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White men who showed up armed at Black family's home were acquitted. Now, they want an apology

Their attorneys blame the family for perpetuating the widespread perception that their clients are bigots and that the group was racially driven.

White men who showed up armed at Black family's home were acquitted. Now, they want an apology
Representative Cover Image Source: Witthaya Prasongsin/Getty Images

A Black mom says she does not want to sit down and talk with two men who came armed with nearly 13 other white people to her North Carolina home last year in search of a missing teenage girl. However, lawyers for the two men — Jordan Kita and Austin Wood — are determined to get the families to come together and sort out what they consider a mere misunderstanding. They also want Monica Shepard, her teen son Dameon, and their lawyers to apologize to Kita and Wood for comments they feel painted their clients as racists.



 

According to CNN, in a civil rights lawsuit filed by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in January, the Shepards likened the group to Ku Klux Klan night riders and demanded — among other relief — over $25,000 in damages, legal fees, and "training concerning the history of racism and mob violence" for those involved in the May 3 encounter. Now, Kita and Wood's attorneys blame the Black family and their legal team for claiming that their clients are bigots and that the group who showed up at the Shepards' house was racially driven.



 

 

The attorneys acknowledge that their clients were armed, that Kita — a former deputy with the New Hanover County Sheriff's Office — was wearing his law enforcement uniform outside his jurisdiction, and that the pair was part of a group that showed up at the wrong home in the middle of the night. While they are also aware of the racially charged mob violence history in the South, they maintain that the group's actions were merely the product of concern for the missing girl. However, Shepard does not feel the incident can be written off as a reconcilable misunderstanding. In their lawsuit, the family accuses "the mob" of trespassing, brandishing weapons, and harassing and intimidating the Shepards. Furthermore, the group "committed racialized terror when they approached and menaced a Black family in their North Carolina home," a January news release alleges.



 

"I've said this before: It's about accountability," Shepard said. "You can't just form a mob and go around being vigilante citizens. There's laws against that. I'm not interested in sitting down. It's all about accountability at the end of the day." It all began when Kita and his neighbor, Wood, teamed up May 3 after Kita's 15-year-old sister (a cousin whom his parents reared and he considers a sibling) went missing. Family attorney James Rutherford claimed the Kitas frantically searched for the biracial teen who was troubled and possibly suicidal. The search party — which included at least three law enforcement officers and an off-duty fireman — eventually arrived at the Shepards' house following a lead from a 10-year-old Fortnite player who heard on a chat in the online game that the girl might be at a boy's home in Pender County's Avendale neighborhood.



 

Wood's attorney, Woody White, claimed Kita and his client didn't know the Shepards' race before approaching the door. Recounting what happened next, Dameon — who was 18 and set to graduate from Laney High School at the time — said he was taken aback to see the deputy and about 14 others at his front door when he opened it. Although Dameon and his mom, who was asleep before she was woken up by the encounter, told the group he wasn't the young man they sought, they claimed Kita wedged his foot in the door, preventing them from closing it.



 

 

Kita denies this part of their allegation and testified that he hastily left work to find his sister and didn't mean to leverage his uniform. White revealed that his client, Wood, testified that the rifle around his neck was an oversight and that he never approached the Shepards' door. The missing teen was found the next day. State Judge Chad Hogston acquitted both men on February 18 following a trial that spanned over 10 hours and 14 witnesses. Hogston gave no reason for his not guilty verdict. District Attorney Ben David's office pointed to a statement the prosecutor gave WECT, saying he apparently had not proved Kita's and Wood's "criminal intent," but that it didn't mean the Shepards' fear was illegitimate.



 

"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," David told WECT. Shepard said she found the criminal verdict "curious" and disappointing. "I can't really say that I'm at a point where I can sit down, and I never said anything about there being racism issues," she said. "The bottom line is you came to my house with guns and you were trying to get in my home, so it's an issue of breaking the law."

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