

“City Council’s inquiry to the attorney general acknowledges no-knock (warrants are) important city business,” she wrote. “It’s encouraging that the city is investing quality time for research as we have. Hopefully, our combined pursuits for knowledge can help heal the perceived breach of trust and we can work together for restorative justice.”

After an autopsy report saying that Laurent had suffered 10 gunshot wounds was released, a group of local pastors held a news conference to voice their concerns. The Rev. Patrick Jones, senior pastor of New Zion Baptist Church, hosted the news conference at his church. He said the council members’ action shows that they are beginning to realize the community’s concern for the safety of citizens and law enforcement officers.

Jones said it is important for the city to understand how residents are affected by the use of no-knock warrants and how they could be affected in the future.

“I think the city actually has to put themselves in the seat of the citizens and look at it from that perspective,” he said.

The city has looked at a similar policy change by another North Carolina city and found that the policy was later overturned because it contradicted state law.

Jones said he understands the need to look at examples from other cities, but he hopes the attorney general will look at Salisbury’s unique situation when making a recommendation.

He said more conversation is needed between residents and police.

“We have to deal with the elephants that are in the room and be honest about how we feel,” he said.

Minister Latasha Wilks, who has spoken at several City Council meetings about the use of no-knock warrants, said she thinks the city should have sought the attorney general’s opinion earlier.

At a council meeting in November, City Attorney Rivers Lawther said he thinks the city has the authority to ban no-knock warrants after Mayor Karen Alexander asked him about it.

At the next council meeting in December, Lawther said the council does not have that authority based on a case from Fayetteville in which the city tried to ban its police department from stopping cars and asking drivers to voluntarily consent to a search. In that case, the attorney general said search-and-seizure warrants are part of a state’s statutory scheme and cities do not have the authority to adopt ordinances that would affect the use of them.

Wilks asked why the city did not seek the attorney general’s opinion after the meeting in November.

“I kind of feel like the steps they’re taking now should have been done in the beginning,” she said.

She said she had thought the community would be receiving some answers by now and seeking an opinion from the attorney general now seems like a delay.

Wilks said it is not about race but about an honest and transparent conversation about a human life that was taken.

Contact reporter Amanda Raymond at 704-797-4222.