It was an ordinary night last year for a Black mother and son, tucked away in their home relaxing.
But a group of uninvited visitors threatened the sanctity and safety of their Rocky Hill, North Carolina, residence.
It all began with a loud knock at the door around 10 o’clock the night of May 3. Dameon Shepard was in the living room playing video games. His mother, Monica, was asleep in her bedroom. She was awoken by the pounding.
When Dameon answered the door, he found 15 white men and women — several of whom were brandishing guns — gathered on the family’s front porch. One of the gunmen was a sheriff’s deputy who demanded to know the whereabouts of a 15-year-old girl that had been reported missing earlier in the evening.
The armed group was part of a search party trying to track the girl. They told Dameon they were given the name and address of one of the girl’s Black classmates who may have information about the missing girl.
But when Dameon told them they were at the wrong house and he wasn’t the teen they were looking for, the group refused to leave. In fact, they attempted to force their way into the home to interrogate Dameon.
That’s all according to a civil rights lawsuit Monica and Dameon filed last week against the members of the “white mob” they say terrorized them.
“This case is a present-day example of the long and ugly history of white mobs acting with impunity and reckless disregard in the extrajudicial pursuit of Black Americans,” the 21-page complaint begins.
Attorneys representing the Shepards likened the incident to “the thousands of victims of KKK night rides or lynch mobs in the Jim Crow era,” in the court filing.
“I think what’s critical about this lawsuit is how shocking this conduct was,” the Shepards’ lead attorney Mark Dorosin told Atlanta Black Star. “Especially given the racial history of white mob violence particularly against black men. For anyone to suggest that this incident didn’t have anything to do with the race is to completely ignore the continuing impacts of white supremacy and institutional racism in our society.”
The lawsuit was filed Jan. 26 in Pender County Superior Court by attorneys from Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a Washington-based nonprofit that former president John F. Kennedy commissioned in 1963 to combat racial discrimination and inequality. Two local attorneys from a Wilmington law firm are also part of the legal team.
The suit was filed against Jordan Kita, his father Timothy Kita, Austin Wood and 12 unidentified defendants.
The Shepards are seeking punitive damages and at least $25,000 in relief. The lawsuit alleges trespass, assault, civil rights and fair housing violations as well as emotional distress — both through negligence and intentionally.
“Experiencing this kind of terror at your home – the one place you should feel safe – is simply unconscionable,” Jennifer Nwachukwu, one of the Shepards’ attorneys, said in a Jan. 26 statement. “We filed this lawsuit today to make it clear that Black people should not be subject to living in fear at the hands of an armed white mob without accountability.”
Pender County is a coastal community on North Carolina’s southeastern cusp.
Jordan Kita was a New Hanover Sheriff’s Office detention center officer at the time. His mother called him while he was working an evening shift at the jail and told him that his 15-year-old adopted sister, Lekayda Kempisty, was missing, PortCityDaily reported. When Kita clocked out at 8:30 p.m., he joined a search party that was working in tandem with the Pender County Sheriff’s Office and EMS & Fire units to find the girl. The team, which had overhead support from a Sheriff’s Office’s helicopter and a heat-seeking infrared drone, searched several homes in multiple neighborhoods.
Mary Kita, the missing girl’s mother, was making phone calls and scanning the internet for leads. According to the lawsuit, she came across the name “Josiyah,” a Black teen who attended Topsail High School with her daughter and possibly knew the girl’s whereabouts. “Josiyah” had lived down the road from the Shepards’ home at 111 Glasgow Drive. But his family moved out about a month before Kempisty’s disappearance. Mary Kita fed the search party “Josiyah’s” name and the 111 Glasgow Drive address where he’d previously lived. The team mistakenly went to 101 Glasgow Drive instead.
According to the lawsuit, Jordan Kita led the armed group to the Shepards’ doorstep. He was still dressed in his deputy’s uniform and armed with his service weapon.
Instead of “Josiyah,” the search team encountered Dameon Shepard, an 18-year-old senior who’d recently graduated from Laney High School in Wilmington, North Carolina. They demanded to know Kempisty’s location.
Austin Wood stood behind Jordan Kita toting an assault rifle and one of the unidentified men stood on the outer fray holding a shotgun. The deputy’s father, Timothy Kita, was among the dozen or so other members of the group.
Dameon told them he didn’t know the missing girl and tried to close the door. But Jordan Kita jammed his foot in the entryway to keep the door from shutting. The deputy demanded to be let in the house and ignored Dameon’s repeated pleas that he was not the person they were looking for.
When Monica Shepard came to the door, he continued to insist that she let him in to question her son. The lawsuit alleges Jordan Kita shifted his hip holster, exposing his unfastened gun as he was talking to the woman. Dameon paced back and forth in the home “frantically repeating his name over and over.” The confrontation at the front door lasted five minutes, and during the encounter members of the armed group walked around the home peering through the Black family’s windows with flashlights.
Neighbors from surrounding homes came outside to investigate the ruckus. Several of them filmed portions of the encounter on their cellphones. One of the neighbors called 911 after seeing a member of the group stow an AR-15 into the back seat of a pickup truck.
Kempisty, the 15-year-old girl reported missing, was later found safe in a different county about 20 miles south of the Shepards’ house.
Jordan Kita was fired May 8. That same day, District Attorneys office charged him with forcible trespass, breaking and entering and willful failure to discharge duties. Wood was charged with going armed to the terror of the public.
The armed search party that showed up to the Shepards’ front door was likened to a modern-day lynch mob. But in a May 2020 interview, Timothy Kita denied that the group ever tried to enter the home and claimed they were not aware of the family’s race when they knocked on the door.
“There were no accusations; there was no argument; there was no reason for us to be angry. It wasn’t about racism,” he told PortCityDaily. “It was about looking for our daughter who we were scared to death that she was in crisis mode. And we were also.”
Timothy Kita described the hunt for Kempisky as a “frantic situation” for his family and said they scoured several communities looking for the girl into the early morning hours with the help of Pender County sheriff’s deputies.
But Dorosin noted the fact that the group went to the Shepards’ home in pursuit of a Black teen.
“There’s no way to remove the racial context from this incident,” Dorosin said during a phone interview Friday. “They went to that house, because they were looking for a young black man. They heard a young black man lived there, and that’s why they were there. And they refused to listen to him when he said that I’m not the person that you’re looking for. So there’s no question that that race was at the center of this.”
The Shepards’ lawsuit suggests the Pender County Sheriff’s Office may have been too aligned with the search group. It alleges the “mob” returned to the scene after deputies arrived to the house. They parked right behind officers’ patrol cars and stood in the street just yards away from investigators as they questioned Monica and Dameon Shepard. Afterward, the deputies didn’t question the search group and made no attempts to identify any of them.
Pender County Sheriff”s Capt. B.A. Sanders arrived shortly after and asked the family to be understanding because their was a missing child search underway, the lawsuit indicates. The complaint states Sanders tried to convince Monica Shepard not to pursue charges three days later.
James Lea, one of the Shepards’ attorneys, delivered a letter to local law enforcement officials demanding a full investigation on May 7. The following day, Pender County Sheriff Alan Cutler, New Hanover County Sheriff Ed McMahon and District Attorney Ben David staged a news conference where they announced charges against Jordan Kita and Wood.
No arrests have been made since.
“I think it’s shocking that that’s all that was done,” Dorosin said. “When the sheriff’s deputies came to the house, the people were still there. It appears they didn’t make any effort to interview any of those folks or take their names. And I think it wasn’t until the Shephards came forward and the story became public that the DA and the police reacted.”
The suit recollects North Carolina’s track record of racism, chronicling claims of a history of racial violence dating back to the 1880s.
Both Monica and Dameon Shepard have experienced lingering mental anguish from last year’s incident. Monica took a month off work to recover while her son turned more inward. Monica bought a gun and installed a Ring security system following the encounter. The mother said she replays the incident in her head over and over, contemplating the “what-ifs” over the past several months.
“Because both Ms. Shepard and Dameon were aware of the history of mob violence and 12 extrajudicial killings of Black men in North Carolina, as well as high-profile killings by law enforcement of unarmed Black men in the state,” the lawsuit claims, “the mob that stood on their doorstep was particularly terrifying.”