Shortly before 9:00 p.m. on Thursday, one hour and 47 minutes into the Raleigh City Council’s special virtual meeting on the weekend’s chaotic demonstrations, community organizer Conrad James told the council and Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown that he planned to file a class-action lawsuit the next day against the city and the Raleigh Police Department on behalf of protesters who had been teargassed.
“You guys committed an act of war, a war crime,” James said.
Five or six hours later, in the dead of night, two law enforcement officers knocked on the door of his mother’s house. They were dressed in black, without badges or anything indicating what agency they belonged to, only the word “POLICE” in white lettering across their chests, says James, the 27-year-old founder of the nonprofit think tank Living Ultra-Violet.
They arrested him and hauled him to jail sometimes after three in the morning.
The charges: He allegedly failed to return a rental car, a class H felony, and he “unlawfully and willfully” damaged the vehicle, a misdemeanor.
Though James lives in Willow Spring, which is in Wake County’s jurisdiction, and the alleged crime took place in Fuquay-Varina, Conrad James found himself in jail Friday morning because the Raleigh Police Department wanted him there.
“[The] Raleigh Police Department requested assistance from the WCSO to execute a ‘warrant service’ at [James’s address] in Willow Spring. They arrested Conrad Paul James,” Sheriff’s Office spokesman Eric Curry told the INDY Friday afternoon.
That statement contradicted what the RPD told the INDY just a few minutes earlier: “RPD did not provide any assistance in this matter,” spokeswoman Donna-maria Harris wrote in an email.
Asked to clarify, Harris responded an hour later: “At the time I responded to you, I did not have all of the facts. … Yes, the Raleigh Police Department was aware of the felony arrest warrant out for Conrad James. Because Mr. James lives in Willow Spring, which is in the WCSO jurisdiction, the RPD contacted them to request their assistance to serve the felony arrest warrant.”
Asked why RPD got the Sheriff’s Office to serve a late-night warrant that had nothing to do with Raleigh in a place where Raleigh had no jurisdiction, Harris responded that James had caused a nuisance.
On June 3, he delivered a list of demands—including a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison for officers who kill unarmed civilians—to the RPD North District office off of Six Forks Road. There were signs posted saying the office was closed because of the pandemic, but James banged on the doors and windows and tried to enter anyway.
Harris says the RPD did not arrest him then because the department wanted to be “sensitive” to the current climate. Raleigh police have not charged him with anything related to that day.
While James was speaking with a WRAL reporter outside, Deck-Brown came out and assured him she would look into his demands.
“But you know what I think is more important is that you understand I don’t condone any officer that takes a citizen’s life,” Deck-Brown said, according to WRAL. However, pledging her support “could also reflect something even greater than this. So, I think it’s important that we assess this, but I think it’s also even more important that you understand that I don’t condone bad cops, and I think we all know that what we saw has turned all of our hearts. So we will continue to work to do better and build relationships.”
“Later that night,” Harris says, “we learned that there was a felony warrant and a misdemeanor warrant on him.”
They called the Sheriff’s Office, which dispatched deputies to arrest him.
The felony warrant had been taken out on May 22, when James says he was out of the country.
James says that in April, he and a friend rented a gray 2020 Nissan Versa and took it to Alabama for a party, but they returned it to an Enterprise dealership in an auto mall near Apex before it was due back, which the arrest warrant says was April 21.
He says he doesn’t know where the allegations that he damaged the vehicle came from.
However, Susan Weis, a spokeswoman for Fuquay-Varina, says the vehicle was found “somewhere near Cary.” On Wednesday, she says, Enterprise called the town to inquire about the property-damage charge, which led to a misdemeanor warrant being taken out that day.
“Well played, Fuquay-Varina Police Department, Raleigh Police Department, Wake County Sheriff’s Department,” James posted on Facebook, tagging those agencies. “Because of your bullshit arrest at 3 am, I was unable to finish the litigation for the class-action lawsuit based on war crimes and violation of the geneva convention.”
“Do not worry though,” he continued, “this added emotional distress to the class action lawsuit.”
In an interview, James says the police—apparently, sheriff’s deputies—came to his house at 3:13 a.m., which is later than they indicated in police records, 2:15 a.m. He was on the couch, working on the lawsuit he planned to file today against the RPD, the Sheriff’s Office, and the city of Raleigh for using tear gas on civilians, which he believes violates the Geneva Convention.
(The 1925 Geneva Protocol bans the use of any asphyxiating, poisonous, or other gases in war. Fifty years later, President Gerald Ford extended the U.S. interpretation of the protocol to include tear gas among the banned weapons. In 1993, the U.S. signed onto the Chemical Weapons Convention, which explicitly forbids the use of tear gas in war. However, the use of tear gas has never been forbidden domestically.)
The deputies told him they had a warrant for his arrest but didn’t show it to him, he says. They told him they had a warrant to search his house but didn’t show him that, either. Nor did they read him his Miranda rights, he says. When his mother tried to film the arrest, they took her phone and ordered her to stop. He asked if he could call his lawyer, he says. They refused.
Worried that they weren’t really police, James demanded to see their supervisor. He says a man in a gray sheriff’s deputy uniform came in and said he was in charge but never showed his badge. When James said he thought this was an illegal arrest, they got “antsy,” he says. The two deputies grabbed his arms.
They promised to show him the warrants in the sheriff’s cruiser.
They did not, James says. They drove him 25 minutes to the detention center on Hammond Road. He was still in his pajamas and the brown shoes they let him put on before leaving the house. He got there at around 3:50, he says, and was put in a cell with eight other men. A half-hour later, he went before a magistrate, who set his bond.
He had just received unemployment money, so he had enough to pay a bondsman $2,200 and secure his release. James got out at 8:15 a.m.; his first appearance was scheduled for nine at Justice Center. With no time to change, he went to court in his pajamas and brown shoes, which the jail returned to him without shoelaces. Only there, he says, did he learn what he’d been charged with.
James says that his felony charge was dropped at his first appearance Friday morning. A court clerk could not verify that, and Weis says Fuquay-Varina’s police chief told her that was not accurate.
James had another protest scheduled at the RPD North District at noon. With no time to go home and change, he says he stopped by a thrift store and dropped nine bucks on a seersucker jacket, navy blue khakis, and a blue Oxford button-down shirt. By the time he got there, the entrance to the police HQ was barricaded off, and a street nearby had signs declaring “NO PARKING” between noon and 5:00 p.m.
Yazmin Williams, a 21-year-old from Johnston County who had arrived at 11:45, says the signs and barricades weren’t there then. The police had put them up before noon.
James asked an officer what was going on. He says he was told only deliveries were allowed through on Friday. James, Williams, and one other young woman were the only protesters there.
The RPD did not respond to a question about why the headquarters was closed off.
Comment on this story at firstname.lastname@example.org. Additional reporting by Sara Pequeño and Leigh Tauss. This story was updated with comments from the Wake County Sheriff’s Office.
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