Raleigh Pays $2M to Settle Lawsuit Over Fake Heroin Busts

Thurs., Sept. 30: Student-athletes can unionize, might be taxed + MAB probably won’t get recalled + Biden tanks in NC


1. Raleigh Settles Fake Drugs Lawsuit

In April, 12 people filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Raleigh, the Raleigh Police Department, and several police officers related to false charges of heroin trafficking that all traced back to one confidential informant and a detective named Omar Abdullah.

  • Two weeks ago in The Assembly, I broke the news that the Wake County District Attorney’s Office had indicted the CI, Dennis Leon Williams Jr., who claimed to have purchased what turned out to be fake heroin from at least 15 Black men, on charges of obstruction of justice.

  • Following an all-day mediation on Tuesday, the city and the plaintiffs—there are now 15—settled for $2 million. (Each plaintiff will receive a different amount depending on their situation—i.e., those wrongly incarcerated for months will get more.)

  • By settling now, the city escapes the discovery process, meaning the SBI’s report, internal affairs investigations, and body camera videos are unlikely to be public records, and the plaintiffs won’t get to depose Abdullah or other RPD detectives.

Attorney Abraham Rubert-Schewel—who is, yes, the son of Durham Mayor Steve Schewel—said in a statement that the plaintiffs “appreciate the City of Raleigh’s recognition of the trauma and suffering caused by these wrongful arrests and incarcerations” and encouraged RPD and the DA’s Office to “adopt Plaintiffs’ Recommendations and work to ensure that no one is ever wrongfully incarcerated in Raleigh again.”

  • As part of the settlement, the city requested an “unredacted” version of the report from plaintiffs’ expert Howard Jordan, a former Oakland Police chief, on how to improve CI and detective accountability.

  • Spokespeople for the city and RPD did not respond to a request for comment last night. (Update: In an email on Thursday afternoon, city spokeswoman Julia Milstead said: “Together with the Plaintiffs and their counsel, the City of Raleigh has reached a settlement with the 15 plaintiffs, totaling $2 million. City leaders appreciate the efforts of all involved. While the settlement resolves the lawsuit, it does not end efforts by the Raleigh Police Department to ensure this doesn’t happen again.  No one should ever be arrested based on fraudulent charges.”)

  • Raleigh Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin told me: “What happened was wrong. We believe we got to an equitable settlement.”

The settlement’s mutual acknowledgment of facts, which was shared with me, tells us a few interesting things:

  • Unlike the other officers named in the lawsuit, Detective Abdullah was not interviewed by the State Bureau of Investigation as part of its probe. To wit:

    • “Detectives Monroe, Rattelade, Gwinn, Gay, and Nance, Sgt. Rolfe and Lt. Bunch were interviewed by the State Bureau of Investigation (“SBI”) and cooperated fully with the SBI. The Raleigh Police Department cooperated with the SBI. Plaintiff’s attorneys have utilized the truthful information provided by these defendants in pursuing the Lawsuit.”

    • “Detectives Monroe, Rattelade, Gwinn, Gay, and Nance, Sgt. Rolfe and Lt. Bunch were truthful in their interviews with the SBI, and Plaintiff has found no evidence in their investigation of the Lawsuit suggesting that any of these defendants have been untruthful.”

    • While this type of language is fairly boilerplate in legal settlements, Abdullah’s omission strikes me as potentially significant. (Lawyers out there, please tell me if I’m wrong.)

    • Last week, District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said during a forum at the Chavis Community Center that while she hasn’t pursued charges against Abdullah, “This is an ongoing investigation. … Just because we may not end up with evidence in a case sufficient to prosecute someone does not mean it is not the same thing as me saying that everything happened the way that it should have been.” (That last part did not go over well with the crowd, which was already hostile.)

The city also inserted this as if it were exculpatory:

On or about May 21, 2020, Detectives Monroe, Rattelade, Gay, and Gwinn took steps to raise concerns about the informant and fake heroin to Detective Abdullah and to their supervisor. 

On May 21, 2020, Detectives Monroe and Rattelade brought concerns about the informant and fake heroin to their Lieutenant.  Lieutenant Bunch immediately fired the informant, instructed RPD Detectives that the informant was not to be used, and the City advised that they coordinated with the District Attorney’s Office. 

As I wrote for The Assembly, however, here’s what happened on May 21, 2020:

Yolanda Irving had just gotten out of the shower on May 21, 2020, when about 15 Raleigh cops kicked in her door. Dressed in SWAT gear, they ran up the stairs, pointing guns at her and her three teenage and adult children, who were in their rooms watching television or playing video games, according to Abraham Rubert-Schewel, an attorney for the plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit.    

The officers forced them downstairs and made them sit on the ground for an hour while they searched the house. They found nothing. 

Detective Omar Abdullah showed Irving his search warrant. The police had raided the wrong apartment. 

Abdullah eventually found his suspect. He charged Marcus Vanirvin with selling eight grams of heroin to Williams, Abdullah’s CI. But the botched raid marked the end of their partnership. 

Like the others, the heroin Vanirvin allegedly sold proved to be fake. Even so, he spent 18 days in jail before he was released, says his mother, Robin Mills.

To be clear: the detective ran their concerns up the ladder, and the lieutenant fired Dennis Williams, after the botched raid on Yolanda Irving’s house. Even then, Marcus Vanirvin spent more than two weeks behind bars.

2. Burr: Tax Student-Athlete Scholarships

Yesterday, Sen. Richard Burr followed through on a two-year-old promise and introduced the NIL Scholarship Act, which would make taxable the scholarship of any student-athlete who earns more than $20,000 of their name, image, or likeness.

After the NCAA changed its rules this year to accommodate a wave of state legislation

Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei has appeared in national television commercials for Dr. Pepper. Uiagalelei, North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell and more than 70 other athletes have signed endorsement contracts with Bojangles. Ohio State quarterback Quinn Ewers reportedly signed an autograph deal that pays him more than $1 million over three years. (N&O)

Whether Burr’s bill has a chance in a Senate that may soon lead the U.S. into default is an open question. Of more immediate impact, however, is this memo from National Labor Relations Board general counsel Jennifer Abruzzo:

Players at Academic Institutions perform services for institutions in return for compensation and subject to their control.  Thus, the broad language of Section 2(3) of the Act, the policies underlying the NLRA, Board law, and the common law fully support the conclusion that certain Players at Academic Institutions are statutory employees, who have the right to act collectively to improve their terms and conditions of employment. My intent in issuing this memo is to help educate the public, especially Players at Academic Institutions, colleges and universities, athletic conferences, and the NCAA, about the legal position that I will be taking regarding employee status and misclassification in appropriate cases.  

In other words: At least some student-athletes can form unions.

3. MAB Probably Won’t Get Recalled

I’ve written before about the city of Raleigh’s decision to move its elections to November of even years—my biggest qualm being the elimination of a runoff election. I also thought the council erred politically in not holding a public hearing before granting itself an extra year in office.

  • I assumed Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin’s enemies at Livable Raleigh would be able to round up enough signatures to force a recall election. Baldwin is a love-her-or-hate-her politician, after all. (FWIW, I also assumed she’d wipe the floor with whoever ran against her in the recall.)

  • But a month from their self-imposed Oct. 31 deadline, Livable Raleigh has collected just 11% of what they need—the INDY reports.

Livable Raleigh blamed the city’s “daunting” recall standards: signatures from the number of registered voters equal to 25% of the turnout in the previous election.

  • “We’re required to conduct this recall campaign according to the 1954 city charter rules,” said LR chair Susan Maruyama. “It’s like being shot back in time. We cannot use any technology to help us, so everything is personal interaction.”

  • I’d buy that more if the last election didn’t take place in October 2019 and draw just 54,630 voters. Livable Raleigh needs only 13,658 in a city with more than 319,000 registered voters. Yet they’ve got just 1,500.

4. New NC Poll Is Brutal for Biden

The good news for North Carolina Democrats in the new High Point University poll is that, after redistricting, there probably won’t be that many competitive legislative and congressional districts for them to lose.

  • The squint-and-maybe-there’s-a-silver-lining news is that we’re still 13 months out from Election Day, and at least Governor Cooper is still above water.

  • The bad news is that Cooper’s not running—and if Republicans win supermajorities, he won’t matter anyway.

  • The very bad news for Dems is that, if Biden is at 41% in North Carolina next November, there is no way a Democrat is elected senator, GOP supermajorities are a lock, and the Republicans will almost certainly reclaim the state Supreme Court, too.

Which is to say: Every Democrat in North Carolina should have their fingers crossed that their leaders in Washington can pull this infrastructure/reconciliation rabbit out of a hat.

Some key numbers:

  • Biden’s approval is at 41-49% among registered voters and 38-48% among adults, down 9 points from April.

  • He’s at 25-57 among adults on Afghanistan—yikes—34-53 on the economy, 42-46 on COVID, and 38-43 on health care. The latter two especially should be his strong suits. Those numbers improve with registered voters, but only marginally.

  • Cooper, meanwhile, is at 48-33 among registered voters.

  • Glancing at the partisan breakdown, there might be a bit of response bias, meaning fewer Dems responded to the survey. If that’s the case, Biden’s numbers will bounce back following better news cycles. But that’s a thin reed of hope for Democrats to grasp on to, and it bespeaks low enthusiasm in any event.