On January, 24, 2012, Durham police stormed Rahmil Ingram’s Colfax Street home, looking for his father.
Ingram says he thought the cops were intruders breaking into the house. Officers thought Ingram, standing at the trigger-end of a shotgun, was a threat. They fired, two bullets striking Ingram’s nineteen-year-old body.
Although Ingram would be the only person injured in the encounter, he would be charged with two counts of assault on a law enforcement officer using a firearm. Now, his attorneys are seeking to have those charges dismissed.
But their argument for why those charges should be dropped doesn’t really have to do with the irony of what was just described.
Instead, they say the case must be dismissed because a judge has twice said evidence “essential” to the prosecution’s case — statements Ingram made to police after the shooting — shouldn’t be used in court. While the case has been tied up in appeals, Ingram has been deprived of a speedy trial, they say.
Attorneys Alexander Charns and John Donovan filed a motion to dismiss the charges in January and Superior Court Judge Carl Fox heard arguments Wednesday morning. Assistant District Attorney Tom Crosby argued that the delay in trying Ingram has not been unreasonable and the case should move forward because there was probable cause to arrest him. (Ingram was indicted on the two charges in February 2012).
Now twenty-four, Ingram was brought to Durham for Wednesday’s hearing from Scotland Correctional Institution, where he is serving time for Orange County convictions of felonious restraint and habitual misdemeanor assault.
According to Donovan, members of the Durham Police Department’s Selective Enforcement Team went to Ingram’s home with a search warrant, suspecting Ingram’s father was selling cocaine (he was ultimately convicted). Charns described in court how officers used a battering ram to knock down the door of the home and fired flash-bang devices that produce a sound equivalent to a rocket launch. In addition to Ingram, his father, mother, girlfriend and brother were in the house.
Ingram’s attorneys say he lowered the shotgun as soon as he realized the men in front of him were officers, not intruders. One of the officer’s bullets hit Ingram in the back of his arm, near his armpit, suggesting his arms were up when the officer fired. That shot knocked him backward to the floor and a second bullet struck him in the groin near his buttocks.
Ingram was taken to Duke Hospital, where he was given three doses of the powerful pain medication fentanyl within one hour and twenty minutes. Two hours after his third dose of fentanyl, Ingram was “crying loudly and yelling,” court documents say, and a dose of another pain medication, Dilaudid, was ordered but not given to him. According to court documents, a nurse’s note said police asked that the dose not be administered to Ingram until after he was interviewed by State Bureau of Investigation agents.
“Rahmil was questioned by police while under the influence of narcotic pain medication, and during a period when adequate pain medication was withheld from him to facilitate questioning by police,” the motion for dismissal says.
Durham Superior Court Judge Bryan Collins first ruled that these statements should be suppressed in October 2014. Jury selection for Ingram’s trial was underway when the state appealed that order. The Court of Appeals vacated the first order, saying there hadn’t been enough evidence presented about Ingram’s mental condition at the time or about allegations that police had coerced him into making the statements. The statements were suppressed again by Collins in October 2015, and that ruling was also appealed by the state. The Court of Appeals upheld the second suppression order in September 2016.
Charns and Donovan say what’s important in all that is the prosecution, in filing each appeal, certified that the statements were “essential” to its case. They point to this portion of North Carolina General Statute: “The court on motion of the defendant must dismiss the charges stated in a criminal pleading if it determines that … an issue of fact or law essential to a successful prosecution has been previously adjudicated in favor of the defendant in a prior action between the parties.”
(To be clear, the attorneys also take issue with the officers’ “SWAT-style entry” into Ingram’s home, which Donovan says forced both Ingram and police to make a potentially fatal, split-second decision).
“Why shouldn’t this case be dismissed?” Fox asked Crosby on Wednesday. Crosby, who was not the prosecutor when Ingram’s case first came to court (that was Nicholas Yates), said, in five years, Ingram “didn’t assert his right to speedy trial” and that his defense team has not shown that misconduct by the state contributed to the delay. There is “no basis in law” to dismiss the charges, he said.
Donovan left the courtroom feeling optimistic, but it’s unclear which way Fox will rule on the motion. He questioned whether he had the authority to dismiss the charges (“Generally speaking … that’s a prosecutorial function,” he said). He said he will take the case under advisement and hopes to deliver a decision in about a week.