Lawyer calls suspect in neighborhood shooting ‘George Zimmerman 2.0’
(CNN) — Simone Thomas broke down in tears Thursday as soon as she began talking about her youngest son, Kouren Thomas, being fatally gunned down in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Surrounded by family members and Kouren’s girlfriend who enveloped her in a group embrace, she told a gaggle of reporters outside her home that she was sick of all the killing — not just her son’s death but slayings across the nation that have dominated headlines for what seems like years.
“I’m just tired. Everybody should be tired everyday,” she said. “I’ve still got two sons I’ve got to worry about everyday, going to work, coming home from work. When is it going to end?”
Kouren Thomas, 20, had attended a party early Sunday morning down the street from the home of Chad Copley, who called 911 to say that, acting in a neighborhood watch capacity, he was “locked and loaded” and heading outside to secure his neighborhood from several dozen “hoodlums out here racing.”
“If I were you, I’d send PD as quickly as possible,” he said.
Later, Copley told a dispatcher that he had fired a warning shot and someone was hit. He then said he wasn’t sure if anyone was hit. Two witnesses outside the home called 911 to say Thomas was lying in the street and an unknown person had shot him from inside his own home.
Copley, 39, is being held without bond at Wake County Detention Center, charged with murder. His attorney couldn’t immediately be reached for comment, but earlier this week he cautioned against a rush to judgment.
“We have seen too many wrongful convictions for anyone or any organization to jump to conclusions on the basis of someone being charged,” the statement from Raymond Tarlton’s law firm said.
‘George Zimmerman 2.0’
Justin Bamberg, an attorney representing Thomas’ family, called Copley “George Zimmerman 2.0,” during a news conference, raising the similarities between this case and the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, in 2012. (A jury found Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who claimed he had shot Martin in self-defense, not guilty in the teen’s death.)
“Something has to change,” Bamberg said. “We have a problem in society, and that problem is people not understanding and appreciating the value of a human life.”
His office is not making this about race, he said, alleging that Copley had made it about race when he told the dispatcher, “There are frigging black males outside my frigging house with firearms. Please send PD.”
This was after Copley had fired a shotgun from inside his home, through a garage window, at the people outside his house just before 1 a.m., according to police. Copley is white. Thomas is African-American.
“We are not saying that Mr. Copley, Mr. George Zimmerman 2.0, is a racist,” Bamberg told reporters Thursday. “We’re saying listen to the 911 audio tape. We didn’t make this about race. Mr. Copley did.”
‘I’ve got to bury my child’
Thomas’ mother described him as a thoughtful, generous man who loved the color pink.
“He was a good kid. I don’t have him no more,” she said. “There’s nothing I can do. I’ve got to bury my child.”
Bamberg told reporters how, on his mother’s birthday, Thomas “kneeled down to paint her toenails and rub her feet,” how he helped move his girlfriend into her college dorm and always stood by his oldest brother, Kristian Williams, during some difficult times. Before Thomas died, Bamberg said, he opted to donate his skin and corneas to those in need.
His mother recalled how he helped fill more than 2,000 eggs so she and her friends could host an Easter egg hunt for the neighborhood children.
She saw him on the night of the shooting, she said. He asked her to snap a photo of him. He wasn’t wearing sagging pants, a do-rag or any article of clothing that might make someone to jump to the conclusion that he was a thug, she said. He was wearing a T-shirt, blue jeans “with a belt” and boots. His jeans were outside his boots, she said.
“There was nothing ‘hood’ about him,” she said.
She then asked — perhaps rhetorically or perhaps directing her query to Copley — if it had been white young men skateboarding up and down the street at 1 in the morning, would they have been deemed hoodlums?
When she could carry on no longer, Williams stepped up to say he had seen his baby brother a couple of days before the shooting, and “for those two hours that we spent, all I did was laugh.”
Williams, too, quickly broke down, and, through tears, lamented how would difficult it would be to continue on without his brother in his life.
“I don’t know how to deal with this. I’m trying to be so strong for my family,” he said. “I don’t know who’s going to make me laugh. I’m scared to smile.”
He prayed aloud that this would be the last time family members would have to appear before reporters to give interviews “about any lost souls.”
“His death is not in vain. We’re going to make sure of that,” he said.
Was Copley standing his ground?
According to media reports, there were about 50 people at the party that drew Copley’s concern. It was mostly 19- and 20-year-olds and some were inside the house, some were in the yard and others were in the street, Bamberg said. None was in Copley’s yard, he said.
“Where Kouren was, he was legally entitled to be,” the lawyer said.
Asked if Copley might invoke castle doctrine or stand your ground laws — self-defense laws that were key to the Zimmerman acquittal — Bamberg flatly said it’s “not even something that should be brought up” because Copley was safe from any perceived threat inside his home. Bamberg acknowledged that it’s completely legal to protect your life and property.
“What you can’t do is shoot at innocent people through your garage door window,” he said.
Bamberg, who said he is helping the family navigate the criminal justice system as he also explores “potential civil claims,” applauded Raleigh police and prosecutors for their handling of the case — namely the prompt arrest, murder charge and denial of bail.
“Typically, families have to fight, unfortunately, for an arrest,” he said. “Things were different here.”
‘They do have firearms’
In his first 911 call, Copley reported vandals, then hoodlums racing. In a later call, he reported armed men.
“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 we got somebody that they got hit.”
“OK, so somebody was shot?” the dispatcher asks.
“Well, I don’t know if they’re shot or not, ma’am. 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,” the man replies.
Bamberg, who also represents the family of Walter Scott, who was killed by a policeman last year in North Charleston, South Carolina, told reporters that Thomas was not armed, and, to his knowledge, neither was anyone else at the party.
Raleigh police don’t know if Thomas or anyone accompanying him was armed, spokeswoman Laura Hourigan told CNN earlier this week. Police records show authorities were not called to the block — for the party or otherwise — before the first call in which the man told the dispatcher he was going to “secure the neighborhood.”
As for whether Copley was acting in a neighborhood watch capacity, Hourigan said there were many such groups in the community, but she is “unsure if that one is a registered group or not.”