A former sheriff’s deputy faces charges after “terrorizing” a black family in North Carolina as part of a large group of white men and women, some of whom were armed, in what appeared to be a case of mistaken identity, officials said.
The former deputy, Jordan Kita, who was fired by the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office on Friday, was charged with trespassing, breaking and entering and willful failure to discharge duties.
Another man, Austin Wood, was charged with “going armed to the terror of the public” in connection with the May 3 episode in Avendale in Pender County, the New Hanover and Pender County District Attorney’s Office said. Pender County, which has a population of about 63,000, is about 25 miles north of Wilmington, N.C.
Mr. Kita, a detentions deputy, was among a group of armed white men who knocked on the door of the home of Monica Shepard and her son Dameon that night, James W. Lea III, a lawyer representing the Shepards, said in a letter to the district attorney, Benjamin R. David.
It was around 10 p.m. when Mr. Shepard, 18, answered the door, Mr. Lea said. Mr. Shepard was playing video games in the front room; his mother had already gone to bed for the night.
The group demanded to know the location of a 16-year-old girl named Lekayda Kempisty, Mr. Lea said.
Mr. Kita, who was armed and in uniform, “but apparently off-duty and outside the scope of his responsibilities,” stood on the porch next to a man who was first identified as the girl’s brother “but apparently was her father,” Mr. Lea wrote.
Also on the porch were two other men — one with an assault weapon and another with a shotgun — as well as about a dozen other men and women behind them who were not armed, Mr. Lea said.
When Mr. Shepard tried to close the door, the deputy stuck his foot in the door, refused to let him close it and demanded to come inside, Mr. Lea said.
“We obviously cannot have armed groups of citizens patrolling the streets of Pender County or New Hanover County terrorizing innocent families,” Mr. Lea wrote.
The group said that Lekayda was missing and that they were looking for someone named Josiah, Mr. Lea said. Mr. Shepard repeated his name and explained that he was a high school student, Mr. Lea said.
Upon hearing the commotion, Ms. Shepard, 48, came to the door. The deputy placed his foot against the door again and blocked her from closing it, Ms. Shepard said in a statement to the Pender County Sheriff’s Office.
“I told him he could not come in my house,” Ms. Shepard said in the statement. She said she saw the deputy’s weapon and that he did not identify himself.
“I feared for both me and my son’s life,” Ms. Shepard said. She told the members of the group they had the wrong person and that her son’s name was Dameon.
“They were yelling at my son,” she said in the statement. “They kept accusing my son of having a girl with him.”
The person named Josiah whom the group was seeking had apparently lived next door for some time but moved out about a month ago, Mr. Lea wrote.
The group members realized at some point that they were at the wrong house and started to leave. The Pender County Sheriff’s Office was called and Mr. Lea said two deputies and a captain briefly interviewed the Shepards but did not make any arrests that night.
“We didn’t want to rush any hasty decisions,” he said. “We wanted to make an informed decision. The situation was defused and we didn’t feel like there was any further threat that evening.”
Mr. Kita was hired in July 2018 at the New Hanover Sheriff’s Office in Castle Hayne, which is about a dozen miles north of Wilmington. He was fired on Friday morning before the charges were filed, Lt. Jerry Brewer of the New Hanover Sheriff’s Office said.
Calls to phone numbers listed for Mr. Kita were unsuccessful on Saturday night and Sunday.
Asked at the news conference whether Mr. Kita was related to the missing girl, Mr. David said “there is a familial relation and they are not total strangers to each other,” but declined to comment further.
He said that ethics rules prohibited officials from further discussing the case and that the investigation remained active.
At the news conference, he read a statement from Ed McMahon, the New Hanover sheriff, who did not attend. “Upon hearing the incident involving Jordan Kita, I immediately began an internal affairs investigation,” the statement said.
Ms. Shepard, a staff accountant, said on Sunday that she was happy that charges had been filed, “but more needs to be done.”
“Misdemeanor charges for what happened to my family that night with over 10 people trespassing on our property trying to use weapons and fear to break into my home — I truly hope the Pender County Sheriff’s Department acts with more urgency and compassion than they have shown so far,” she said.