A white sheriff’s deputy in North Carolina is facing criminal charges after allegedly leading an armed mob to the home of a black teenager and trying to force their way inside as part of a botched vigilante mission.
New Hanover & Pender County District Attorney Ben David on Friday announced the charges against Jordan Kita, a New Hanover Sheriff’s Office detention officer accused of wearing his uniform while leading the group of people—one of whom was allegedly packing an AR-15—to confront a high school student at his home. Kita has since been fired from the sheriff's office.
The teenager, Dameon Shepard, was playing video games late one evening when the group of men arrived at his door, demanding to know the whereabouts of a 15-year-old girl named Lekayda Kempisty who had been reported missing. Three in the group were said to be armed, carrying a shotgun, a semi-automatic rifle, and a handgun. Kita wore his New Hanover County Sheriff’s deputy uniform and gun, though he had not come to Shepard’s house on official business.
The group said they were going to enter the house and question him, the Port City Daily reports. But in addition to having no legal authority to question or detain Shepard, they also had the wrong guy.
The mob was in search of a man whose first name was Josiah. Josiah had reportedly previously lived in the neighborhood, but the only thing he apparently had in common with Shepard was being African-American in the predominantly white neighborhood. The armed group reportedly did not believe Shepard when he told them he wasn't who they were looking for.
“There’s one in a police uniform, and he speaks to me first,” Shepard told the Port City Daily. “He says, ‘We’re looking for a missing girl. We were given this address, we were given your name, and we were told that she’s here. So we’re going to enter,’” Shepard was quoted as saying.
He said he told the group they could not come inside and tried to shut the door, but Kita planted his foot so the door could not close.
According to a letter from the Shepards’ attorney, James Lea, “Dameon became very frightened and hysterical, and kept repeating that his name was Dameon and that he attended Laney High School.”
Shepard’s mother, awoken by the confrontation, then came to the front door.
“The crowd was angry, and I still did not know what was going on,” Monica Shepard told the Port City Daily. “[Kita] kept saying, ‘I’m going to step inside, close the door, and talk to you,’ and I said, ‘No, you’re not.’”
She told the vigilantes that her son was not named Josiah. Kita is said to have insisted he be allowed inside, but the mob eventually left. The missing girl, who had run away from home, was located later that evening.
“The whole time, I was worried the worst would happen,” said Monica Shepard. “I’m still in shock. I don’t sleep well.”
When Pender County sheriff’s deputies arrived later that night to investigate, they made no arrests and, according to Lea, took no names.
Monica Shepard said, “Coming to the door like that with a mob of people with guns, what do we expect? What were their intentions? What if he was the person they were looking for or what if I was not home? What would’ve happened? I don’t want to have that conversation. I don’t want him to be a statistic. It’s scary.”
Dameon and his mother Monica plan to file a civil lawsuit, according to their attorney. Lea called the sheriff’s department’s conduct an “outrageous and egregious violation.”
“We obviously cannot have armed groups of citizens patrolling the streets of Pender County or New Hanover County terrorizing innocent families,” the lawyer wrote.
Kita has been fired from the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office, and the office is conducting an internal affairs investigation, The News & Observer reports. He’s charged with breaking and entering, forcible trespassing, and failure to discharge duties. A second man, Austin Wood, is charged with “going armed to the terror of the public.”