SALISBURY, N.C. (WBTV) – A group of local clergy members are now saying they are not convinced that Ferguson Laurent fired his gun at police in the seconds before he was shot and killed during the execution of a search warrant in Salisbury.
The group held a press conference on Thursday to discuss their concerns and to call on city leaders to provide answers to lingering questions.
“We need specifics, we need transparency, we need to build trust, and that starts with this case,” said Reverend Bradley Taylor.
Around 9:25 a.m. on Nov. 3, officers went to a home along the 600-block of E. Lafayette Street in Salisbury to serve a “no-knock” search warrant, which was the result of a three-month-long investigation.
When officers entered the home, they said Ferguson Laurent Jr. fired at least one shot at them and that one officer returned fire. Laurent was rushed to the hospital but died from his injuries. No officers were hurt in the incident.
The officers were part of the Special Response Unit and were not wearing body cameras during the shooting, police say.
Last week the Medical Examiner released the autopsy of Ferguson Laurent, showing that his body had a total of ten gunshot wounds. The report shows Laurent was shot in the head, chest, arms, leg and torso. His cause of death is listed as “multiple gunshot wounds.”
Salisbury Police Chief Jerry Stokes had originally said on the day of the incident that Laurent had been shot twice, but later said that there had been “several” shots fired by officer Karl Boehm.
The toxicology report released by the medical examiner’s office revealed the man killed, 22-year-old Laurent, did not have drugs tested for in his system at the time of the shooting. The test looked for traces of benzodiazepines, cocaine, ethanol, gabapentin and opiates in the man’s system.
During the press conference, Minister Latasha Wilks of Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church said that major concerns exist about how the incident was handled by police.
“What comprehensive, compelling, and credible evidence was there that led to the conclusion that this location and its inhabitants were violently dangerous, other than the words of a law enforcement informant? No evidence of a criminal record, activity, arrest, that led to the conclusion the inhabitants of this location were violently dangerous,” Wilks said. “Was there an urgency to execute this type of warrant using the tactics and force involved? Couldn’t there have been an alternate plan of action to execute search of this premises and de-escalate, rather than escalate a situation that led to an officer involved shooting resulting in the death of a young man, endangerment to inhabitants of this residence and surrounding neighborhood?”
According to police, officers seized less than 10 grams of crack cocaine, less than 10 grams of marijuana, several burnt marijuana roaches, rolling papers, digital scales, $1513 in cash, cellphones, ammunition, a bulletproof vest and a bong.
Wilks also shared a letter from Life Church pastor Chris Shelton who was not able to be in attendance. While saying that he may a different view than some of the clergy when it comes to who may have fired the first shot in the incident, Shelton says that he is more concerned with the position he says the department put the officers in.
Speaking as a “privileged, white, middle-class man,” Shelton wrote that “I believe God has given me a unique perspective on the issue that will not allow me to sit back and be silent.”
“I am in full support of our local clergy in insisting on full transparency from our local law enforcement and am standing alongside others in asking for our leaders to be held accountable, fully responsible and to, at the very least, acknowledge the hurt and widening distrust that this situation has further created in our community,” Shelton wrote. “Our local law enforcement, just as in the case with each of our ministries, carries the expectation to be held to a high standard of accountability.”
“I am further disappointed in the treatment and lack of support by the Salisbury Police Department, specifically concerning officer Karl Boehm, who is now clearly among several officers who returned fire on Ferguson Laurent,” Shelton wrote. “And who it appears the Salisbury Police Department knowingly chose to hide behind as a scapegoat. This is inexcusable.”
“And while I realize an apology from the SPD may be unrealistic, I hold to the grace and forgiveness that unites all of us in the Gospel as each of us continue to work for the peace and the prosperity of this city to which we’ve been called, which includes praying for our city we do everything possible to see that the death of Ferguson Laurent leads to productive steps toward healing and racial reconciliation in our community instead of further divisiveness,” Shelton added. “May we wisely and courageously continue to build upon the nonviolent, Gospel-centered movement of Dr. Martin Luther King as we work to bring the ways of the Kingdom of Heaven to earth – for the good of our community and for the glory of the name of Jesus.”
“We’re here to raise more concerns due to the recent tragedy in the loss of a young man,” said Reverend Patrick Jones. “Mr. Laurent had ten separate gunshot wounds, two of the wounds to the torso may have been from the bullets that hit the upper right arm, according to the autopsy report. The autopsy report raises disturbing questions about the shots fired and who fired the shots. This leads us to question the account of the officers on the scene at the time and whether or not Mr. Laurent even fired a shot at all.”
Al Heggins, owner of the Human Praxis Institute in Salisbury, laid out four specific points to city leaders regarding the shooting and the aftermath: “One, that the city take ownership, publicly, for its role in this breach of trust,” Heggins said. “Place suspension of no-knock warrants on the city council agenda for a vote, three, provide clear, specific answers to questions previously submitted during the first press conference and to the questions being submitted today, and four, sit down with the black community for a collaborative planning process to address the underlying issues and to rebuild this trust.”
Asked for any reaction to the claims made today at the press conference, a spokesperson for the City of Salisbury provided the following statement:
The City of Salisbury is aware that members of the Salisbury community held a news conference today regarding the autopsy of Ferguson Laurent Jr.
We have stated since November 4, that once we provided the initial, preliminary information, that we would have no further comment on this incident until the SBI concluded its investigation of this officer-involved shooting. It would be highly inappropriate for the Salisbury Police Department or the City of Salisbury to comment on an on-going investigation, particularly an investigation this important to our community.
Unfortunately, as we wait for the SBI investigation to conclude, assumptions, accusations and misinformation have been shared with the public and the news media. Multiple pages of information regarding Mr. Laurent, the officer involved, the search warrant and the items recovered from the home, were provided to members of the public and the news media from the city in the spirit of truth and transparency. The characterization that we are being secretive or not forthcoming is highly inaccurate. We continue to stand by the decision to not comment at this time until the SBI investigation is concluded.
However, there were some points made at the news conference that we would like to clarify:
1. Initial reports on the day of the shooting were that Mr. Laurent was shot two times by Officer Boehm. After further investigation on the night of the shooting, it was determined that the initial reports on the number of shots were inconclusive. The true number of shots would be provided in the SBI report and the autopsy. This information was shared with on the City’s Rumor Control web page on the evening of November 3 and with members of the public.
2. On the evening of the shooting, the City and the Salisbury Police Department called together members of the community, including some of the speakers at today’s news conference, to share as much information as we could regarding this incident, again in the spirit of truth and transparency. But more importantly, we recognized that tensions were beginning to rise in our community. We reached out to these individuals for outreach assistance. We answered questions to the best of our ability at that time. We also shared with the group that we could not comment further until the SBI completed its investigation. We have not met with this same group following the first meeting.
3. The City is not “hiding behind” its Rumor Control page. This valuable tool has been employed to dispute false information that has been shared in the community. However, despite our best efforts, some of these rumors continue to exist as noted at today’s news conference.
4. The shooting took place within the residence on E. Lafayette St. Three individuals were present in the home, including Mr. Laurent. The one known eyewitness to the Salisbury Police Department was interviewed. Any additional “eyewitnesses” were located outside of the home and would have been interviewed by the SBI following the canvas of the neighborhood that day. The Salisbury Police Department has no further information about eyewitnesses coming forward to share information.