On April 8, several officers from the Durham Police Department's HEAT (High Enforcement Abatement Team) unit arrived at 3417 Misty Pine Avenue, in the Braggtown neighborhood. They were there to conduct a "knock-and-talk," an investigative technique performed by police when criminal activity is suspected but there is not enough evidence to obtain a search warrant.
Khadir Cherry, a resident of the home, had been arrested four days earlier for selling pot. Immediately upon arriving at the residence, an officer with the HEAT unit, J.M. Foster, said he smelled marijuana. The HEAT officers then entered the home. A volatile scene ensued, much of which was captured on cell phone video.
Cherry was struck repeatedly with a baton, and another person in the home, Raynell Hall, was tased. Others, including homeowner Vera McGriff, were thrown on the floor and handcuffed. Officers found only a small amount of weed and paraphernalia.
The DPD said the HEAT unit's use of force was a reaction to events not captured on video. DPD spokesman Wil Glenn told the INDY at the time that Cherry tried to grab an officer's weapon and Hall struck an officer on the shoulder.
Several charges were filed against the adults in the home. Cherry was charged with two counts of possession with intent, as well as assault on a government official, resisting a public officer, and possession of paraphernalia. Hall was charged with assault on a government official and resisting a public officer. Another person in the home, Jahmon Cedeno, was charged with assault on a government official. McGriff, an Iraq war veteran, was charged with maintaining a dwelling where controlled substances were found and resisting a public officer.
Last week, however, all charges were formally dismissed.
McGriff says the situation is "bittersweet." She says she's received no apology from anyone at the DPD. "It appears that the Durham Police Department thinks if the charges are dropped then my family will just say thank you, celebrate, and forget what those officers had done to us," McGriff says. "I'm not going to sit back and let what they done to my family happen this way."
As the INDY previously reported, city manager Tom Bonfield requested an expedited formal review of the incident by the DPD's internal affairs division. The findings of that report are not a matter of public record, but Glenn, the DPD spokesman, confirms that Officer Foster is no longer with the DPD.
Earlier this year, an independent study—commissioned by the DPD itself—found patterns of racial profiling in the HEAT unit.