NEW HANOVER COUNTY — A former deputy has submitted an application with the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office more than three years after being fired from his position.
Jordan Kita, acquitted on criminal charges for leading an armed search party to a Pender County home, has asked to reclaim his old job. Though, his position — Kita was once a detention officer — may be different; NHCSO Lt. Jerry Brewer explained new hires are placed where they’re most needed.
Following an incident, which made national headlines and still includes an ongoing civil lawsuit, Kita was fired from his role at NHCSO on May 8, 2020. Kita was searching for his missing sister and led a group of armed men to the home of a Black teen, Dameon Shepard, who Kita thought was someone else based on misinformation.
He was off-duty but in uniform and carrying his NHCSO-issued gun when he allegedly tried to gain entry into the Shepards’ house.
Five days later, after Sheriff McMahon consulted with District Attorney Ben David and Pender County Sheriff Alan Cutler, Kita was fired. Lawyer Jim Lea, representing the Shepards, sent a letter to the DA asking for Kita’s removal after he was charged with failure to discharge duties, forcible trespass and breaking and entering. Kita was later acquitted.
Brewer confirmed Kita has begun the hiring process — which could take up to a month — with the department.
Before being terminated, Kita worked for NHCSO for almost two years, hired in July 2018.
As far as how common it is to hire a formerly fired deputy, Brewer said it’s “not happened many times,” and the last was decades ago, prior to Sheriff Ed McMahon’s appointment. Brewer couldn’t offer details, noting there was a different sheriff at the helm.
The decision to employ any deputy ultimately lies with the sheriff, who Brewer said was out of town for training and unable to speak to Port City Daily ahead of publication.
According to internal emails obtained by PCD, McMahon was eager for Kita to rejoin the force.
“Please have Jordan give me a call on my cell, and I’ll set him up with recruitment,” the sheriff wrote to Erich Von Hackney, a district attorney investigator serving Bladen, Brunswick and Columbus counties. “I’m excited to have him back with us.”
Von Hackney indicated to McMahon that Kita was interested in returning to New Hanover County “after things had settled down.”
“As you know, all of his criminal and civil matters are long over, with the outcome of each being favorable to him,” Hackney wrote. “Jordan has done an excellent job while serving for [Bladen County] Sheriff McVicker.”
After a two-day trial — drawn out for two months due to Covid-19 restrictions — that concluded in February 2021, Kita was not held responsible for the charges.
A civil suit was also filed in January 2021 against Kita by Monica and Dameon Shepard. The family sued for trespassing, assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, invasion of privacy, and violating North Carolina’s civil rights and fair housing statutes.
The suit was voluntarily dismissed in March 2022, following mediation among the involved parties.
Kita, along with his father Timothy, and neighbor Austin Wood, who took part in the search party, have filed a defamation countersuit against the Shepards’ lawyers. A trial date is scheduled for Sept. 18.
Kita’s attorney, Grady Richardson, clarified in court in March, the lawsuit did not include Monica Shepherd because she was not the one who made the lawsuit about race.
Since the Shepards are Black and live in a predominantly white neighborhood, the violation of their home appeared to be racially motivated, according to their attorneys, who called it “racial terror.” Kita has asked for an apology from the Shepards for the story escalating to that level, and is suing the attorneys representing the Pender family for releasing press releases he said inflamed the situation.
Particularly, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law used language such as “lynch mob” and “vigilante” in press releases sent to media outlets. The plaintiffs allege the notices fostered the racial sentiments and the negative impacts have ruined the plaintiffs’ reputations with media stories forever online.
According to New Hanover and Pender county DA David, Kita has been cleared of any animus against a racial minority.
“I know there was a lot of background noise about whether or not [the 2020 incident] was prompted at all by race,” David told Port City Daily on a call Wednesday. “There was nothing in the law enforcement investigation, or anything at trial, that would suggest that.”
An internal affairs investigation, North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, Pender County Sheriff’s Office review and the criminal trial all led to the same conclusion, he said. According to David, Kita was cooperative throughout investigations.
“Nothing about his conduct post-arrest or post-charging decision would indicate he was being untruthful or in any way call his credibility into question,” David said.
As it relates to the judicial system, he said there are no “Giglio” issues — meaning Kita would be welcomed back to testify in court as a law enforcement officer.
Giglio refers to a case from 1972, David explained, where any states’ witnesses who are called to court can be cross-examined about moral turpitude issues. In other words, no Giglio issues would mean a deputy is truthful and does not demonstrate racial bias.
David said his office performs a Giglio review of all 1,200-plus officers in the district. Any on- or off-duty conduct that might implicate concerns must be disclosed by the department’s internal affairs division.
Those concerns are then reviewed by the DA’s top three senior prosecutors who comprise the Giglio committee.
David pointed to an example of racial animus involving three Wilmington Police Department officers caught on dashcam footage making racist comments.
“Immediately, I said to [Chief] Donny Williams, ‘Hey, these three officers are never allowed back in the courthouse as witnesses for any case we’re trying because we don’t trust them and the jury wouldn’t trust them,’” David said, referring to the 2020 WPD incident. “And we would rather dismiss their pending cases than to put them on the stand and do more harm to the administration of justice.”
In Kita’s case, a jury and judge concluded no racial bias was found to have motivated the Pender County situation, he said. The Shepards’ testimonies during trial also validated no racially biased motivation.
“In fact, the Shepards were specifically asked that question — and did written statements of their own — and they testified, both of them, mother and son, and neither one said anything,” David added.
Still, when it comes to Kita’s criminal charges, the DA stands behind the prosecution.
“[H]e was charged with [the crimes] because we believe he was guilty of those crimes,” David said. “I said at the time, and I’ll repeat now, that while I disagree with that verdict, I respect, nonetheless, the process.”
Therefore, having been cleared of criminal wrongdoing and facing no Giglio issues, Kita is allowed to wear the badge again.
He has been working a lower-paying job with the Bladen County Sheriff’s Office. Amanda Skyes, PIO and analyst with the department, said Kita was hired May 23, 2021 as a deputy.
Kita had no comment about his impending hire with NHCSO, according to his lawyer, Richardson.
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