PENDER COUNTY – Two men facing criminal charges for confronting a Black teenager at his Pender County home with firearms last spring were found not guilty on Thursday, Feb 18.
Former New Hanover County Sheriff’s deputy Jordan Kita led an all-white crowd on a search for his missing sister on May 3, 2020, and approached the home of Monica and Dameon Shepard, who had no ties to the girl. Kita was off the clock, yet carried a weapon and wore his uniform.
The Shepard family, who is Black, claim they were “terrorized” by the group that attempted to set foot in their house. Those on the other side of the threshold have insisted it was a brief misunderstanding.
Following a demand for an investigation and public outcry, District Attorney Ben David announced in a May 8 press conference Kita was fired from his position with the sheriff’s office and charged with willful failure to discharge duties, forcible trespass, and breaking and entering.
Kita’s lawyer, James Rutherford, did not respond to Port City Daily’s requests for comment.
Austin Wood, another member of the group, was charged with “going armed to the terror of the public,” a Class 1 misdemeanor.
The trial Thursday lasted 10-and-a-half hours with 14 witness testimonies and lengthy debate, according to Wood’s attorney Woody White.
“The story became clear as to what actually happened that evening,” White wrote in an email.
Both men were acquitted and are now seeking apologies from the Shepard family.
Rutherford told WECT they intend to sue the Shepards if they do not recant “libelous, slanderous, defamatory statements they’ve made through their lawyers.”
Similarly, White told Port City Daily that Wood is expecting an apology from the Shepards and their lawyers “for the reckless and intentional smearing of his good name.”
“They called him a racist – nearly the worst thing someone can be called – and his life has been upended as a consequence,” White said. “If they simply say they are sorry, the case will go away. If they do not, he will spend every ounce of energy possible pursuing all those responsible.”
In a letter to Port City Daily, Wood wrote that he closed his business, stepped down from coaching his kid’s baseball and softball teams, and almost lost his 10-year job after the event. He said his children suffer from anxiety from their classmates’ questions and harassment and can no longer play in the yard because of threats made to the family.
Under oath Thursday, Wood said he was sorry for what the Shepard family endured. He said he recounted events to police that night, and tried multiple times to communicate apologies to the Shepards through the Pender County Sheriff’s Office, and “was told NO they would not accept.”
Wood, who said he was never asked his side of the story by the media, reiterated his sole motive was to help find his neighbor’s missing daughter.
“At the Shepard’s, I was just standing there by the street, waiting to see if we would learn anything new about where the girl might be,” Wood wrote.
The 15-year-old girl, who is biracial, was found safe the following day.
Wood explained his AR-15 was on him that night because they were previously searching in the nearby woods, where he’d hunted before and knew of coyotes and snakes. He said when they moved to the subdivision he got out with the unloaded gun slung over his back and the open end of the barrel pointed downward.
“That was a mistake I will truly regret forever,” Wood wrote. “I never went up to the door at the Shepard’s home and I did not say anything to them. No one knew they were black just like we didn’t know at any of the other places we were looking.”
White has consistently condemned the media – calling out Port City Daily and WECT specifically – for using language such as “lynch mobs” and “armed white men” in their reporting. He also repeatedly accused the Shepards and their lawyers of taking advantage of high-profile racial deaths, such as Breonna Taylor’s, a Black woman shot by police, and Ahmaud Arbery’s, a Black man murdered while jogging.
In Wood’s letter, he expressed frustration about the continuous usage of the word “mob” in headlines, especially after the recent verdict.
In January, on behalf of the Shepards, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Lea/Shultz Law Firm filed a lawsuit in Pender County Superior Court against Kita, his father Timothy Kita, and Wood. The document compares the group’s actions to KKK night rides and Jim Crow-era lynch mobs and refers to the group as a mob more than 40 times.
The complainants are seeking $25,000 in damages from the defendants. They are accusing the men of trespassing, assault, negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, invasion of privacy, and violations of the state civil rights and fair housing statutes.
The lawsuit also lists up to 12 other “John and Jane Does” and blames the Pender County Sheriff’s Office and its lack of an investigation for those individuals being unidentified at this time.
That night, according to the complaint, deputies interviewed the son and mother but did not question or ID members of the group who approached the house.
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