Dear Justice in Salisbury Group:
Thank you for your correspondence to City of Salisbury officials received via email at 4 p.m., Friday, May 26, in response to our request of various community stakeholders to discuss the upcoming Rowan County District Attorney’s decision regarding the Ferguson Laurent Jr. officer-involved shooting. Officials are declining this invitation.
For nearly seven months, the City of Salisbury and Salisbury Police Department have come under scrutiny regarding the Laurent shooting – and rightly so. Whenever a police tactic results in a death of a citizen, the community deserves a full investigation, transparency and truth from all those involved.
However, the proliferation of false information surrounding this incident spread by members of your organization, the question of Police Chief Jerry Stokes’ credentials, the continued, unlawful request to direct the Chief to suspend the use of knock and announce warrants, and requests of information specifically known not to be in the City’s possession, is disappointing.
Following Mr. Laurent’s death, Chief Jerry Stokes immediately called a meeting of stakeholders to share as much information as he was able with community members to help calm tensions. At that time, Chief shared with the group that the State Bureau of Investigations (SBI) was in charge of the investigation going forward. He also stated that the information he provided was preliminary at best, including the number of gunshots fired.
On Thursday March 9, Salisbury –Rowan NAACP President Gemale Black emailed a letter to me falsely stating that Police Chief Stokes had “not successfully completed the requirements of the N.C. Basic Law Enforcement class after multiple attempts.” And “that due to numerous absences, he was advised that he would be removed from the course altogether.” This highly inaccurate and inflammatory letter was forwarded to members of the media. City staff spent an unnecessary amount of effort combatting this false narrative.
The known fact was that Chief Stokes was still an active member of the class as of the date of the letter. The Chief was never “advised that he would be removed from the class” nor “had he taken the class after multiple attempts.” Chief Stokes took and passed the exam on Friday, May 12, and graduated from BLET on Wednesday, May 24. This fact is and was known to your organization back in March through present.
Salisbury Police Chief Jerry Stokes is a highly qualified law enforcement officer with more than 32 years experience. He is keenly aware of and has researched how to use the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. He also was the only police chief candidate who had a clear vision for the Salisbury Police Department’s community policing program.
Yet, in your latest letter, you continue to ask about Chief Stokes’ credentials as an accredited law enforcement official. Chief Stokes is a fully accredited law enforcement officer, with full arrest powers, through the N.C. Department of Justice Standards Division. In addition, completion of the N.C. BLET course is not a requirement to serve as a North Carolina Police Chief. No additional questions will be answered regarding Chief’s qualifications as Salisbury Police Chief.
The news media, Salisbury stakeholders and the general public received a copy of the statement from the N.C. Attorney General, which stated that a local government agency cannot restrict law enforcement tactics that are outlined in the N.C. state statute.
However, the Salisbury Police Department has enacted additional measures should they choose to utilize knock and announce warrants in the future. Those measures include additional implicit bias, de-escalation skills and other training for all officers, oversight and final approval by Chief Stokes and Major Barnes to obtain future knock and announce warrants, and requirements that every first-responder police officer in the department wear body cameras, including those on the Special Response Team. These measures were shared last week with the small group meeting attendees.
It has been announced to members of the media, various community groups and residents, in public and in one-on-one conversations, in multiple instances, that the City of Salisbury DOES NOT have the SBI report on the Laurent shooting. Members of Justice in Salisbury are well aware of that fact and were told the SBI would handle EVERY aspect of the shooting investigation, and that the report would be sent directly to the Rowan County D.A.’s office once completed.
Yet, your group members continue to spread this false information. We will no longer address any additional questions regarding this report, its origination or its current location until the D.A. releases the report. In the meantime, any additional questions regarding the Laurent shooting should be addressed to the D.A. or the SBI.
Finally, a series of small group meetings were held on Thursday, May 25 and Friday, May 26. The meetings were held in small groups in an effort to provide all stakeholders an opportunity to speak and share their own individual thoughts and concerns. In a setting of 30+ individuals, an opportunity for all to share their opinions would be near impossible and unfair to other attendees.
Some members of Justice in Salisbury initially agreed to attend these small group meetings including during follow-up, confirmation telephone calls. On the first day of this engagement, your members declined to attend these meetings.
Our objective is and always will be the health, safety and well-being of the Salisbury community. Despite your refusal to meet with city administration, we are still open to communicating with your group at a later date for the betterment of our community.
W. Lane Bailey