Police chief, city officials respond to district attorney verdict

Published 12:10 am Thursday, June 8, 2017

By Jessica Coates and Shavonne Walker


SALISBURY — An hour and a half after Rowan County District Attorney Brandy Cook announced that police Officer Karl Boehm’s conduct was lawful in the death of Ferguson Laurent Jr., Police Chief Jerry Stokes said his department will make some changes.

“The shooting of Ferguson Laurent Jr. was tragic for our entire community,” Stokes said at a news conference. “This also includes the Police Department, for we are also members of this great community. No officer serving the warrant Nov. 3 went there with the intent to harm anyone.”

It was at 9 a.m. Nov. 3 that members of the department’s Special Response Team tried to serve a no-knock search warrant that was the result of a 3-month-long investigation.

“This was not anything that occurred overnight. There was considerable information that the officers had when the detectives requested the assistance of the Special Response Team,” Stokes said.

Stokes said that even though no criminal charges will be pursued in this case and Officer Boehm will remain employed, the department will complete its own internal investigation to see if Boehm violated any police policies.

“Throughout the country, we have witnessed the deaths of people of color during interactions with members of law enforcement,” Stokes said. “This incident and others like it are a call to our nation that we must ensure justice is properly and constitutionally served.”

Stokes said the department is also taking this as an opportunity to implement changes. One will be the suspension of no-knock warrants unless the deputy police chief or the police chief approve them.

Stokes said that before Laurent’s death, the department had a review system in place for no-knock warrants. But he said it wasn’t as formal a policy as what’s being implemented.

“We’re just adding one more little step to that, that command will be briefed with a little more detail,” Stokes said.

Other changes will include:

  • Striving to ensure the demographics of the Police Department reflect that of the Salisbury community.
  • The creation of a Chief’s Citizen Advisory Board to strengthen dialogue with community residents.
  • The department-wide implementation of implicit bias training.
  • The creation of a Crisis Negotiation Team, which will allow officers to better utilize communication as a tool to prevent use of force.
  • The creation of a detailed process for threat assessment that must be completed and reviewed by a commanding officer serving any search warrant to properly identify threats to the safety of officers or the public.
  • The creation of a strategic plan to address crime and community engagement concerns.
  • The commission of a community survey to determine how the Police Department can better serve and protect the community.

Mayor Karen Alexander said after Wednesday’s news conference that the community has to respect Cook’s decision.

“That’s her line of work,” Alexander said. “Obviously, any loss of life is sad. But then you also have the circumstances around it, and we have to balance safety for the rest of our community versus the safety of our officers.”

Alexander said that the city is thinking about holding a community forum so that residents might have a place and time to ask questions and air grievances. She did not specify when or where that forum might be.

City Councilman David Post called no-knock warrants a constitutional tool and said the City Council can’t restrict such tools.

Councilman Kenny Hardin said now is the time for healing, and that it is time to let go of animosity, doubt and skepticism.

Contact reporter Jessica Coates at 704-797-4222 and Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.