The Civil Litigation Clinic at the North Carolina Central University School of Law has taken the case for the family of José Ocampo, who was fatally shot on Saturday, July 27 by a Durham Police officer.
The School’s Civil Litigation Clinic prepares law students for the real world by allowing them to work on the cases of clients with limited incomes. According to the School, without assistance by the Civil Litigation Clinic, most of its clients will not have access to legal representation to help solve their legal problems.
Scott Holmes, director of the Civil Litigation Clinic, will represent the Ocampo family. Holmes asked for an independent investigation of the shooting by private investigator Steve Hale, former head of the Wake County Sheriff’s Homicide Department.
Holmes said that the initial findings of the investigation, based on three independent eyewitness accounts, establish that Ocampo was waiting at the front of his residence to talk with officers about a prior altercation. As three police officers arrived, one noticed that Ocampo had a kitchen knife in his back pocket, and informed the other two officers. At least two of the officers then drew their weapons, and ordered Ocampo to throw down the knife. According to the witnesses, Ocampo then took the knife from his pocket by the blade and presented the handle of the knife to the officer standing in front of him. A witness yelled to Ocampo, in Spanish, to throw the knife down. As he was handing the officer the handle of the knife, one of officers shot Ocampo, striking him multiple times in the chest. He died at the scene. The three civilian witnesses were interviewed by law enforcement, and reportedly gave this same information to Durham officers.
Holmes said it is his opinion, based upon the facts found by the private investigator, that the Durham officer was not justified in using lethal force.
“It is unreasonable to believe that a person presenting the handle of a knife posed a threat of death or imminent bodily harm,” Holmes said. “Based upon the eyewitness statements of the three non-officers on the scene, the Durham officer did not accurately assess the threat or properly interpret the behavior of Mr. Ocampo.”
Durham Police Chief José Lopez’s public statement on July 30 did not include the information from the eyewitnesses at the scene, Holmes said. “In his statement, Chief Lopez apparently relied only upon the statements provided by the officers involved in the shooting. It is disappointing that Chief Lopez would release an incomplete version of events before the finalization of the investigation being conducted by the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) and the internal affairs investigation that he said was being conducted by his own department.”
José Adan Cruz Ocampo was the youngest of three brothers. His wife and young son live in a small town in Honduras. He was working in the United States to send money to support them.
“He was an honest and loving man,” Holmes said.