PENDER COUNTY –– A former New Hanover County deputy, accused in a civil suit of “terrorizing” a Black family with an armed white “mob,” is following through with a countersuit alleging defamation. The fired deputy and his legal team claim an initial press conference the plaintiffs held in the days after the incident crafted a false, racially motivated narrative.
In February lawyer James Rutherford called on Monica Shepard and her son, Dameon, to apologize for tarnishing the reputation of Jordan Kita and his father, Tim. On May 3 of last year, the Kitas and a group of accompanying men showed up at the Shepard’s home in Rocky Point in a search for a missing 15-year-old girl. Jordan Kita had come straight from a shift at the county jail and was dressed in his sheriff’s uniform, with his gun in the holster.
A questionable interaction transpired at the doorway between the Shepards and the vigilante search team, but their characterizations of the event differ. The Shepard’s attorneys state the group acted as a “mob” and Jordan Kita attempted to force entry into the residence, at one point, sticking his foot in the doorway. The Kita’s softer version of events emphasizes it only lasted a few minutes, but admits they could hear Dameon shouting from inside the home. In a response to the Shepard’s lawsuit, the Kitas repeatedly deny it was even a “confrontation.”
Four days after the incident, the Shepards held a press conference outside their home as they geared up for their civil suit. The Kitas’ countersuit argues the news briefing exaggerated the situation, launching their worlds into a “political media frenzy.” The encounter was picked up by national outlets, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN. Only CNN has opted to carry on with the story, with no follow-ups from the likes of the nation’s largest publications.
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Lea/Shultz Law Firm filed its complaint in January on behalf of the mother and son in Pender County Superior Court. Grady Richardson and Jennifer Carpenter filed a response on behalf of the Kitas last week.
The countersuit blames Jordan Kita’s May 8 indictment on the Shepards. Neighbors called the Pender County Sheriff’s Office after witnessing the exchange at the house, but no one was arrested that night. The countersuit suggests the Pender County Sheriff’s Department only issued warrants for Kita’s arrest after succumbing to public pressure and in an attempt to dodge any more bad press.
In February, Jordan Kita was found not guilty of the criminal charges, which included willful failure to discharge duties, forcible trespass, and breaking and entering. His lawyer Rutherford demanded an apology from the Shepards, but the family’s attorneys said the facts of the case were unchanged. They called any threats to sue for defamation a “distraction,” and suggested they couldn’t “divorce” the history from the case.
Yet the attorneys for the Kitas are attempting to do just that. They are motioning for any historical comparisons to be struck from the lawsuit, calling the statements “irrelevant.” Meanwhile, the complaint contrasts the plaintiffs’ situation to that of Breonna Taylor and victims of racism, and likens the defendants to white supremacists. It also repeatedly refers to the group that approached the Shepard’s home as a “mob.”
The Kita’s response denies a “mob” took place and suggests the complaint’s allegations are “solely for sensationalism.”
The amended complaint also argues the Shepard’s attorneys failed to substantiate how the Kitas’ conduct was allegedly provoked by the color of the Shepard’s skin. The Kitas claim their sole motive was to find their missing family member. Based on a tip, the men said they suspected she was with a teenager named Josiyah who lived in the neighborhood. The Kitas deny knowing the boy’s race at the time of the search.
The defendants admit to knowing only after the fact that Josiyah had moved prior to the incident.
The amended complaint also motions to remove the name of the minor from the suit.
The Shepards had no connection to the missing girl. She was found safe the day after the Kita’s search party.
In the countersuit, the Kitas attempt to explain their concern for her well-being and hence their unannounced visit to the Shepard’s porch. It describes the girl’s common misbehavior stemming from issues related to the relationship with her birth mother. They said they believed she posed a danger to herself based on past self-destructive tendencies.
At this point, Monica Shepherd is on record twice indicating a belief that the group’s actions were not racially motivated. According to the countersuit, she made a similar statement during Jordan Kita’s trial. In a May 14 CNN interview, she said she “never said anything about there being racism issues” and she was more concerned about the general actions of encroaching on someone’s house and questioning their child while armed.
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