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Civil rights complaint expands to include Graham police leadership following controversial hiring of officer fired from the Greensboro Police Department

Civil rights complaint expands to include Graham police leadership following controversial hiring of officer fired from the Greensboro Police Department

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BURLINGTON — As the Rev. Curtis Gatewood expands the scope of his civil rights complaint to include both Graham police Chief Kristi Cole and Assistant Chief Rodney King, he hopes his actions will eventually lead to the end of what he calls wandering officers.

This comes after Gatewood’s original complaint against recently hired Graham Officer Douglas Strader, who was involved in a pair of controversial incidents while employed with the Greensboro police. In his original complaints, Gatewood said the hiring of Strader, as well as the practice of dismissed officers finding work in nearby communities, place unnecessary risk on people of color.

“For us to have to endure this and fight the department that is insisting on hiring a police officer that we know was involved in two acts of misconduct is appalling and sickening,” Gatewood said.

Strader was present with other officers when Marcus Smith was hog-tied after becoming agitated while having a mental health crisis. Smith later died and his family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit. Strader also was involved in a shooting, during which he reportedly fired on a fleeing vehicle. Greensboro police officials fired him following the latter incident.

In a statement made on behalf of the Graham Police Department, Capt. Daniel Sisk wrote in an email that Strader passed all necessary credentials.

“Officer Strader overwhelmingly exceeded the rigorous standards required in the extensive hiring process of the Graham Police Department,” Sisk noted in an email. “Additionally, all of Officer Strader’s background and prior employment history was extensively reviewed by the state’s Training and Standards Commission and the Graham Police Department. Each police applicant applying for Graham PD is investigated, reviewed and processed extensively to ensure that the officers we hire serve our community with integrity professionalism and respect.”

This week, Gatewood reached out for a second time to the offices of state Attorney General Josh Stein and U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to expand the scope of his initial civil rights complaint to include Graham police officials. Gatewood said he decided the immediate scope of the issue entailed more than just Strader and it would benefit investigators to take a look at the department, starting from the top.

“The civil right complaint further seeks to ensure there is an independent investigation of the Graham Police Department and where there are videos from public witnesses or body cams, or dash cams, or other material evidence and facts to prove an officer engaged in excessive force, any and all such officers be immediately removed and universally banned from employment in law enforcement within the jurisdiction of the United States,” reads an excerpt from the civil rights complaint.

Sisk said police officials are willing to discuss the complaint.

“We are aware of the complaint and have engaged discussions with community groups and civil rights activists involving their concerns,” Sisk wrote. “We are committed to keeping an open dialogue.”

Gatewood said what is happing in Graham is a microcosm for similar hiring practices going on across the country. While he believes authorities should work to put an end to police migration, officials from the Commission on the Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies, the nationwide police department accreditation agency, said it’s easier said than done.

“Part of a background check would include verifying their credentials are current, running a criminal history report, verifying personal and professional references and their employment history,” CALEA Regional Program Manager Laura Saunders said, adding that the information given to her agency by a police department might not entail specific information on a specific officer.

“I think I can ask (a former employer) if they would hire him back,” Saunders said. “Even if they said no that wouldn’t give enough information to really know what that person is involved in. I think the expectation would be on the front end of that officer being truthful about why they left the department.”

Gatewood said the best-case scenario would be for police migration to find itself on the radar of high-ranking officials.

“Lives are at stake. We’ve seen it happen all across the country,” Gatewood said. “It would be one thing if nothing had happened over the past 10 or 20 years, and we were just talking about an isolated case. But we are looking at a systemic form of misconduct throughout the country that is putting people of color at risk.”

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Michael Antonio Whorley, 39, was arrested Tuesday by the Greensboro Police Department Violent Criminal Apprehension Team, police said in a news release. He was charged with first-degree murder in the death of 30-year-old Lashon Ellerbe, also of Greensboro.

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