WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - The attorneys for the two men acquitted Thursday on all charges related to a “mob” incident in Pender County last year say their clients may file a counter suit against the family involved if an apology isn’t issued.
Last month, a civil rights lawsuit was filed on behalf of Monica and Dameon Shepard against former New Hanover County deputy Jordan Kita and Austin Wood for their role in the incident on May 3, 2020.
Kita and Wood were part of an armed group that showed up at the Shepard’s home while looking for a missing girl. The group came to the wrong home looking for a person who had previously lived next door to the Shepards.
Kita and Wood were found not guilty Thursday on all charges related to the incident.
On Friday, Wood’s attorney Woody White asked for an apology from the Shepards.
“We hope the Shepard’s will issue an apology to the Kitas and Mr. Wood but if not, then Mr. Wood plans to file a counter suit against the Shepard’s to recoup his monetary losses for the defamatory statements they allowed their lawyers to make,” White said.
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.”
Kita was wearing his deputy uniform and was carrying his official sidearm at the time of the incident. He was fired from the sheriff’s office a few days afterward.
Kita’s lawyer, James Rutherford, said Friday, “Jordan Kita apologized to the Shepard family, said he was sorry for what happened, how they felt. We’re asking for the same apology for the statements that have been made about the Kita family — and if they’ll recant those statements or apologize for those statements, we will not sue them for libelous, slanderous, defamatory statements they’ve made through their lawyers.”
Rutherford says the Kita family has faced threats since the accusations against Jordan Kita.
“That is a label and a stigma that if you’ve been called [racist]. They’ve had persons follow them in stores. They’ve had death threats,” he said. “They’ve had their reputation taken away from them and I think we all know they’re not racist folks and so that’s why I’m asking for [the apology].”
The Shepards’ legal representation, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, issued the following statement Friday evening:
“While we are disappointed in the outcome of the criminal trial, we will continue to fight for justice for the Shepards in our civil suit. The harm that the defendants caused our clients demonstrates that the nation’s, and indeed North Carolina’s, history of racist violence against Black people is far from over. 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 family’s representation did not publicly address the request for an apology.
Pender County’s NAACP President issued a response to the ruling as well.
Reverend Dante Murphy wrote, in part:
“That “all” charges against both defendants were dropped leaves a sick feeling in my stomach. Clear reckless and invasive behaviors by one class of people (Whites) can so easily be dismissed or explained away. Explaining away does not work for other classes (Blacks and minorities). Any view of history, recent or less recent, will demonstrate that bold fact.”
The full statement is included below.
Murphy commended White in closing, writing, “I am compelled to appreciate your voice while others remain silent on these tense issues.”
White told WECT’s Frances Weller Friday he feels the case has been blown out of proportion and represented as a racial issue when he believes that was not the case.
“It was a misunderstanding that lasted all of 90 seconds. The Kita family and all of their neighbors, including my client Austin Wood were desperately looking for a 15-year-old young lady [who] was suicidal,” he said. “This is a good opportunity for the Shepards and their attorneys to just step back, reassess and see what they really want to get out of this. If they want to set an example of how a community can come together when there has been a misunderstanding, we want to participate in that but if they want to continue to have a lawsuit and accuse our clients of being racist, its just not going to be a pretty scene to see unfold over the next year or so.”