Should ‘misuse of deadly force’ disqualify a police officer from employment? Graham residents think it does.

An officer guards a Confederate statue outside of Alamance County Historical Courthouse.

Community organizers in Graham have mobilized against the hiring of a police officer recently fired from the Greensboro Police Department for recklessly shooting into an automobile fleeing a crime scene in downtown Greensboro.

Activists are also critical of Officer Douglas A. Strader’s hire because he was involved in a controversial hogtying incident in 2018 that led to the death of Marcus Smith, a black man who was experiencing a mental health crisis.

Strader was one of eight officers involved in the incident. None of them were disciplined because the now-prohibited practice was allowed in 2018. They are, however, defendants in a federal lawsuit filed by Smith’s mother.

“We just don’t think this was a good hire for our community when another community let him go because his actions were a danger to their community,” said Dreama Caldwell, a community organizer with Down Home NC, a nonprofit that  works to empower people in small towns and rural North Carolina.

The City of Graham hired Strader at the rank of Police Officer 1 on March 1. He’d been a corporal in Greensboro before being fired in October 2020. That was a little more than a year after the September 2019 shooting incident that involved three other officers.

Greensboro City Manager David Parrish upheld the firing after Strader appealed the decision. Here’s what Parrish wrote in the dismissal letter dated Oct. 7:

“A single mistake, error or lapse of judgment while using deadly force can have tragic and long-lasting consequences for our community. As a result, we have no tolerance for the misuse of deadly force. For these reasons, I am upholding your dismissal from employment with the Greensboro Police Department.”

In a statement, the Graham Police Department said it “exceeds and complies with all guidelines set forth by the NC Criminal Justice Education and Training Standards Commission” which requires background checks on all applicants seeking law enforcement certification.

“As with all police applicants, Graham Police Department conducted a thorough background into the character and suitability of Officer [Douglas] Strader. Many of the details and results surrounding hiring decisions are protected by North Carolina personnel law and cannot be divulged pursuant to North Carolina G.S. 160A-168.”

Slater’s hire was first reported by the Yes! Weekly, an alternative news magazine that covers Greensboro, in a story titled “Wandering Cops: Triad Sees Impact of Police Accountability of trail, or lack of”.

Policy Watch is documenting racial tension and race relations in Alamance County in a special series titled: The battle for Alamance: A look at the past and present of one of North Carolina’s most divided counties.

Strader’s hire has become a headscratcher for community activists, many of whom wonder why Police Chief Kristi Cole would invite more controversy to a city still reeling from the aftershock of weeks of angry protests last summer over a Confederate statute guarding the courthouse in downtown Graham.

Civil rights activists were pepper sprayed and arrested during the protests, which made national headlines.

The city also made news after former police chief Jeffrey Prichard criticized the Black Lives Matter movement and the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic on the department’s website. Prichard said he thought he was posting the comments to his personal Facebook account.

“This is a Police Department with history, so to hire someone like that just shows there is no interest in repairing that bridge with the community,” Caldwell said.

Community activist Dejuana Bigelow said Cole promised to work to improve race relations after Prichard’s departure.

Hiring someone with Strader’s background to protect and serve the community isn’t the way to rebuild trust, said Bigelow, president of Future Alamance, an grassroots organization pushing for inclusion and equity in Alamance,

“To hire him [Strader] is like a spit in the face,” said Bigelow,. “The Police Department went in a totally different direction than what we had been building to and talking about for our community and for our residents, an inclusive Graham.”

She said the Strader hire is a setback for race relations.

“We’re already working to build one Graham where everyone feels included, and I have had several talks with Kristi (Cole) and several of her officers along the way, and she said she was interested in restoring trust,” Bigelow said. “This hire creates more distrust. It creates more division.”

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