New turmoil within Durham Police Department

Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez
September 4, 2013 3:24:51 PM PDT
Was it a joke, or an inappropriate comment?

It's a question Durham leaders are grappling with as they investigate an alleged remark made by Police Chief Jose Lopez after a fatal shooting.

The controversy has the chief's critics and supporters speaking out. That controversial comment is now an investigation within an investigation.

All of this is happening while there are new questions about a recent hire at the police department.

Before Lopez issued a public warning about gun-related homicides, a high-ranking officer alleges the chief joked about one of the shooting victim's, who was a Durham attorney caught in the crossfire.

Assistant Police Chief Winslow Forbes has since filed a federal discrimination complaint, alleging Lopez said the attorney deserved to be shot because he was a public defender. That alleged comment has sparked outrage with multiple letters from attorneys to the city declaring they are offended.

The Durham County chief public defender has demanded an internal investigation, saying the comment "cannot be justified in any context." The city's attorney has promised "a review of the allegations is being conducted."

"Let calm heads prevail and let it be investigated to see if it did happen, or if it didn't happen," said Mike Evans with the Fraternal Order of Police.

The controversy has local law enforcement including Durham's Fraternal Order of Police, rallying behind the now-embattled police chief.

"The city investigated it. There was no merit. It was unfounded, and so now it's gone public," said Evans. "When you start airing your dirty laundry out in public, I don't agree with that."

The results of the city's second internal investigation of the alleged remark could come as early as this week. They are also dealing with new concerns about the recent hiring of the police chief's nephew.

In a complaint filed earlier this year, Forbes also questioned the cadet's criminal record after allegations of favoritism surfaced, and claims that he'd failed to disclose his prior worthless check charges.

He's now an officer, vetted by state officials and hired in compliance with the city's nepotism policy.

Still, it was the talk of a recent meeting with city leaders, according to Forbes' attorney, and it is now the focus of yet another investigation.

There's now an online petition calling for the police chief's removal and plans for a rally at police headquarters on Thursday.

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