A white man who has been called “George Zimmerman 2.0” is accused of fatally shooting an unarmed 20-year-old black man in North Carolina after calling 911 to complain about “hoodlums” in his neighborhood, police say.
Chad Copley, 39, has been charged with murder, Raleigh Police say.
The victim, Kouren-Rodney Bernard Thomas, 20, had been attending a party in Copley’s neighborhood when he was killed in the early hours of August 7. Online records show that Copley, who said he was a member of the neighborhood watch, is being held on a murder charge.
In a 911 call made prior to the shooting, Copley can be heard telling the dispatcher, “I’m on neighborhood watch. I am going to have the neighborhood meet these hoodlums out here racing up and down the street. It’s 1 in the morning. There’s some devil in them. They have firearms and we’re going to secure our neighborhood. If I was you, I would send PD out here as quickly as possible.”
The Associated Press spoke to a member of Thomas’ family who said, “We’re broken apart torn apart, not doing well. Trying to get our lives back on track the way it was but it’s hard. We lost somebody very special to us.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Copley Told Police ‘I’m Locked & Loaded & I’m Going to Secure My Neighborhood’
Chad Copley called 911 from his Singleaf Lane in North Raleigh home early Sunday morning, telling dispatchers there were a “bunch of hoodlums” outside. He told the dispatcher he was “locked and loaded” and was going to “secure his neighborhood.”
Raleigh Police said Copley then went outside with his shotgun and killed Kouren-Rodney Thomas, who had gone to a party at a house two doors down from Copley, the Raleigh News & Observer reports.
According to the 911 calls released by police, Copley called back after the shooting, saying “We have a lot of people outside our house, yelling and shouting profanities. I yelled at them, ‘Please leave the premises.’ They were showing a firearm, so I fired a warning shot and, uh, we got somebody that got hit.”
The dispatcher then asked him if someone was shot.
“Well, I don’t know if they were shot or not, ma’am,” he told her. “I fired my warning shot like I’m supposed to by law. They do have firearms, and I’m trying to protect myself and my family. … Ma’am, I don’t know who they are. There’s frigging black males outside my frigging house with firearms. Please send PD.”
Copley then hung up.
You can listen to the full 911 calls below:
Police said Copley fired at Thomas from inside the garage, shooting through a window. The News & Observer reports blood stains and gauze could be seen about 30 feet away from the garage.
Thomas was rushed to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
2. The Shooting Has Drawn Comparisons to the Killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman
Thomas’ family told WRAL-TV that high-profile civil rights attorney Justin Bamberg, will be representing them. Bamberg, who is also a South Carolina lawmaker, represents Alton Sterling’s children and previously was the attorney for the family of Walter Scott, who was killed by a police officer in North Charleston, South Carolina, last year.
Bamberg and others have comparisons to the 2012 killing of unarmed black teen Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida.
At a press conference Thursday, Bamburg called Chad Copley “Zimmerman 2.0.”
“Mr. Neighborhood Watch … Mr. ‘I’m going to go out and play police’ … Mr. ‘I’m going to pass judgment on someone I know nothing about based on what they’re wearing, based on what he looks like, based on what I think he may be up to,'” Bamberg told reporters.
Bamberg also said that it was Copley who made race part of the case.
“We’re saying listen to the audiotape. We didn’t make this about race. Mr. Copley did,” Bamberg said.
You can watch Bamberg’s press conference below:
He said a key difference between the two cases is that there was no confrontation between Copley and Thomas.
Zimmerman claimed self defense and was acquitted of second-degree murder charges after a 2013 trial.
Prior to the shooting, Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch coordinator for the gated Twin Lakes community where he lived, called 911, telling dispatchers there was a “real suspicious guy” outside his home.
“This guy looks like he is up to no good or he is on drugs or something,” Zimmerman said, before saying, “these assholes, they always get away.”
Zimmerman eventually told a dispatcher he was following Martin, and the dispatcher said he didn’t need to do that.
During a struggle after Zimmerman hung up the 911 call, Martin was fatally shot.
3. He Is Being Held Without Bail & Could Face the Death Penalty if Convicted of First-Degree Murder
Copley has been charged with first-degree murder and is being held without bail, WNCN-TV reports. He appeared in court for the first time on Monday.
He faces the death penalty if convicted.
Copley is being held at the Wake County Detention Center.
His attorney, Raymond C. Tarlton, issued a statement asking for people to wait for more information about the case.
“We have seen too many wrongful convictions for anyone or any organization to jump to conclusions on the basis of someone being charged,” Tarlton said. “We have just gotten involved and are at the beginning stages of our investigation. We urge restraint and that folks not rush to judgment. At this point we cannot say anything more.”
4. Neighbors Have Disputed Copley’s Claims That He Was Part of a Neighborhood Watch
Neighbors have disputed Copley’s claims that he was part of a neighborhood watch group, saying the area where he lived, the Neuse Crossing Homeowners Association, didn’t have a group of that kind.
“The association is mainly concerned with covenant enforcement and social functions, like mowing the front entrance and fixing things,” Mike Ellis, a spokesman for the association, told the Raleigh News & Observer. “We do not give residents police powers at all. The homeowners association has certain responsibilities and obligations, and none of that can be construed as law enforcement. We can make you mow your lawn but not law enforcement.”
A 59-year-old resident of Singleleaf Lane, David Parker, told the newspaper he ha lived there since 1996. Parker said they tried to start a community watch several years ago, but it never got off the ground.
Raleigh Police spokesman Laura Hourigan told the News & Observer that watch groups are organized by communities, but said the police work “with neighborhoods with and without community watch groups in the same ways, largely by sharing crime prevention information … and by encouraging all community members to call 911 to report any suspicious people, vehicles or activities.”
5. Thomas, Who Worked at Waffle House & McDonald’s, Was About to Help His Girlfriend Move Into Her College Dorm
Kouren-Rodney Thomas had been working at McDonald’s in Raleigh since May 2014, his family said. He previously worked at Waffle House.
She was the youngest son of Simone Butler-Thomas, who, while holding a picture of him, told the Raleigh News & Observer, “This is my baby. He looks just like me.”
Family members told the newspaper Thomas was a “bit of a comedian.”
He was looking forward to helping his girlfriend, Amani Rooney, move into her dormitory at East Carolina University later this month.
A GoFundMe account has been started to help the family pay for his funeral.
“All I want is to have a proper service for my baby Koury. He is a donor and he will be donating some parts of him to cancer patients and other people that may be in need,” his mother said on the page. “Koury was my baby and I love him. He loves pink and all I want to do is send him off well. He was fun, lovable, caring, just a good guy, and very overprotective of me his mother and other love ones in general. I ask that you reach down in your heart and help me create a celebration of life for Koury.”