In an unusual move, the Durham County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 2 publicly asked the district attorney to not release an alleged repeat offender who puts officers in danger during arrest attempts.
In a first-of-its-kind letter in Durham, the group’s president asked District Attorney Satana Deberry to not reduce the bond for Ahmmon Fishe, which occurred after he was arrested in January.
“Mr. Fishe has a history of criminal activity, and his actions continue to pose a significant threat to law enforcement officers and the public,” wrote Robert Gaddy, president of the Durham order in the letter.
It’s the first time that such a letter has been sent, said Larry Smith, a spokesperson for the order and a retired Durham officer. It was sent because officers are concerned about their safety after two encounters with Fishe, Smith said. Both involved serious threats and injuries as Fishe attempted to flee, he said. Officers shot Fishe earlier this year in one episode.
“What happens in the next encounter if he happens to have a gun?” Smith asked.
The letter comes amid a perennial debate in Durham between people pushing for more second chances and low or no bonds and others say aggressively prosecuting people and keeping them in jail upholds community safety.
In a written response dated Sept. 7, Deberry pointed out that prosecutors only make recommendations but judges set release conditions.
“Under my office’s policy, we do seek detention via large, secured bonds in cases where risk of violence and risk of flight warrant it,” Deberry wrote, adding that bond can only be denied in specific circumstances, such as capital murder.
The January encounter
This year police encountered Fishe in two incidents that put him and officers in danger, according to interviews and court documents.
This first encounter occurred around 3 a.m. Jan. 12. Officers patrolled a hotel on Front Street when they saw a man sleeping in a vehicle, according to a Durham Police Department media release.
After officers woke the man, later determined to be Fishe, he backed up and hit a police car and another unoccupied car as he fled, the release states.
Nearly two hours later, they saw the same driver and car on Lasalle Street in the Duke Manor apartments parking lot. The car had allegedly been stolen out of Greensboro.
Fishe woke up and backed up, hitting an unoccupied police vehicle, the release states. Fishe then drove the car over a curb, forcing several officers to evade the vehicle.
Two officers fired at Fishe, believing another officer was in serious danger of being hurt, the release states. Fishe was shot in the shoulder and arm and taken to a hospital and to the jail a few days later.
He was charged with assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, possession of stolen motor vehicle, and resisting an officer.
In a July letter to Police Chief Patrice Andrews, Deberry said the force officers used wasn’t excessive under the circumstances and that she would not file criminal charges against them
On April 17, Fishe’s attorney successfully asked for his bond to be raised to $50,000 but unsecured, meaning that he wouldn’t have to pay any money to be released to electronic house arrest, according to court records. The prosecutor in the Durham District Attorney’s office didn’t object.
At that point, Fishe had two misdemeanor convictions, misdemeanor larceny and possession of marijuana convictions that he had pleaded guilty to in Wake County court in October 2022. He had at least six other felonies and six misdemeanor charges dismissed in Wake and Durham Counties.
Prosecutors consider many factors before recommending pretrial release conditions, including the strength of the case, the input of the victims, and the defendant’s risk of flight or violence, wrote Sarah Willets, a spokesperson for Deberry.
In April, Fishe’s physical condition and medical needs, including his gunshot injuries, were taken into account, she wrote in an email.
In general, Willets wrote, about 6% people pick up new charges while out on bond, according to the UNC Criminal Justice Lab, she wrote. With violent felonies, the rate is less than 2%.
Rearrested in September
Fishe was rearrested in Durham on Sept. 2 after Durham police officers found him in a stolen vehicle, according to Gaddy’s letter. Fishe had cut off his electronic monitor, and a warrant was out for his arrest, said defense attorney Daniel Meier, who had represented officers in the January shooting.
By then he had additional charges in other locations. In July, August and September, he picked up a total of six misdemeanors and 17 felony charges in incidents in Durham, Raleigh and Apex, according to court documents. He is also facing charges in Alamance County.
When Durham police moved to arrest him in the stolen vehicle, Fishe assaulted two officers, causing a serious injury to one officer’s knee and abrasions to another officer’s hand, elbow and knees, according to court documents.
Fishe faces at least 10 charges related to that encounter, including assault an officer causing serious injury and six counts of possession of stolen goods related to the car, a wallet, a license plate and credit and identifications cards that were found in his possession, according to court documents.
In the letter, Gaddy expressed concern about these and other charges, including carrying a concealed weapon. The letter asked that Fishe remain in jail until his trial.
“This pattern of escalating criminal behavior deeply concerns law enforcement and the citizens we are sworn to protect,” Gaddy wrote.
New bond set
It’s not clear if Gaddy’s letter influenced the bond.
Court records show that a magistrate initially set his bond of $100,000 for the January charges after the second arrest on Sept. 2.
A judge increased it to $300,000 at Fishe’s first court appearance on Sept. 5. Bonds associated with other charges in Durham, Orange and Wake make up the rest of Fishe’s $501,000 bond amount.
Durham Defense Attorney John Fitzpatrick said he has concerns about the Fraternal Order of Police’s letter, which he said could have been handled with a phone call.
Such demands to keep people in jail is troubling and a slippery slope, Fitzpatrick said.
Those involved, including Fishe and the DA, aren’t free to talk about the case openly as it works its way through the courts, Fitzpatrick pointed out. Fishe’s attorney didn’t return a request for comment.
In addition, the police letter and other reports are just one side of the story, he said, and charges don’t mean someone is guilty of crimea. Sometimes police will tack on multiple charges, which could be dismissed later, he said.
Fitzpatrick said he could see a whole other scenario, based on such a letter, in which Fishe denied knowing the car was stolen and then he fought back after officers got rough with him.
Meier, the defense attorney who represented police after the shooting, said because charges filed against Fishe in January were lower level felonies, he wasn’t surprised that the bond was unsecured in April.
But he sees the Fraternal Order of Police letter calling for him to remain detained differently than Fitzpatrick does.
It highlights a concern among some alleged victims in criminal cases, as police officers were in the January charges, that criminal charges don’t always match the risk that defendants pose.
Through the process, they are realizing that “perhaps they need to speak up a bit more to make sure there is a fuller picture of what actually happened,” Meier said.
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