WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) — A former North Carolina sheriff’s deputy has been acquitted of criminal charges in an incident that sparked allegations of racism after he led an armed group in search of his missing sister but went to the wrong home.
A New Hanover County judge on Thursday acquitted Jordan Kita, 24, on charges of forcible trespass, breaking and entering, and willful failure to discharge duties.
Austin Wood, who was a part of the group searching for Kita’s biracial sister, also was acquitted after being charged with going armed to the terror of the public.
Kita was fired after the May 3 incident in Pender County. Lawyers for Monica Shepard, a black woman whose home was mistakenly targeted in the incident, filed a lawsuit last month naming Kita and several others as defendants.
Woody White, Wood’s attorney, said neither Kita nor Wood should have been charged.
“This case was never about a racial mob, despite the media’s best efforts to portray it as such,” White said. “Instead, it was about how the Shepard family was exploited by greedy lawyers who preyed on racial sensitivities and falsified a story just to seek fame and fortune by committing racial extortion. That’s the real crime here.”
“I hope this case will be the beginning of our society turning its back on those that try and pervert the justice system by gaming it to pursue fake social justice cases,” White added. “Doing so undermines the real need to find justice in actual cases of racial prejudice.”
District Attorney Ben David said the fact that the prosecution was unable to prove criminal intent by Kita and Wood does not mean that the Shepard family’s fear wasn’t valid.
“The motive of the entire Kita family was a good one,” David said. “It was in the execution of what they were doing … that their actions were perceived by the Shepards as threatening, and I think it’s absolutely understandable why they would think that.”
Kita apologized to the Shepards in court on Thursday, saying he was just trying to find his little sister.
Kita, who was off duty at the time, also expressed regret that he didn’t change out of his uniform before going out to search for his sister but said he was focused on finding her.
The civil suit, filed on behalf of Monica Shepard and her son Dameon, accuses Kita of leading “mob” of white residents as they attempted to forcibly enter the Shepard’s home. Monica Shepard has said the teen for whom the group was looking lived next door but had had moved out a month before the incident.
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law issued a statement saying it was disappointed in the outcome of the criminal trial but will continue to pursue the civil suit.
“The fact that defendants did not stop to think how their actions — taken late at night, in a large group, while armed with multiple guns — would impact the Shepards, is evidence that white privilege remains alive and well,” the statement reads.
The Kitas have said the Shepards, through their attorney, spread the national narrative that falsely labeled their family as racists. Attorneys for Kita and Wood have said they plan to countersue for damages.
“This salacious lawsuit is filled with malicious and libelous statements,” said Kita’s attorney, James Rutherford. “Simply stated, it is frivolous.”
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