Revelations that the Raleigh Police Department facilitated the late-night arrest of a 27-year-old activist is fueling distrust of law enforcement and calls for the resignations of Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown and Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin. 

As the INDY first reported last week, at 2:15 a.m. on Friday, Wake County sheriff’s deputies arrested Conrad James’s at his mother’s house in Willow Springs on charges of failing to return and damaging a rental car. The Sheriff’s Office made the late-night arrest at the request of the RPD, though the RPD had nothing to do with the alleged crime and had no jurisdiction over Willow Spring. 

Instead, the RPD says it sought the Sheriff Office’s assistance following a background check on James and discovered active arrests warrants after he made a nuisance of himself on Wednesday afternoon, when he was caught on TV news cameras banging on windows at the department’s North District headquarters. In addition, hours before his arrest, he publicly threatened to lodge a class-action lawsuit against the city over the police department’s use of tear gas against protesters. 

The question remains: Why was it necessary to haul James in the dead of night in his pajamas for a nonviolent offense? 

From the start, law enforcement agencies have given contradictory accounts of how the arrest went down. RPD spokeswoman Donna-maria Harris initially said the agency was not involved, then—after being told that the Sheriff’s Office had said that the RPD had asked deputies to pick up James—said she had given her initial statement without all the facts. Asked who first told her the RPD wasn’t involved, Harris said she had misheard. 

She also said the agency did not ask the Sheriff’s Office to arrest James at a particular time. 

But Eric Curry, a spokesman for the Wake County Sheriff’s Office, said the WCSO received the request at 12:30 a.m. Friday—about three hours after James announced his intent to sue—asking that James “be picked up shortly after we received the request,” Curry told the INDY on Sunday.

According to jail records, deputies arrested him at 2:15. The charge of failing to return a rental car is a class H felony. The property damage charge is a misdemeanor. 

The Fuquay-Varina Police Department had filed the charges two weeks ago, on May 22. The day before, a branch manager with Enterprise reported that James had not returned a 2020 Nissan Versa on April 21. According to a police report, after the manager made several attempts to reach James, James contacted Enterprise and said he had lost the keys in Alabama and could not return the car. 

Susan Weis, a spokeswoman for the town of Fuquay-Varina, says the vehicle was found damaged in Cary. 

On Monday, James told the INDY he had reported the car stolen in Alabama. He was unable to produce a police report. Asked to provide an incident report number, James said it was on another phone, which was dead. He had previously told the INDY the car was returned to an auto mall in Apex. 

At the RPD office last Wednesday, James “began creating a disturbance by banging on the doors and windows of the inner lobby and demanding to be let in, even though signage is clearly posted on the outer door that the district station is closed to the public due to COVID-19,” Harris says. 

A desk officer informed James that the station was closed and he should leave. But he continued to cause a commotion, Harris says. He insisted on giving Deck-Brown a list of demands. When an officer asked James for the list, he said he needed to write them out, Harris says. 

According to Harris, James wrote the list and gave it to an officer, who then handed them to Deck-Brown. She walked outside to meet him moments after he was pushed out the door. They spoke briefly; their exchange was captured by WRAL. 

Harris says police learned about the outstanding warrants for James during a debriefing late Wednesday night: “We wanted to know, who is this guy?”

The police did not charge him with disorderly conduct on Wednesday, she says, out of sensitivity to the ongoing protests. 

Harris did not say when the RPD contacted the WCSO to request James’s arrest, only that the agency followed standard procedure. 

Curry checked the office’s logs and found a phone call at 12:30 a.m. Friday, more than 24 hours after Harris says the RPD discovered the warrants. 

“It appears the [RPD] request was made with some type of time parameter—we would not have had any interest in picking up Mr. James,” he says. “I can’t speak for the police department, but there was no reason for the WCSO to pick up this gentleman in an expeditious time frame.”

This wasn’t James’s first run-in with the law, though his criminal record does not contain anything that suggests he poses a threat: traffic, trespassing, drug paraphernalia, simple marijuana, and underage drinking convictions. (He was wounded by a bullet at a friend’s house in what police called a random drug dispute two years ago.) 

Activist Kerwin Pittman believes the police came for James when they did to scare him.  

“Their purpose was most definitely intimidation because the man was visible at rallies,” Pittman says. “The tactic they used, you can tell it’s intimidation tactics, which RPD and law enforcement use throughout the years against individuals who speak up. It’s a shame you have law enforcement deploying these kinds of tactics, especially at this time when there’s a spotlight on them and their misconduct.” 

Baldwin says she has limited knowledge of the situation, though she admits “the optics on that were bad.” Addressing how James’s arrest was handled will require examining police policy, Baldwin says. That’s a task for the city’s newly appointed police review board. 

The activists who for years have demanded a police oversight board are deeply unsatisfied with what they got. The body is by and large toothless; it lacks investigatory, subpoena, and disciplinary powers, and is reduced to merely reviewing police procedures. 

While the city points to a state law that it says limits what a civilian board can do, this has only furthered distrust. 

Akiba Byrd, who co-founded Raleigh’s Police Accountability Task Force in 2015, points out that the officer who shot 24-year-old Akiel Denkins in 2016 is still working in that community. That, Byrd says, shows Deck-Brown’s insensitivity to the Brown and Black people living there. 

PACT has shown up in force at city council meetings following other recent incidents of police violence: the 2019 killing of Soheil Mojarrad; the January viral video of police beating a Raleigh man until his face was bloodied; the 2020 killings of Keith Dutree Collins and David Tylek Atkinson, the former carrying a BB gun, the latter after he allegedly robbed a gas station. 

When police investigate themselves, residents tend not to trust the results. 

The regularity of incidents involving the RPD serves as a routine reminder of how the department treats its Black citizens, Pittman says, adding that there’s not a Black man in Raleigh who doesn’t get nervous when a police car pulls up behind him. 

“Raleigh PD, if they can find anything to kind of snag you on, they will, and they will do it, especially if you are somebody who is becoming active or has been active,” Pittman says. 

Worse, Raleigh cops “have a tendency to escalate things,” Pittman says, pointing to a video that went viral this weekend of officers pulling guns on a man following a fender-bender.

PACT, along with Raleigh Demands Justice, has given a list of demands to the city council that, in addition to a list of reforms, includes the resignation of Deck-Brown, who opposed any kind of oversight board. 

To PACT leader Rolanda Byrd, the mother of Akiel Denkins, this is a sign that Deck-Brown would rather keep her brothers in blue safe from accountability than protect the community. 

“I think she needs to be fired,” Rolanda Byrd said. “She is a coward. She’s not looking for change or reform.” 

“The first step is admitting you have a problem in order for you to fix that problem, and she won’t admit that RPD has a problem,” Pittman adds. “She can’t, and that is the reason she needs to go.” 

The Raleigh City Council planned to appoint members to its police policy review board later this month.

Baldwin says that the council will be looking into implementing reforms outlined in the #8Can’tWait campaign, including banning police from using chokeholds and shooting at moving vehicles. 

The council will also consider a “three strikes rule” for officers with records of misconduct.

Baldwin has no plans to resign or call for Deck-Brown to step down. And, she adds, Deck-Brown still has the council’s support. 

“We have said as a council that we support the chief,” Baldwin says. “She has 32 years of experience. She has always performed and acted very compassionately and professionally. She’s an African American woman who knows and understands what racism feels like. We support her, and we have her back.”  

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