Chad Copley was inside his home when he allegedly fired his shotgun toward the partygoers across the street.
Shortly before Copley was arrested and charged with murder early Sunday, a man called dispatchers in Raleigh, North Carolina, to report that he was “on the neighborhood watch” and was going to “secure my neighborhood” from “hoodlums” and “frigging black males with firearms.” State law bars police from identifying 911 callers by name.
Police released the 911 calls (listen below) without identifying the callers ― but they did allege that minutes later, Copley fired his shotgun from inside his garage toward the street, and struck 20-year-old Kouren Bernard Thomas, who had been attending a party nearby.
Thomas died at the hospital, and Copley, 39, was arrested.
Sure, we’re young and we’re going to have fun sometimes but we should be able to make it home. Renee Gupton, friend of Kouren Thomas
The incident, which bears a striking and unnerving similarity to the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin in 2012, leaves some big questions unanswered. Authorities haven’t said whether any firearms were recovered outside of Copley’s home or anywhere near Thomas. It’s also unclear whether Copley is officially registered as a neighborhood watch representative.
But witness statements and 911 calls paint a partial picture of the shooting, which featured a frightened man who was ready to fire his gun.
“We’ve had a bunch of hoodlums out here racing,” the first caller tells dispatchers. “I’m locked and loaded, I’m going to secure my neighborhood. You need to send PD as quickly as possible.”
As the dispatcher begins to question him, he continues:
“I’m going to secure my neighborhood. I’m on the neighborhood watch. I’m going to have the neighbors with me. There’s hoodlums out here racing up and down the street. It’s 1 o’clock in the morning. There’s several dozen of them. They have firearms, and we’re going to secure our neighborhood. If I were you, I’d send PD as quickly as possible.”
In another call, a woman who gave Copley’s address as her location says she’s upstairs with her children and hands the phone to a man who says he fired a shot.
“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,” the man says.
When the dispatcher asks again whether someone was shot, he responds:
“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.”
After some inaudible commotion, the caller gets frustrated: “There are frigging black males outside my frigging house with firearms. Please send PD.”
Another caller tells dispatchers that someone has been shot in the arm in front of Copley’s house and is unconscious. That victim was Thomas, who was later pronounced dead at WakeMed Hospital in Raleigh.
Copley appeared in court on Monday and winked at his family as he entered, according to the New York Daily News. The suspect’s lawyer, Raymond Tarlton, released a brief statement and declined to comment further:
“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 urge restraint and that folks not rush to judgment.”
It’s unclear what Tarlton’s defense strategy will be moving forward ― but he’ll have North Carolina’s “Stand Your Ground” laws in his arsenal. The law allows the use of deadly force if a defendant “reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another.”
“Stand Your Ground” was thrown around a lot during George Zimmerman’s murder trial. Though it was discussed in court, Zimmerman never technically used Florida’s version of the law in his defense. He never needed to ― his claim of self-defense in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin was enough for jurors to find him not guilty.
In Copley’s case, there doesn’t appear to have been a physical altercation prior to the shooting. Lindsay Nichols, senior attorney with the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said no law should protect you if you shoot someone who’s non-threatening and standing outside your home.
“Traditional laws are that if you’re in your house you don’t have to retreat,” she told The Huffington Post. “But if you’re outside the house — or the person is outside your house — you can’t use deadly force ... [Stand Your Ground] laws present a real threat to public safety.”
Friends and family of Thomas described him as charismatic and caring.
“I refuse to let anyone paint a picture of you that isn’t true. You would give the shirt of your back if it meant helping another person out!” Thomas’ girlfriend, Amani Rainey, eulogized on Facebook. “You were a smart, well mannered, caring man! ... I love you more than anything and I won’t stop until we get justice for you!”
Rainey’s sister, 20-year-old Renee Gupton, told HuffPost that there was “no way” Thomas had a gun.
“I know [Copley] is lying. Koury doesn’t like guns ― he wouldn’t even go paintballing,” she said. “He was just a wonderful person. He was a protector. He was family. And he was just at a party across the street. Sure, we’re young and we’re going to have fun sometimes but we should be able to make it home.”
Thomas’ mother set up a GoFundMe page to “help me lay my baby to rest.”
“While out with his friends at a celebration for him moving into his new apartment, he was shot and murdered,” writes Munyir Thomas. “All I want is to have a proper service for my baby Koury.”