City prepares for report on Laurent killing

Published 1:14 pm Saturday, May 27, 2017

By Josh Bergeron

SALISBURY — City officials say they expect to get the results soon of the SBI’s investigation into Ferguson Laurent Jr’s killing by a Salisbury police officer, and they want to be prepared for public reaction.

A group of anonymous Salisbury residents, however, has responded by issuing a list of demands instead of accepting a city invitation to discuss Laurent’s death.

A letter signed by Mayor Karen Alexander went out recently to members of the faith-based community, inviting them to a meeting at 3 p.m. Wednesday at Hood Theological Seminary. The letter states the city’s meeting would include a discussion about working together to solve matters relating to the death of Laurent, who was killed during the execution of a no-knock warrant in November.

Police said Laurent fired first at officers while they were serving the warrant at his East Lafayette Street home. An autopsy report released in January found Laurent had 10 gunshot wounds and no drugs or alcohol in his system.

Police served the no-knock warrant, which does not require officers to announce their presence, following a three-month investigation. As is protocol, Police officer Karl Boehm, who police said fired back at Laurent, was placed on leave until an internal and SBI investigation are complete.

Now, the city is waiting for District Attorney Brandy Cook to review a State Bureau of Investigation report and render a decision about police action in Laurent’s death.

In an interview on Saturday, Alexander said the city hopes to prevent any violent protests by starting a conversation with community leaders.

“I think that we have seen across the nation the result of not being proactive and not getting our community involved and asking for their perspective and their help,” Alexander said. “We want to hear from the grassroots leaders so that our decision making moving forward includes their perspective … We love this community and want to have this community move forward around whatever challenging issues we may face, but we want to do it in a civil manner.”

Following recent city actions, an anonymous group known as Justice in Salisbury began circulating a letter that criticizes city officials for a “lack of concern for the well-being of its community” and an “inability to engage the local community effectively.”

While the city’s meeting was scheduled on Wednesday, the citizen letter set a Tuesday meeting for 6:30 p.m. at Mission House Church on Statesville Boulevard. The citizen letter was signed by “the Salisbury community.” It calls the upcoming meeting “The People’s Assembly.”

Justice in Salisbury said it’s not speaking to news outlets about the letter and refused to answer any questions. Anthony Smith, a pastor at Mission House, said he doesn’t speak for the entire group but said that it’s his opinion that Justice in Salisbury wants to have its Tuesday meeting before making any statements.

The Justice in Salisbury group alleged on Facebook that the City of Salisbury possesses a State Bureau of Investigation report about Laurent’s death. It also asks the district attorney to authorize the release of the SBI report.

When asked on Saturday, former Salisbury Rowan NAACP Scott Teamer said the most important question is why Cook hasn’t yet rendered a decision about police action after reviewing the SBI report. Current Salisbury-Rowan NAACP president Gemale Black, listed as the contact person in the citizen letter, could not be reached on Saturday to comment about Laurent’s death or the recent exchange of letters.

City staff and Alexander denied that the city possesses the SBI report.

“That’s completely false,” Alexander said. “It’s in possession of the district attorney who, from what we understand, will be issuing a decision some time in the coming weeks. Whenever the district attorney’s office releases the report after they are complete with their investigation, we will receive it. It will all happen at the same time.”

Leading up to Alexander’s letter, Police Chief Jerry Stokes, Deputy Chief Shon Barnes and City Manager Lane Bailey met individually with several community leaders. Those meetings occurred last week, Alexander said. Council members did not participate.

She said the city contacted between 24 and 26 community leaders and 17 attended the meetings.

“While we don’t control when this SBI report is released, we do want to be prepared for the eventual release because we don’t know what is in the report or what the decision of the DA will be,” she said.

Despite its recent meetings and the Wednesday event, the citizen letter said community members “will no longer be pawns subjected to careless local governance of this city we call home.” The letter said citizens were also insulted by the suggestion that black and brown Salisbury residents would respond violently to the release of the SBI report. Alexander said the city heard rumors that there was a possibility for violence.

The citizen group issued a list of demands in its letter. The demands include that city officials show up at “The People’s Assembly,” release the SBI report, suspend the use of no-knock warrants and create a job description for the city manager that’s more specific to the needs of Salisbury. The group also asks the city to answer whether the police chief meets basic law enforcement requirements. After transferring from Lynchburg, Virginia, Stokes says he recently completed completed his North Carolina law enforcement certification requirements.

The group requests that the city confirms it will meet the demands outlined in the letter one and a half hours before “the People’s Assembly” starts on Tuesday.

Alexander said she believes the citizen group is trying to create a perspective that the city of Salisbury is hiding something. She said it’s the city’s intent to be proactive about the district attorney’s coming decision and have inclusive discussions with local residents.

“I want us to be able to talk with one another in a civil manner and maybe disagree but, yet, be able on each side to truly hear what each other are saying,” Alexander said.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.