WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Former New Hanover County Deputy Jordan Kita and Austin Wood were found not guilty of all charges related to a “mob” incident in Pender County last year.
Kita and Wood appeared in Pender County Court Thursday, February 18 facing charges filed against them in connection with the incident that happened on May 8, 2020. District Attorney Ben David said the court undertook a full review of the facts and the law.
“What this verdict says today is the criminal intent of both Jordan Kita and Austin Woods was apparently not proven beyond a reasonable doubt but that doesn’t mean that the Shepards real fear wasn’t valid. Of course it was and they had every right to have peace and quiet in their neighborhood,” said David. “The motive of the entire Kita family was a good one and that is who wouldn’t want to look for their child? It was in the execution of what they were doing and actions can speak louder than words, that their actions were perceived by the Shepards as threatening and I think it’s absolutely understandable why they would think that.”
Kita allegedly led a group of people in search of an individual named Josiah in connection with a missing girl, that was later revealed to be his sister. He was in uniform and carrying his official sidearm at the time, having left his job at the New Hanover County Detention Facility abruptly to help with the search.
The “mob” showed up at the house of Monica and Dameon Shepard and allegedly tried to forcibly gain entry. The Shepards claimed they were “terrorized” by a large group of people, including Kita and another individual, later identified as Austin Wood who was carrying an assault weapon.
After identifying themselves, the Shepards told the group to leave and tried to close their door but were prevented from doing so because Kita allegedly stuck his foot in the door.
In court Thursday, Kita apologized to the Shepards, saying “I’m sorry for everything that happened that night. It wasn’t my intention; I was just trying to find my little sister.” He also had other regrets.
“I definitely regret not changing clothes. I didn’t even think about it at the time. I had one thing on my mind which was finding my little sister,” said Kita. He said their life has been devastated. Kita lost his job doing what he wanted to do since he was a little boy.
Kita’s family (both parents, his sister and girlfriend testified) said Kita never stuck his foot in door and was never asked to leave. They realized the person they were looking for wasn’t there. Kita’s dad said he apologized for the misunderstanding and they left.
James Rutherford, the attorney representing Jordan Kita, had previously described the situation as a “colossal misunderstanding.”
Kita was charged with forcible trespass, breaking and entering and willful failure to discharge duties in an incident where he was accused of attempting to forcibly enter the private home of Monica Shepard and her son, Dameon.
Austin Wood had other people in the back of his truck, moved the gun from where he kept it in the back and moved his rifle to hold it between his legs. He says he got out and threw the strap over his shoulder with it pointed at the ground. It was a habit since he is a hunter and since they were going in the woods, he knew snakes and coyotes could be present. He says it was not loaded, but 10 bullets were in the magazine.
After a short while, someone on the porch asked him what he was doing with the gun and he says he then realized he had it and took it back to his truck.
After the crowd left, Wood says he went to Captain Billy Sanders with Pender County Sheriff’s Office, who was out searching for the missing girl, and told him he was the one with the rifle. He admits he made a mistake by bringing it out. “I never intended to terrorize anybody that night.”
The Shepards filed a lawsuit in January 2021 against Kita and Wood seeking punitive damages in excess of $25,000 in a jury trial.
Attorney Woody White is representing Austin Wood in the Shepard lawsuit and issued this statement:
“Neither Jordan Kita nor Austin Wood should have been charged with crimes in the first place. This case was never about a racial mob, despite the media’s best efforts to portray it as such. Instead, It was about how the Shepard family were 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. We are so thankful that the judicial system worked today and exonerated my client. 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. Doing so undermines the real need to find justice in actual cases of racial injustice.”