Two years after the murder of George Floyd and citywide protests calling for police reform, there’s still no justice for the Black and brown people killed and brutalized by Raleigh police officers, activists say.
In fact, the state of policing in Raleigh has arguably gotten worse.
“Once you create a culture where I can come and beat up on you and there’s no ramifications for my actions, guess what we’re gonna keep doing?” Kerwin Pittman, a local activist, told the INDY. “More and more people are going to keep beating up on you because there’s no ramifications. It’s about accountability.”
Pittman has been hard at work in the two years since the Black Lives Matter movement resurged—meeting with people who have had violent encounters with the police, lobbying to get body camera footage released, and pressuring government officials to take stronger steps against officers who act inappropriately.
But in some ways, his work has been in vain.
In those same two years, Raleigh police have shot and killed five people, leaving their families awash in a sea of grief and confusion.
In January, Daniel Turcios, 43, was shot five times in front of his wife and two children. Turcios was smeared by police and media following the shooting, described as “intoxicated” and as “a knife-wielding man.” But the facts that slowly trickled out in the weeks and months afterward disproved the initial narrative.
The “knife” that Turcios had was a pocketknife, too small to be seen on a cell phone video taken by a witness. The toxicology report shows Turcios had no drugs or alcohol in his system, merely caffeine and nicotine. Body camera footage reveals Turcios, who didn’t speak English and couldn’t understand officers’ commands, was trying to walk away from police when he was first tasered in the back.
“My children were yelling [at the police] and asking them to not kill him,” Rosa Jerez, Turcios’s wife, said at a press conference earlier this year. “He was killed like a dog.”
In the four months since Turcios was shot and killed, the state has completed an investigation. Wake County district attorney Lorrin Freeman will decide whether to press criminal charges against the two officers involved. Freeman said in an email that the State Bureau of Investigation provided its investigation to her “approximately thirty days ago.”
“I asked for some additional information which we are working on obtaining,” Freeman wrote. “A decision has not been made in this case but I expect will be in the next few weeks.”
Historically, however, officers who kill men of color are not held accountable, even when they’re involved in multiple violent incidents. Officer W.B. Tapscott, who tasered Turcios, is also the officer who fatally shot Keith Collins in 2020, firing at him four times as he ran away and seven more times after he fell to the ground. Collins was carrying a BB gun.
Freeman decided not to press charges in Collins’s case, saying Tapscott reasonably believed his life was in danger and was justified in using deadly force. But that’s exactly what needs to change, says Pittman.
“We need to start looking at a more nonlethal way of responding to different incidents,” says Pittman. “It starts with the department here really saying, ‘Let’s look at our training manuals, let’s look at our policies, and let’s [change] it in a way that … value[s] life. [Where] we don’t take it at the first instance that we feel like we have justification in the eyes of the law.”
When officers don’t face consequences for killings, it’s no wonder the killings continue, says Pittman. Just last month, Reuel Rodriguez-Nunez, 37, was killed after police opened fire with more than 30 rounds. The shooting followed a confrontation outside a southeast Raleigh police station, where Rodriguez-Nunez was throwing Molotov cocktails at police cars.
Rodriguez-Nunez’s case isn’t as clear cut as some others, but his death was avoidable, says Pittman.
“Of course [it was preventable],” he says. “You have a guy throwing Molotov cocktails and you have individuals with firearms. They could have easily deployed something else instead of shooting.”
“I’ve thought about it long and hard,” Pittman adds. “During the George Floyd protests, we were shot with rubber bullets. Why wasn’t this man shot with a rubber bullet? Why is the first resort to always kill?”
Pittman and other activists had hoped the culture of policing in Raleigh would change after a new police chief, Estella Patterson, was appointed in August of last year. Patterson took the place of former chief Cassandra Deck-Brown, who retired earlier in 2021 following a barrage of criticism from protestors.
Dawn Blagrove, executive director of Emancipate NC, says she had hoped Patterson would take a more “commonsense” approach to officers who have behaved badly and acknowledge their misconduct. So far, she says, she’s been disappointed.
“While the new chief is taking a much more objective tone than we typically saw from Chief Deck-Brown, I think what we are not seeing from this chief is real accountability for her law enforcement officers and for the things that they are doing that are excessive,” Blagrove says.
“Since the new chief has been in place, we have seen an incredible uptick in police-involved shootings in Raleigh and a really unprecedented amount of hostility and violence.”
Although Patterson fired Detective Omar Abdullah—who arrested more than a dozen men on trumped-up drug-trafficking charges—other officers who raided the home of an innocent family on Abdullah’s word are still employed, says Blagrove.
“While [Abdullah] was fired, there was a whole team of officers involved in that nefarious behavior,” she says. “All of them are still employed with RPD. All of them are still actively getting paychecks, are still actively working, and none of them have been held accountable for the abuses of trust that happened and the trauma that was caused.”
Police Sgt. Brian Scioli, who wrongfully arrested 17-year-old Nyee’ya Williams during a Black Lives Matter protest in 2020, remains a member of the Raleigh Police Department, according to a recent report by The News and Observer. This even after the city agreed to pay Williams $37,500 in an out-of-court settlement last month.
Scioli is also the officer who was caught on video threatening a teenager in 2016, after the teen wrote “F*** the Police” in snow on his cruiser. “I’ll assault you all I want, man,” Scioli said, followed by, “I’m allowed to threaten people, I’m police.”
“That officer still has a job, even though it is clear he violated Nyee’ya’s rights, that he lied about what actually happened,” says Blagrove. “After the investigation, he still has a job. That’s problematic.”
The police department, under the leadership of Patterson, has petitioned the court to release body camera footage in some cases, including in the killings of Turcios and Rodriguez-Nunez. But for Pittman, that’s not enough. He argues the department’s commitment to transparency wavers on a case-by-case basis.
“This is a typical ploy that I’ve seen from the police department when they feel that a shooting they do is justifiable in the court of popular opinion,” Pittman says, referring to the release of the body camera footage in Rodriguez-Nunez’s killing.
“In Daniel Turcios’s case, they petitioned for the body camera footage to be released because they felt like they could sway [people] in the court of popular opinion, without really laying out clear facts of what happened and what particularly led up to this incident.”
On that same day in court, Pittman says, the department petitioned against body camera footage being released in an incident where police officers raided the wrong house.
“That is the pattern that I’m seeing with them,” Pittman says. “And if it’s transparency, it has to be clear transparency when you’re right or when you’re wrong. It can’t be only when you feel like you’re right.”
The results of internal police investigations are not public record, so the names of officers who have complaints sustained against them, as well as the consequences they may face, are often unknown.
Additionally, North Carolina DAs are now required to report officers whom prosecutors don’t deem credible as witnesses in court to their agencies.
Freeman says her office “had approximately 10 to 12 officers over the last seven years … who we had deemed not credible.”
“Fortunately, when this happened historically their agency terminated them and we dismissed all charges in which they were key witnesses,” Freeman wrote in an email to the INDY. But, again, the officers are shielded by personnel laws, so while the law enforcement agency is notified when an officer is deemed not credible, the public is not informed.
Patterson remains committed to transparency, she said in an email to the INDY last week.
“My commitment to transparency remains steadfast and I will continue to provide updated, timely information as it becomes available,” she wrote, referring to Turcios’s shooting.
“The investigation regarding the officer-involved shooting that occurred on January 11 has not yet been concluded, as we are still waiting on the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) and the Wake County District Attorney to present their findings.”
But ultimately, anything Patterson does to improve the department “is going to be deeply undercut by the wayward behavior of her officers,” Blagrove says.
“While I appreciate that she does not necessarily have control over the team or the culture she inherits, I do believe that it is her responsibility to be very proactive in creating a culture that is more respectful of the role they play and of the community they serve,” Blagrove says.
Pittman had a blunter criticism of Patterson.
“The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” he says. “I think [Patterson] may have good intentions because she hasn’t shown cruel intentions yet. But it’s a point of matter getting in there and doing the brunt of the work … putting policies in place to hold these people accountable and also putting policies in place that creates true transparency.”
Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.
Follow Staff Writer Jasmine Gallup on Twitter or send an email to email@example.com.