Featured photo: Marcus Deon Smith’s sister, Kim, holds up a sign outside of the Greensboro city council chambers in 2019. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)
On March 29, Rev. Curtis Gatewood filed two civil rights complaints in response to the recent hiring of an ex-Greensboro police officer by the Graham Police Department.
Officer Doug Strader worked for the Greensboro Police Department from 2004 until September 2020, when he was fired for using deadly force against a driver and passengers of a fleeing car. Strader is also one of the eight police officers who were involved in the death of Marcus Deon Smith, who was hogtied by police in September 2018. Smith died after being restrained facedown using a now-banned device known as the RIPP Hobble. According to Yes Weekly, Strader was hired by the Graham Police Department on March 1.
Strader and other officers who have been previously fired for misconduct and subsequently secure employment at other law enforcement agencies are known as “wandering cops.”
Gatewood, with the Stop Killing Us Solutions Campaign based out of Alamance County, said by phone on Monday that their complaints, which were filed with the state department of justice as well as the federal DOJ, ask for Strader’s employment at the Graham Police Department to be reversed and for an internal audit of other “wandering officers” to be conducted.
“This is not personal,” Gatewood said. “It’s not just about Strader…. Of course people deserve a second chance, but here, we’re talking about people we’re giving guns to. They have to be capable of making decisions where you can’t take back taking someone’s life.”
In 2017, Gatewood said, the organization came up with a list of reforms for every law enforcement agency to enact. Among them is a recommendation to ban the hiring of so-called “wandering officers.” Gatewood also mentioned that they called for the ban of “no-knock” warrants and the use of chokeholds —tactics which lead to the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, respectively, in 2020. He said that while the things they are asking for aren’t new, they are more relevant than ever.
“To see this come to our doorstep, especially in the climate we are in now, with the Derek Chauvin trial going on,” Gatewood said, “it just shows that if you look in the backgrounds of these police officers, there’s often something that shows that they had a particular problem.”
According to hiring and salary records provided by the Greensboro Police Department, Strader received 16 pay raises in his 16 years on the force and was promoted three times up to his position as police corporal in 2016. When he was fired from the force last year, Strader was making $61,126 per year.
After the death of Marcus Deon Smith, none of the officers involved, including Strader, faced any disciplinary consequences for their actions within the department. However, they are currently defendants in a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by George and Mary Smith, Marcus Deon Smith’s parents. Other defendants in the lawsuit include the city of Greensboro and two Guilford County EMTs.
Two years after Smith’s death, Doug Strader was fired after he shot his gun at a car fleeing a crime scene in downtown Greensboro in Sept. 2020, according to reporting by the Burlington Times-News. A letter to Strader from Greensboro City Manager David Parrish states that Strader was fired because his use of deadly force was “unnecessary.”
And while Strader was terminated for his use of force last year, a report by Triad City Beat published in Oct. 2020 found that more often than not, officers who killed civilians on the job did not face any disciplinary consequences and were most often found to be justified in their actions by attorney generals or district court judges.
Mary Smith, Marcus Deon Smith’s mother, responded to the hiring of Strader by the Graham Police Department on Monday.
“The Smith family is highly disappointed that a police officer can participate in a murder, a homicide and be hired in another department without being disciplined,” she said. “I think [the lawsuits] are absolutely the right thing to do for a safe community.”
Gatewood said that they have not heard back from either the department of justice or the Graham Police Department about the lawsuits as of Monday. However, Gatewood said that he hopes the lawsuits will shine a light on the issue of wandering cops and prevent more deaths from taking place.
“This is becoming a problem where more people are taking notice,” Gatewood said. “Ultimately, we want this to not be happening across the country. Once we find that a police officer has committed excessive force, we are asking that those persons get terminated and prosecuted and banned from working in any law enforcement department within the United States of America.”
A representative of the Graham Police Department could not be reached for comment in time for publication.
To read the complaint, download the document here.