He lost his badge, his reputation and the ability to support himself financially. All along, Demetrius Kendrick worried his freedom would be the next to go.
But the former DeKalb County police officer regained some peace of mind this week after he was acquitted on charges he planted drugs on a suspect. He faced the possibility of five years in prison if convicted.
“It’s nice to be myself again,” said Kendrick, 34. “I can finally relax.”
Ironically, Kendrick’s acquittal was assured by convenience store security footage, a version of which had led prosecutors to pursue criminal charges.
A copy of the the footage taken in July 2012 at the Chevron gas station on North Hairston Road appeared to show Kendrick toss a small amount of marijuana behind a handcuffed Alphonso Eleby, who had just been arrested on a possession charge.
That charge was dropped on the eve of Eleby’s trial in March 2013 because, according to the DeKalb solicitor, police could not locate the drug he was alleged to have possessed. They insist that decision had nothing to do with the video, which Eleby’s attorney had distributed to the news media and the DeKalb district attorney’s office.
In February, prosecutors indicted Kendrick for violating his oath of office, paving the way for his dismissal. He had already been placed on restrictive duty, no longer allowed to patrol the streets.
“I literally cried that day,” Kendrick said. “I kept saying I did not do this. I did not do this.”
Kendrick’s attorney, Tunde Akinyele, compared the copy distributed by Eleby’s representatives to the original tape. There were clear edits that made routine hand gestures by Kendrick seem like something provocative, Akinyele said.
The alleged drug toss “was actually the same hand movement (Kendrick) makes 11 other times in the video,” he said. “He’s reaching for his police radio.”
Eleby’s testimony in Kendrick’s trial presented its own problems. Chief among them: two previous arrests in which he discarded or attempted to conceal evidence. Akinyele said prosecutors sought to have Eleby’s criminal history stricken from the record, but the judge refused.
The jury took about five hours to decide in Kendrick’s favor. In a statement, DeKalb District Attorney Robert James acknowledged the case was dependent on “key victims and witnesses” who came “from a life of perpetual drug use.”
“It is our duty to prosecute criminal activity when we believe it exists, regardless of the disposition of our victims,” James said. “Ultimately, the jury found Mr. Kendrick not guilty of violating his oath as an officer. Though we respectfully disagree with their resolution, we thank them for their service as jurors.”
Kendrick said he hasn’t decided whether to pursue civil litigation against DeKalb County. He’d like to return to the DeKalb police department, where he said many among the rank and file have offered him support throughout his ordeal.
“As of right now, I don’t know,” said Kendrick, who had to move back home with his mother after struggling to find work.
He’s considering finishing what he started many years ago, particularly after the events of the last two-plus years.
“I’m thinking about going back to law school,” he said. “This case has really opened my eyes about what can happen in our judicial system.”
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