May 7, 2020 at 6:05 PM EDT – Updated May 8 at 8:59 AM
PENDER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) – An attorney representing a family in Pender County claims his clients were “terrorized” by a large group of people, including an off-duty member of the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office, this past weekend.
In a letter addressed to New Hanover and Pender County District Attorney Ben David, James Lea claims the armed group of people, all white, knocked on the door of the home of Monica Shepard late Sunday night. Shepard was asleep, but her son, Dameon, a high school senior, was awake and playing video games in the front of the home located in the Avendale community in Pender County. The Shepards are African-American.
When Dameon answered the door, Lea says the group demanded to know information about a young missing girl. The group was apparently looking for an individual named Josiah, who lived next door to the Shepards but left that neighborhood a month earlier.
Lea says Dameon identified himself by name several times, but the group continued to press for information that he did not have.
Among the people on the Shepard’s porch demanding answers was a person carrying an assault weapon and another with a shotgun, Lea wrote in the letter.
Also part of the group was an off-duty member of the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office. Lea says Deputy J.T. Kita, who works in the detention division, was in uniform and armed.
When Dameon attempted to shut the door after telling the group who he was, Lea says the New Hanover County deputy stuck his foot in the door and demanded to come inside.
Shepard woke up during this commotion and also tried to get the group to leave her property, indicating the person they were looking for did not live there. Once again, according to Lea, the group continued to question the Shepards, demanding to come inside. The deputy also blocked Shepard from closing her door.
“He just said ‘I’m going to step inside, close the door and talk to you guys.’ And I said, ‘no you’re not.’ He had his foot on the threshold of my door, holding the door open and he said it again, he said ‘I’m going to step inside close the door and I’ll talk to you,’ when I said ‘no you’re not,’” Shepard explained.
Lea notes during this time in which Dameon was identifying himself, a sign bearing his name and celebrating his pending graduation from Laney High School was also on the front lawn.
Lea says at some point the group realized they were at the wrong residence and started disbanding, but by that time the Pender County Sheriff’s Office was called to the disturbance.
Two deputies arrived to talk with the Shepards. Lea notes the group of people, including those who were armed, returned and followed the deputies to the Shepards’ property.
According to Lea, the deputies took no names of those in the group and didn’t investigate the situation. A captain who arrived on scene also did not take any action.
Lea says the same captain returned to the Shepards’ property the next day on his own, indicated it would be complicated to arrest anyone, but said he’d “look into it.” Lea says nothing has happened since.
In the letter to the District Attorney, Lea says both his law firm, the Lea Schultz Law Firm, and the Rhine Law firm plan to take action, but he’s also asking the district attorney to investigate.
“We obviously cannot have armed groups of citizens patrolling the streets of Pender County or New Hanover County terrorizing innocent families. Add to the fact that they were also accompanied by apparently a New Hanover County Sheriff’s Deputy that was off duty and armed, makes this matter particularly egregious,” Lea wrote in his letter to the District Attorney’s Office.
Shepard says she’s still in shock.
“Coming to the door like that with a mob of people with guns what do we expect? What were their intentions? What if he was the person they were looking for or what if I was not home? What would’ve happened? I don’t want to have that conversation,” she said. “I don’t want him to be a statistic. It’s scary.”
A spokesperson for the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office confirmed they are conducting an internal affairs investigation into whether any policies were violated. There has been no change to the deputy’s employment status at this time.
A spokesperson for the Pender County Sheriff’s Office said they are investigating the “disturbance,” but declined to provide any additional information, citing the ongoing investigation. No internal affairs investigation is currently taking place related to employee conduct in this incident within the Pender County Sheriff’s Office.
David has acknowledged receiving the letter.
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