White homeowner reported 'hoodlums'. Then he shot a black man

By Cleve Wootson

Chad Copley, 39, is led into a courtroom at the Wake County Judicial Centre in Raleigh, North Carolina. Photo / AP
Chad Copley, 39, is led into a courtroom at the Wake County Judicial Centre in Raleigh, North Carolina. Photo / AP

Chad Copley told the emergency operator to send a police car fast - he was "locked and loaded," he said, and going outside to confront a group of "hoodlums".

"We got a bunch of hoodlums out here racing," the 39-year-old Raleigh man told the dispatcher. "I'm going outside to secure my neighbourhood."

The dispatcher, responding to Copley, asked: "You're going to do what?"

"I'm going to secure my neighbourhood," Copley said.

He continued: "I'm on neighbourhood watch. I am going to have the neighbourhood meet these hoodlums out here racing up and down the street. It's 1 in the morning. There's some devil in them. They have firearms and we're going to secure our neighbourhood. If I was you, I would send PD out here as quickly as possible."

A few minutes later, Copley was on the phone with dispatchers again.

This time, haltingly, he explained the aftermath:

"I yelled at them, 'Please leave the premises,' " he said. "They were showing firearms, so I fired a warning shot and uh, we got somebody that got hit. . . .

"I fired my warning shot like I'm supposed to by law. . . . They do have firearms, and I'm trying to protect myself and my family."

The dispatcher pressed for more information: Who's been shot, how badly are they injured - and where, exactly, is the victim?

"Please just send a car," Copley responded. "There's friggin' black males outside my friggin' house with firearms. Please, send PD. Thank you."

He then hung up.

When officers arrived, they found a 20-year-old black man, Kouren-Rodney Bernard Thomas, dying of a gunshot wound. He was pronounced dead at a hospital a short time later.

Some details of the fatal confrontation remain unclear, but Raleigh police say Copley, who is white, fired at Thomas from inside his garage.

Copley was questioned, then taken to Wake County jail, where he's charged with first-degree murder. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.

Family and friends of the victim told Raleigh news station WRAL that he died "for no reason".

David Walker, who was with Thomas that night, told the Raleigh News & Observer that he and Thomas were on Singleleaf Lane, the street where Copley lives, trying to crash a party. About 50 people were attending, half inside the home, the other half spilled out into the yard, Walker recalled.

The two friends stood outside, waiting for someone to give them permission to come in, when, Walker said, a person they knew told them: "Bro, it ain't no girls."

"If there were no girls there, we figured we might as well go back home," Walker said.

As they were leaving, Thomas saw what he thought were police lights, Walker told the newspaper. Thomas - who had marijuana on him, according to Walker - took off running.

"I'm looking at him running the whole time," Walker said. "I yelled at him, 'We good now, stop running.' He turned his head back to me, and that's when a shot went off.

"We didn't know that it came from the house. We were all looking around like, who got a gun?"

If there were no girls there, we figured we might as well go back home
David Walker

The city of Raleigh, where Thomas was killed, is still reeling from an incident in March in which a white police officer fatally shot a black man.

Authorities launched dual investigations after an officer shot and killed Akiel Rakim Lakeith Denkins, 24, near downtown Raleigh during a chase. The shooting occurred shortly before city officials were set to discuss equipping police officers in Raleigh with body cameras.

In a statement, Copley's lawyer, Raymond Tarlton urged people not to jump to premature conclusions:

"We have seen too many wrongful convictions for anyone or any organisation to jump to conclusions on the basis of someone being charged," the statement said. "We have just gotten involved and are at the beginning stages of our investigation. We urge restraint and that folks not rush to judgment. At this point we cannot say anything more."

Denkins' mother told reporters that, according to accounts from other people in the area of the shooting, her son was fleeing and "they couldn't catch him, so they shot at him seven times."

On Tuesday, at the scene where Thomas was killed, "glass lay in the driveway and front lawn where the blast apparently came through the window," according to the News & Observer. "Blood stains and bloody gauze were left in the yard about [9m] from the garage, a few feet from the street."

Simone Butler-Thomas told the newspaper that her son was a comedian who kept the family laughing.

She called him "Mr. Safety 101″ because, she said, he always made sure people wore their seat belts. He worked at McDonald's, then at Waffle House and had planned to help his girlfriend move into her college dorm later this month.

"This is my baby," she told the newspaper while sobbing. "He looks just like me."

- Washington Post

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