Thursday, January 24, 2013

Charges dropped against Nickerson but this will not go away

The word came to the crowd shortly after the end of the rally.  As thirty people protested the arrest of Stephanie Nickerson, a judge dropped all charges against the women beaten by a Durham police officer.

In addition to charges being dropped, the crowd was informed that Cpl. Brian Schnee resigned two days ago.  It was a small victory for those still broken upon viewing the battered face of Nickerson after Schnee decided to teach her a lesson about the power that comes with wearing a badge and gun.

Nickerson was charged with resisting an officer and assaulting a government official.  Nickerson and her supporters claim the case is about police brutality, and they demanded the dropping of all charges and the firing of Schnee.  The court ruling seemingly put to rest the battle for justice, but the fight against the police department has just begun.

The evidence against Schnee supports the charge of police brutality.  In addition to the physical evidence are three 911 calls from witnesses begging for assistance to stop a police officer from beating a female.  “3rd caller: was arguing with PD in background…caller adv officer schnee punched her fem friend. Stating he put her friend on the ground and kept punching her in the face,” read the notes from the 911 dispatcher.  “Additional caller stating pd punched her friend in the face…addl call – anonymous – stating pd are attacking a woman…others are trying to restrain him in middle…male attacked a woman.”

Nickerson’s battered face, the witnesses, 911 calls and video evidence were enough to convince the judge to put an end to the madness.  Schnee’s departure may have been a forced resignation.  What follows is uncertain, but the case is still under investigation. 

“No is the word we learned to say when we refused our frozen peas,” Nia Wilson, executive director of SpiritHouse told those standing in the cold to protest Nickerson’s arrest. “We are taught by our teachers and parents rules, rights and laws that apply to everyone.  As we grow older we learn if you are poor, black, female or from the wrong neighborhood you live by a different set of rules.”

“This is more than a seemingly isolated incident,” says Roland Staton, first vice president of the Durham Branch of the NAACP. Staton gave status the expose the disparity of arrest and charges based on race in Durham County.

The beating of Nickerson will not go away.  Is it more than an isolated incident?  That’s the claim Police Chief Jose Lopez made after three of his police officers were arrested and charged with breaking and entering, assault and false imprisonment for pushing their way into a home in Northern Durham.  That incident was the most recent in a series of events that raise questions related to a culture of abuse within the Durham Police Department.

Protester waved at the family of Carlos Riley, Jr. as they made their way to court. Riley is in jail with a $1.5 million bond involving nine charges, including shooting a police officer.  Riley and his supporters claim the officer shot himself. 

“Charges of abuse among members of the police department has dramatically increased over the past year,” Staton told the crowd.

“Someone has offended one of our women and we take that seriously,” says Minister Curtis Gatewood, 2nd vice president for the North Carolina NAACP. “You don’t come into our community and openly put your hands on one of our women.  Not gonna tolerate an attack on our women on the West End, or the East End. Not on the North or South side of town.  We won’t sit back as our women are being attacked.”

That’s what separates Nickerson’s case from the rest.  You can’t beat women and call it justice.  Those who are called to protect and defend women from the abuse of men can’t be caught doing the very thing others have fought to end.  You can’t place bruises on the face of women and justify it as a police strategy.  You can’t punch a woman in the face!

The charges have been dropped.  There are other pending cases that deserve public attention, but this isn’t over.  The resignation doesn’t end the fight for justice.  Dropping the charges won’t undo what Schnee’s fists painted on Nickerson’s face. 

“Chief Lopez thinks he’s not accountable to the community,” Wilson says. “He refuses to speak and answer question raised by those in the community.  We won’t stop until we get answers.”

Nickerson won’t face charges.  Schnee no longer works for the police department, but this is not over.

You can’t hit a woman in her face. I learned that lesson before I said no to my peas.


  1. When will Lopez be replaced???? He needs to go!!! I have watched crime soar out of control under his watch!!! And the Police Officers seem to be growing lots of bad apples!!!

  2. Referring back to your first blog post on this subject ( and the discussion that followed:

    Now the investigation of this incident has finished and more is known. First, the police were NOT authorized to search the apartment premises because it was a noise warrant, not a domestic disturbance indicating someone was in trouble. Second, that makes Nickerson correct in that the officers did not have the right to forece their way into the premises. As a result, Nickerson is not charged with resisting. Third, police officer Schnee overreacted to her obstruction and has been forced off of the police force due to his actions. And, no, Mr. Matherly, the police didn't try to cover any of this up. A bad apple has been expunged.

    Now that the facts are known, Nickerson will be free to sue Schnee for damages as well as file an assault complaint against Schnee. Justice has and will be served.

    As for Curtis Gatewood's statement, " “You don’t come into our community and openly put your hands on one of our women. Not gonna tolerate an attack on our women on the West End, or the East End. Not on the North or South side of town. We won’t sit back as our women are being attacked.” I sincerly hope he is working on ending domestic violence in these communities. There are far more attacks on our women by husbands, boyfriends, and acquaintances than by the police.