Durham County Assistant District Attorney Monica Burnette visited a crash scene and demanded to speak to an N.C. State Highway Patrol trooper who was arresting one of her colleagues earlier this month, according to a Sheriff’s Office incident report.
On Aug. 10 around 10:23 p.m., Durham County District Attorney’s Office legal assistant Josiah Lavell Wilkerson, 24, was driving his car east on U.S. 70 near Pleasant Drive, according to a collision report from the Highway Patrol.
Traffic slowed in front of him because of a collision blocking the road. Wilkerson didn’t slow down and his Jeep rear-ended a Honda, which then rear-ended a Nissan, according to the report.
The driver of the Honda and the Nissan, along with a passenger in the Nissan, reported injuries, according to the Highway Patrol report.
Troopers responded to the scene and eventually arrested Wilkerson, charging him with driving while impaired and resisting a public officer.
Wilkerson had a blood alcohol concentration level of 0.09 and obstructed the trooper from investigating the collision, according to court documents.
Under North Carolina law, driving privileges are immediately revoked for 30 days if someone’s BAC level is 0.08 or more.
The day after the incident, District Attorney spokesperson Sarah Willets confirmed that Burnette did show up at the crash scene after Wilkerson called her “as a supervisor in the office.”
“She spoke to the officers on scene, inquired about his well-being with his mother, and left,” Willets wrote.
It’s unclear if Wilkerson’s mother was also at the scene.
Wilkerson and Burnette declined to be interviewed by The News & Observer for this story.
Burnette, who has been a Durham ADA since February 2019, makes $100,000 annually, according to The News & Observer’s state employee database. She is the lead assistant district attorney for the Durham County district court, which includes traffic and juvenile cases.
Durham ADA Monica Burnette at the crash scene
Both the State Highway Patrol and Durham County deputies were dispatched to the scene, and a Durham County incident report provides a different perspective on Burnette’s actions.
The News & Observer initially requested incident reports, which include the deputy descriptions from the scene, from the Durham County Sheriff’s Office. A spokesperson declined to provide the deputies’ narratives to The N&O since they aren’t public record.
According to deputies’ reports obtained separately by The News & Observer, Durham Deputy B. Faison wrote in his narrative that he walked up to the crash scene and observed a state trooper in a “heated and animated” discussion with a woman who was trying to hold Wilkerson back.
The report doesn’t identify the woman.
The deputy wrote that he controlled the unidentified woman while a state trooper arrested Wilkerson, who actively resisted and was brought to the ground. Wilkerson was then put in a patrol car.
Around that time, Faison wrote, a woman parked her vehicle behind a line of trooper patrol cars parked with their police lights flashing in a turn lane on U.S. 70.
The woman walked to the crash scene and told Faison she was Assistant District Attorney Monica Burnette, the report said.
The deputy wrote that Burnette said: “I’m here to see why my guy (Wilkerson) is in handcuffs and a patrol car.”
Faison told her a trooper would explain after they cleared the roadway, he wrote, and asked Burnette to move out of the roadway to a nearby convenience store.
“She shrugged off the comment and replied, ‘I will once I talk to Trooper,’” Faison wrote.
The Durham County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment for this article.
‘Demanding to speak with officers’
Burnette didn’t move the vehicle until Faison threatened to charge her with resisting, delaying or obstructing an officer, the deputy wrote.
After Burnette moved her vehicle, she stood on the side of U.S. 70 “demanding to speak with the officers involved,” the deputy wrote.
“Once all vehicles were removed from the roadway, the Troopers entertained her for a while on the side of U.S.-70,” the deputy wrote.
The conversation continued in a convenience store parking lot on Pleasant Drive, Faison wrote, “where she began to question how and what was being condescendingly done by Law Enforcement.”
Faison turned his body-worn camera on for the interaction, he wrote, and then off once “things were under control.”
The News & Observer is seeking the release of body cam and dash cam videos related to the incident from Durham deputies and the highway patrol.
After the incident, Faison notified his supervisor.
A former DA’s perspective
Willets, the Durham DA spokesperson, said the previous statement remains accurate.
“ADA Burnette clearly did not interfere with the arrest, nor was it her intention to do so,” Willets wrote in an email.
The case was referred to the Orange-Chatham District Attorney’s Office, she wrote.
“Given the pending nature of the case, we have provided what limited information we can about the events in question,” she wrote.
Former Durham District Attorney Roger Echols said that he thinks it is inappropriate for an assistant district attorney to make an appearance at a crash and arrest scene of a colleague because it gives the appearance that they are trying to influence the arrest.
“It is very inappropriate, really under any circumstances, but certainly under those circumstances, it is very inappropriate,” said Echols, who now works as a prosecutor in Guilford County.
At crime scenes, law enforcement is in control, and there shouldn’t be interference for them to do their job from anyone, he said.
Durham District Attorney Satana Deberry, who defeated Echols in 2019, declined to be interviewed for this story.