T. Greg Doucette is exhausting to follow on Twitter. He’ll clog up your feed with retweets, quotes of tweets, and, several times a week, topical tweetstorms spanning dozens of tweetstwo dozen or more an hour when he gets worked up. If you’re interested in the gory intestines of the criminal justice system, though, Doucette is a must-follow: a wellspring of knowledge eager to share his opinions, which are wonky but also rooted in real experiences in the guts of courthouses and police precincts.
Earlier this year, one of Doucette’s rants broke through the deafening din of his own feed and caught on with enough politicians, journalists, and other influential Twitter users to achieve something like virality: thousands of retweets and even a couple of online news stories aggregating his thoughts.
Over the course of forty tweets, Doucette, whose Durham law firm practices small-business advisement and criminal defense, unspooled a tale about one of his favorite topics: black males getting arrested on false charges. He described a young black male charged with reckless driving. The arresting officer wrote in his report that the client was doing 360-degree donuts in the middle of the road. Doucette’s client insisted he had merely swerved to avoid an animal. Doucette went to the scene and took a photo, which clearly supported his client’s versionjust some skid marks abruptly angling toward the sidewalk.
“Do I hate police?” Doucette tweeted. “No. I hate raging incompetent cowboys w/ badges financed by my tax money who clearly haven’t had an eye exam recently. The DA was kind enough to dismiss the case without putting up a fight. My client’s family is out what they paid me. Client himself is traumatized. And basis for police mistrust gets a fresh exhibit. While the officer who (wrongfully) charged himand pretty clearly lied on official court documents will face ~0~ repercussions.”
“This is what police brutality looks like. It’s not just people having their rights violated and the sh*t kicked out of them,” he continued. “It’s an innocent 17yo black kid trying to be a good human being and not running over a cat getting thrown headlong into our court system. It’s having to come up with money you don’t have, to defend yourself against charges that shouldn’t have been filed.”
And more: “The State doesn’t care of course. For every one case dismissed, hundreds more plead guilty. Court costs are $188+ apiece. A day’s worth of traffic cases can finance an ADA’s salary for a year. Likewise for a clerk or a judge. Guess what that means for legislators? They can cut preexisting court funding and put it somewhere where it’ll buy them more votes. So you’ve got a court system that ends up somehow being underfunded despite charging a sh*tload of money for minor offenses. Police routing more and more people (predominantly young and black) into the court system, patting themselves on the back.”
Finally: “Welcome to the clusterf*ck that is our criminal justice system. I filed to run for the State Senate precisely b/c of this bullsh*t. It doesn’t matter if you put an R or a D or a U beside your namethis is wrong.”
For reasons that sometimes seem mysterious even to Doucette, he will have an “R” beside his name on the ballot next week. Doucette is running in Senate District 22, an artfully gerrymandered, reliably blue area that includes Durham, Person, and Caswell counties. His opponent is Mike Woodard, a popular Democratic legislator and former Durham City Council member. Doucette stands little chance of winning, and says he wouldn’t be surprised if November 8 marks the final day of his involvement in North Carolina politics.
In September, I visited Doucette, who is thirty-five, at his law office in downtown Durham. His eponymous firm comprises Doucette, Marissa Meredith, who handles small-business clients in Durham, and Kahran Meyers, who does criminal defense work in the firm’s recently opened Charlotte office.
Charlotte was in the news the afternoon I stopped by. Keith Lamont Scott had been killed by the police two days prior, and that morning brought news that a man had been fatally shot while protesting the night before. Doucette’s firm had announced that it would represent anybody arrested while protesting, pro bono, and that it was working with local bail bondsmen in Charlotte who would post protesters’ bail for free. Meyers was nearby when the previous night’s chaotic scene unfolded, Doucette said. She believed it was a cop in riot gear who had fired on the protester, and not, as the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department alleged, a fellow civilian.
“It would be nice if you could trust CMPD on this,” Doucette said, taking a sip from a yellow Bojangles’ cup on his desk. “But in their presser today, the chief basically admitted he wasn’t telling the truth yesterday when he said there was proof of Keith charging at the officers with his gun out. Today the chief says, ‘Nah, actually we don’t have definite proof.’ Then he says, ‘Transparency is in the eye of the beholder.’ What? It’s just such an abject clown show down there.”
Doucette is baldhe often wears a fedoraand burly, with big, excitable eyes. In person, he’s as voluble and intellectually confident as his Twitter presence suggests. Off the top of his head, he tossed off a litany of offenses committed by law enforcement in Charlotte so far this year, including six killings of civilians, as well as the case of Daniel Kevin Harris, a deaf and speech-impaired man gunned down in the street by a state trooper.
The issue of police body cameras loomed over the mess in Charlotte; CMPD was slow to release the footage of what happened in the moments prior to Scott’s death, and then only released parts of it. Charlotte also drew attention to the fact that the General Assembly had, months before, enacted a law that reclassified body-cam and dash-cam footage as nonpublic records and moved power to release footage from police departments to the courts. Despite loud objections from transparency advocates, most Democrats, including Woodard, had supported HB 972, largely because it was attached to a state needle-exchange program Democrats sought. Doucette has little regard for this line of reasoning.
“It’s a terrible bill that puts a veil of privacy over government at a time when police killings of civilians is a huge issue nationally,” he told me. “And the needle-exchange thingRepublicans have a supermajority in this state. They could have passed body cams without Democrats voting for it. So why are Democrats letting Republicans buy their vote with needle exchange when they don’t even need it?”
“Don’t downplay needle exchange,” Woodard told me later. “Should it have been a separate bill than the body-camera bill? Of course. But that’s the way the process works right now. And it was a big deal to get through. We had several local governments concerned they were violating state law by permitting these exchanges.”
Woodard said he doesn’t know a whole lot about Doucette’s various positions on issues. But he’s not surprised that Doucette takes a purist view on releasing police videos.
“Of course he does, he’s a criminal defense attorney: it makes his job easier,” Woodard said. “I sat on the Durham City Council for seven years. I was in the room making decisions about what to release. It’s a complicated issue. As a legislator last session, we were talking with a hundred sheriff’s offices, over two hundred appointed police chiefs, community representatives, a lot of different people, trying to strike the right balance. Most of us who supported this bill knew it had shortcomings. And I think we’ll revisit it in the upcoming session in the wake of things like Charlotte.
“But the point is, this is complicated stuff,” Woodard continued. “You can’t just boil it down to a tweet.”
That Doucette, a Republican, holds views frequently indistinguishable from those of a Black Lives Matter protester is particularly baffling given the political climate in North Carolina today. Doucette says it’s merely evidence of the degree to which the GOP has swerved right. But it’s also true that most Republican politicians have never been homeless, as Doucette was about fifteen years ago, not long after he moved to Raleigh to attend N.C. State.
He grew up in Virginia Beach and never met his biological father. His mother and stepfather fought often, he says, which resulted in him often being shipped off to live with his grandparentsboth pro-union, old-school Democratsfor years at a time.
“Domestic violence in our house was a normal thing,” Doucette says. “I didn’t know domestic violence was called domestic violence until I moved to North Carolina. That’s how normal it was in my life.”
Doucette has identified as a Republican since the second grade. “Ever since I was a kid, I was independent-minded and just wanted to be left alone,” he says. “I didn’t care for my family environment. I was begging to be emancipated at the age of twelve.’”
That led to skepticism about the role of government. “To me, that’s what Reagan and George H.W. Bush were about: government’s not the solution to the problem, it is the problem. I responded to that.”
As Doucette reached high school, he became increasingly political. He volunteered on George Allen’s 1994 gubernatorial campaign. He started a Republicans club. He read Supreme Court opinions for fun. “Virginia Beach back then was a military city and a tourist town, so being a Republican there was about being pro-business and in favor of a strong national defense,” Doucette says. “All this Republican culture-war shit, that wasn’t there yet. That all started after I left.”
Politics was a hobby. Doucette was most interested in tech. He was offered a computer engineering scholarship from N.C. State and moved to Raleigh in 1998 at seventeen. (He skipped fourth grade.) It wasn’t long before Doucette again bumped up against what he viewed as the government obstructing his freedom.
His parents, he says, were mad because he went to N.C. State rather than Old Dominion. So they refused to provide the tax information he needed to secure financial aid. Federal guidelines said he couldn’t do it on his own until age twenty-four, unless he served in the military or was legally emancipated.
“So the upshot was I showed up to my sophomore year at State and had a bill for fourteen thousand dollars that I was never going to be able to pay,” he says.
He tried to work and attend classeshe had a job at the Burger Kingbut couldn’t sustain it. After his sophomore year, a counselor advised Doucette to drop out and return once he could get his finances in order. He didn’t consider heading back to Virginia Beach an option. “I love ’em, but my family was just too nuts,” he said.
Without student housing, Doucette found himself essentially homeless. His girlfriend at the time, Teresa Nichols, let him use her dorm during the day to shower. “He’d sleep in his truck some nights, the library some nights,” says Nichols, who went on to work for Senate leader Phil Berger and Senator Harry Brown, both influential Republicans. “After three months or so, I put enough money aside for us to get an apartment together.”
Doucette found a job loading trucks for UPS for $10 an hour. He moved on from there to a series of legal administrative jobs, including one at the N.C. State Bar. It would be four years before he returned to college.
Doucette has been outspoken about North Carolina politics more or less since he arrived here. The News & Observer began publishing his letters to the editor sometime around the time he dropped out of N.C. State. Here he is in October 2001 calling the newspaper “shamelessly liberal” for neglecting to mention a conservative candidate in an editorial. There he is in September 2002 railing against publicly financed judicial elections. In May 2004, a more nuanced glimpse of Doucette’s brand of conservatism emerged on the topic of equal protection for gays.
“Disavowing the U.S. Constitution and the principles enshrined in it is a degree of foolishness no independent-minded Republican could ever support without admitting hypocrisy,” he wrote. “That [Republicans opposed to gay marriage] have gleefully abandoned their loyalty to ‘free people and free markets’ in order to advance a wedge issue against their own political brethren, all in the name of electoral politics, makes it all the more disappointing.”
By the time Doucette drafted this last missive, he was working for the Wake County Republican Party. Andy Finlayson, then-chairman of the Wake GOP, had noticed Doucette’s N&O letters and asked him to come onboard. Soon after, Finlayson departed for Iraq, now-state Representative Marilyn Avila became chairwoman, and Doucette, at twenty-two, became second vice chairman. Around this time, Doucette was also working for Don Munford, a Republican state legislator who served from 2002–04.
In 2004, in District 41, then in northwest Wake County, a Morrisville Town Council member named Thayne Conrad challenged a loud social conservative incumbent named Russell Capps, a Jesse Helms contemporary, in the GOP primary. Officially, the GOP’s plan of organization states that the party can’t take sides in a primary. But Doucette, new and naive, noticed that the party’s resourceswalking lists, volunteer data, fundraising contactswere being supplied to Capps and not Conrad. He piped up about it.
“I was told, ‘Well, Thayne’s a Republican in name only,’” Doucette says. “And that was the first time that I noticed that there was some real friction between my Virginia Beach Republican experience and the Republican experience I was getting here in North Carolina.”
Doucette threw his support behind Conrad.
“He helped in every way imaginable,” says Conrad, who now lives in Atlanta and is no longer in politics. “We knocked on doors together, put up signs, strategized. He was a key person for me in a race where all the party activists were in my opponent’s camp.”
“The catch there, though,” Doucette says, “is that you better hope your guy wins if you defy the party like that.”
Conrad got shellacked in November. And that wasn’t all. At the time, Doucette’s day job was working as director of special projects for the clerk of the Wake County Superior Court, Janet Pueschel. Unbeknownst to Doucette, Capps and Pueschel were friends. (Neither Pueschel nor Capps responded to requests for comment.)
“I come into work the very next day and Jan says, ‘You’ve been subordinate, pack your shit, you’re done here,’” Doucette says. “There was no relationship whatsoever between my work for Jan and my work for the GOP. But all clerks serve at the will of the court. You can fire anyone at any time for any reason.” (The Wake County GOP effectively booted him from his leadership position the following March.)
Doucette found a job as an assistant at a Raleigh law firm, and then, when the firm split the following year, resolved to re-enroll at N.C. State.
Back at State, his distaste for politics subsided. He was elected president of the Student Senate in 2007 and worked in his spare time for Larry Bewley, a Raleigh lobbyist. As president, he created a referendum that allowed students to vote on proposed fee increases, advocated for lower textbook prices, and supported voter registration drives. Doucette also sponsored a bill to establish an LGBT center on campus. In 2009, Doucette was named the president of the UNC Association of Student Governments, which gave him a seatthe only one occupied by a studenton the UNC Board of Governors. He served there until 2010, when he enrolled at the N.C. Central University School of Law. Within a year, he was president of the Student Bar Association.
“Greg is one of these guys you just can never underestimate,” says Nichols, who was engaged to Doucette before they split up around 2006. “I don’t want to say he’s a chameleon, because that makes him sound disingenuous, but he has this ability to relate to all types of people. Take me. For him to date an African-American woman from the western part of North Carolina and be able to so quickly learn about and understand what my life is like and have it inform his worldviewand have him then go on to study at an HBCU law school and work in Durhamthat’s rare, I think.
“He’s always been conservative and always considered fiscal responsibility very important,” Nichols continues. “But he’s also compassionate and not opposed to spending on social policies, because he knows it makes a difference in people’s lives. And that, I think, is what is missing from the Republican Party these days.”
One Tuesday night in early October, a crowd of about twenty Libertarians (all men) sat in jammed-together tables inside Satisfaction, a sports bar in Durham’s Brightleaf Square, listening to Doucette’s pitch. Wearing a gray suit, Doucette talked about the criminal justice system, how he thinks Governor McCrory is a joke, how he’s embarrassed by Donald Trumpall the things he’d said to me in previous conversations and on Twitter. When he was done, he opened up to questions from the floor.
“Yeah, I got one,” a man in a Heartland Institute shirt said. “Why are you a Republican?”
“I get that a lot,” Doucette replied, with a grin. “To be honest, it’s gotten harder every year. Conservative doesn’t mean what it used to mean. And now they nominate Donald Trump. So I guess my answer is, I’m not sure I can keep threading this needle.”
He talked about the lack of support he’d received from the party in his race and fielded questions about marijuana decriminalization (he’s for it, though he’s not sure he supports total legalization); Democratic state representative Graig Meyer (“I like him, but he’s a progressive’s progressivevery liberal”); local judicial races (he’s supporting Mike Morgan for the N.C. Supreme Court and Shameika Rhinehart for District Court); and whom he’s backing for president (Gary Johnson, which drew a big round of applause from the group).
“This is hardly the first time I’ve heard a Republican talk about his or her own party as if they don’t know why they’re in it,” Brian Irving, chairman of the N.C. Libertarian Party, told me afterward. “He’s got an interesting dilemma trying to be who he is here in North Carolina.”
Before Doucette retreated back to his seat at the table, he made a last request of the group: to find him on Twitter and follow him.
“I’m at ‘Greg underscore Doucette,’” he said. “That’s the best way to get to know me.”
This article appeared in print with the headline “The Misfit”