Salisbury City Hall’s Blunders Concerning the Officer-Involved Shooting of Claude Ferguson Laurent and Tuesday May 30th’s “Justice in Salisbury” Meeting

Posted on May 29, 2017

Todd Paris, Staff Writer and Salisbury Attorney

♦ This fall I will have been practicing law in this community for thirty years. I was fortunate in my early career to have been a prosecutor here and a defense attorney ever since. I work civil cases as well. I am under contract with the Police Benevolent Association (PBA) to go to officer involved shootings to make sure the officer’s rights are not violated. I am on the legal committee for the Salisbury-Rowan Chapter of the NAACP and help make sure citizen’s rights are not violated.

As a defense attorney, when the officers do a bad job or violate the constitution, I try the case or move to suppress illegally obtained evidence. When the officers do a good job and don’t violate the citizen’s rights, I get the best plea bargain possible.

This is how officer-involved shooting investigations work. NC Law requires the SBI to come in and investigate. The idea is that SBI agents who are not co-workers and that drive in from other counties will be impartial investigators and not co-workers of the officer who fired the shot. My experience is the SBI are very tough on officers. The agents do a thorough job and ask the hard questions. One SBI interview, I was involved in, lasted several hours. They will eventually prepare a report that is sent to the elected District Attorney who will decide if the officer is to be prosecuted.

The local department’s involvement is to merely secure the scene and evidence and cooperate with the SBI agents. The individual officer may cooperate and give a statement to the SBI or may claim his constitutional rights to remain silent. If he or she is ordered to give statement by his superiors, under the law, the statement made is not admissible in a criminal proceeding against the officer. As a PBA contract attorney, my responsibility is to advise the officer as to their rights and help him or her decide whether they should claim their right to remain silent and how to deal with their superior’s orders. If the officer is charged, I may or may not be hired to defend. I might be a witness instead.

The City of Salisbury ’s responses and actions regarding the Claude Ferguson Laurent officer-involved shooting are a non-stop debacle of Fibrant proportions. Up at the UNC School of Government they need to use this as a case study on how not to handle an officer-involved shooting from a political and community standpoint. Let me be specific as to these horrific errors:

You never put your new chief of police up at an “instant” press conference to claim that the officer only fired two shots unless you have counted the shell casings and are darn sure you are right. Better to explain the investigatory process and the law and refuse to comment until the DA makes a decision.

You never co-opt a potential demonstration and make it your own with your local faith-based colleagues go on a march and walk a bunch of police officers and people up onto the deceased person’s yard without an invitation to do so.  It just isn’t done.

When the deceased’s autopsy comes out and shows many more bullet wounds than could possibly be created by two shots, you do not use your Rumor Control page to attack angry community leaders who noticed the difference and claim they were spreading falsehoods.  We’re talking major blunders here.  You would think a professional Public Information Officer would strongly advise against this “tactic”.

When the community comes to council and wants the city to ban “no-knock” search warrants you don’t procure an Attorney General’s opinion which does not bind the city or the courts to use it as an excuse to wash your hands of the issue. You have real discussions and debates about whether the benefit is worth the cost, actually listen to the community and make a decision and “own it.”

You don’t tell citizens on your Rumor Control page over and over that you will make a statement once the SBI report is in when you knew or should have known that the DA may not release it to the city or public.

When the DA has indicated that a prosecution decision is close or was already made, you don’t assume its going to create a riot and call in black leaders to help settle folks down because of threats of violence. The fact you assume they may become violent will likely be viewed as offensive in the extreme.

Lastly, you don’t put your mayor in the local paper claiming not to know which decision the DA is about to make and claiming you don’t have a copy of the SBI report when you are already calling in faith-based and community activists to help quell potential violence. No one will believe you don’t already know the outcome of the DA’s decision.

I personally am very appreciative to Salisbury ’s Black community and the Laurent family for their amazing tolerance in the face of extreme municipal incompetence. No doubt the officer under investigation and his family have faced additional stress from this as well. None of this municipal malfeasance can give anyone any reliable information as to whether this shooting was legally justified or not. “Justice in Salisbury”  has called the city to task and set a meeting for Tuesday, May 30th. (Facebook description of the meeting below) Here’s to hoping the city doesn’t screw this up any more than they already have.

I promise the community that if the DA’s decision is to clear the officer without releasing the SBI report I will file a public records request under Chapter 132 of the NC General Statutes and Steve Mensing, the Editor of the Rowan Free Press, said they will publish it.

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