DURHAM - Lawyers for Stephanie Nickerson, the Chapel Hill woman who accused a Durham police officer of beating her during an arrest last year, are considering next steps after an investigation found the officer used excessive force.
The Durham Police Department announced Wednesday that their internal investigation found former Cpl. B.D. Schnee used “more force than was necessary” but found insufficient evidence to prove Nickerson’s claim she was arrested without cause.
“It’s a bittersweet finding,” Geeta Kapur, one of Nickerson’s attorneys, said Wednesday night. “He had no right to arrest her at all.”
Nickerson, who has not spoken publicly since the arrest, remained silent last week.
Her other attorney, Daryl Atkinson, of the Durham-based Southern Coalition for Justice, said he too was disappointed that police found insufficient evidence to prove Nickerson’s charges of resisting arrest and assault on an officer were unwarranted, especially after the district attorney’s office dropped them in January.
Atkinson said he also was disappointed police did not address his client’s being held in Durham County Jail from 3 to 11 a.m. without medical attention.
Schnee broke Nickerson’s nose, gave her a black eye and busted her lip, and she went to the hospital immediately after getting out of jail, Atkinson said.
“We should not have to raise that,” Kapur said. “If someone has a bleeding nose we would hope they would get medical attention. ... They should at the very least have called out EMS to treat her.”
Schnee resigned from the Police Department on Jan. 18 amid mounting public protests by supporters of Nickerson, the woman he arrested Oct. 28 responding to a noise complaint.
According to her supporters, Nickerson told the hostess she did not have to let officers in the house because they did not have a warrant. That’s when, she maintains, Schnee threw her to the ground and started punching her in the face.
Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez said he could not describe what the department thinks happened that night because of state privacy laws.
In an interview, he said the incident does not reflect how his department operates.
“This is not a pattern of our culture,” he said. “This is not something we tolerate.”
Lopez also said he did not ask Schnee to resign.
“No, I never ask anyone to resign,” he said. “People know what they did or what they did not do. It comes up to them. They know if they’re culpable what’s going to happen, especially if (the offense) is terminable in nature.”
Using excessive force could be a firing circumstance in some situations, Lopez said.Possible lawsuit
Atkinson said Nickerson will now consider filing a civil suit, as well as appealing to the city’s Civilian Police Review Board, which reviews complaints against police.
The board could overrule the police finding that there was insufficient evidence to prove Nickerson was arrested without cause. The board’s hearing would be public, he said.
Although Lopez said the case was unusual for the department, Atkinson said it may not be.
“I can understand the chief having that opinion,” he said. “It is something we’re hearing more and more from the citizens of Durham. That’s why it’s very important to have some form of checks and balances. The jury’s still out.”
“This kind of thing goes on all the time, and they know they can do it, ” Kapur said. Unlike Nickerson, people mistreated by police often are involved in the criminal justice system already, she said.
“It raises the question of how police treat people they decide are politically or socially unimportant.”
Atkinson said he has advised Nickerson not to speak publicly while the case remains active.
In a statement attributed to her at a rally in January, she said she felt afraid and hopeless that night.
“I felt broken, and I didn’t have the first clue how to put myself back together again,” the statement read.