DURHAM, North Carolina (WTVD) --For Kristi Arrington, August 28, 2005 might as well have been yesterday. She can't get it out of her mind.
"I mean, it changed the course of our whole life," Arrington said soberly after we met her at her Raleigh hair salon. Her tone would get more serious as the conversation went on. Through tears and with a cracked voice, she would later cry, "People say to you, 'You should stop.' I don't know how to stop. I don't know how to stop missing my husband. I don't know how."
On that summer night 11 years ago, Kristi Arrington's husband Nyles was shot and killed by Raleigh police officer Michelle Peele.
The District Attorney at the time, Colin Willoughby, cleared Peele on criminal charges but she was fired violating department policy. Six years later, she joined the Durham County Sheriff's Office as a deputy. Arrington says when she recently found out, the grief she'd been carrying around for years, turned back to anger.
"I think it's horrible," she told ABC11. "I don't think if you're a renegade police officer, I don't think you should be on a police force. She was dismissed. I was involved in a lawsuit with the City of Raleigh and I won. So is that an admission of what? What does that mean?"
But Michelle Peele has supporters and they say it didn't mean much. The settlement came after a federal suit that lasted years. By Arrington's own account, she got $72,000. What she didn't get was an admission of guilt. And Peele's supporters say that's how it should have been. They say the former Raleigh cop got among the rawest of deals.
"I can think of no finer officer serving the citizens today than Officer Peele," said John Midgette, Executive Director of the Raleigh Police Benevolent Association.
Midgette isn't a disinterested party to all this; his organization defended Peele all through her dismissal hearings and the federal case that came of the shooting. As Midgette tells it, the city of Raleigh and the police department threw Peele squarely under the bus.
"All they said was, 'She did not follow a proper procedure and it was a violation of policy that led to her termination,'" said Midgette. "You cannot take away from the tragedy of the loss of life but you can't bury an officer's career and destroy an officer personally and professionally because you disagree with it. You have to look to the law. And in this case, as in most cases, Officer Peele did an exemplary job under the law and was defending herself."
And that was Michelle Peele's self-defense in the aftermath of the shooting. "I would have to do the same thing," Peele said of her decision, months later to a civilian review board. "I wouldn't want to do the same thing but i would have to."
Old ABC11 reports lay out the details of what happened that night.
Peele was working off duty as a security guard in front of La Rosa Linda, a club on New Bern Avenue out by Corporation Drive. She was in her personal vehicle, per then-department policy, but had gotten out of her car and walked away, leaving it open with the keys in it and other personal belongings in plain sight.
Nyles Arrington, who'd just left the club himself, got in Peele's car and was trying to drive away when Peele came out of the club and saw what was happening. She gave Arrington commands to stop and when he didn't, she pulled out her gun and shot him.
Peele fired one bullet as the car passed; it hit Arrington in the torso. The car jerked out of the parking lot and shot out onto New Bern Avenue, crossing the median and wrecking across the street near a gas station.
Peele told the civilian review board that she had no choice other than to shoot because Nyles Arrington was trying to run her over.
The bouncer at the club saw it differently. Levi Jaime told ABC11 that he was the only eyewitness that night and watched the entire thing playout. "She didn't have to shoot him," Jaime told ABC11 at the time. "He didn't pull off dangerously. He just pulled off and as his car took off she shot him." Arrington said Jaime was set to testify in front of the grand jury but never called to the stand.
Then-District Attorney Colin Willoughby decided that Peele had broken no laws but she was fired by the department shortly after the incident. Officially, the department fired Peele for breaking policy on shooting guns into moving vehicles. As Dawn Bryant, one of RPD's attorneys at the time, explained to the civilian review commission of police policy, "First, don't get in front of the car. Second, if you find yourself in front of a car and one is coming toward you, get out of the way. So what if someone gets away. There are other ways to catch people. But shooting into a vehicle doesn't accomplish anything."
John Midgette with the Raleigh Police Benevolent Association took issue with that position, at the time and when the I-Team spoke with him earlier this week. He said the police chief was working off a policy that contradicted state law at the time; something that sits high on Midgette's list of reasons Peele should never have been fired in the first place.
"When officers are faced with that situation," he said, "what she did is what every officer's worst nightmare is but she did it with absolute professionalism." That's why, Midgette said, Peele should absolutely have been hired back on into law enforcement. "It's a continuation of an outstanding career that was interrupted by a very tragic situation," he said.
Durham Sheriff Mike Andrews wouldn't talk to us about Deputy Peele on-camera but a statement offered by a spokesperson said, "After volunteering without pay for more than a year, she earned the confidence of the administration at that time, and subsequently, was hired as a deputy. Since she came to this agency in 2010 to today, Deputy Peele has never been the focus of an internal investigation or corrective action. Deputy Peele has authorized the Sheriff's Office to disclose that her personnel file contains one commendation."
The statement also said, "The critical conversation about and between the community and law enforcement is always top of mind at the Sheriff's Office. That is why- among many of its efforts- the agency emphasizes Crisis Intervention Training (CIT), an instructional program focused on de-escalation techniques among its deputies and detention officers."
Kristi Arrington says she can't accept the fact Peele is carrying a gun and badge, even if it is with a different department. When asked about the limited response from the Sheriff's Department, Kristi Arrington said, "I think it's disrespectful. I think they have no regard for my family, they have no regard for my children, and they have not regard for me. I'm not negating the fact that she wants to protect and serve. But you lost your chance, far as I'm concerned, when you acted as a vigilante; when you acted as a person that can just take a situation into your own hands."