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East Charlotte Family Picking Up The Pieces After House Damaged By CMPD

Sarah Delia
Melinda London and her daughter Ebony Gunter stand in front of London's home on Andora Drive that was damaged by CMPD while officers attempted to serve a warrant to someone who was not in the home.

Imagine coming home and seeing that your place is no longer livable. Not damaged by fire, flood, or even a burglar -- but by the police.

That’s what an east Charlotte family says happened to them three weeks ago. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department was looking for a man wanted on assault charges. Officers wrongly thought he was in the family’s home. Now, the family is still trying to recover and get justice.

When Melinda London pulled into her neighborhood on July 11 she quickly knew something was off. It was about 7:45 p.m. and police cars were lined up and down her street. Officers were focused on the house she had been renting for the past seven months. She saw her son’s car and called him.

"What’s going on down there? Y’all OK?" London recalls asking. "He said no. The cops are at your house. 'Why are the cops at my house?'"

Police were looking for a man named Trey McClendon, who had multiple outstanding violent felony warrants for his arrest, including two counts of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill. He was a known acquaintance to London’s family and had been arrested at the house before but did not live with them. Police believed he was inside London’s home and had access to weapons. Responding officers said they heard voices from inside the home, which they say indicated McClendon was inside.

London says she told officers no one was inside the house, but police wouldn’t listen.

"I said, 'Here you can have my keys. I’m giving you permission to go to my door,'" London said. "I said, 'If you want, let me get on the bullhorn. If you think somebody is in there, I’ll call them out.'"

She said police told the family to wait up the street away from the house. She wouldn’t be allowed back into her home until roughly seven hours later, around 4 a.m. Police didn’t find McClendon, but officers left their mark.

Credit Sarah Delia / WFAE
The home has roof and ceiling damage from CMPD's operation on July 11.

There was damage to the roof and ceiling. The house reeked of tear gas.

Standing outside the house several weeks later, London’s daughter, Ebony Gunter, points to the parts of the roof still tarped off.

"You can’t be safe and live in here," Gunter said. 

And London says there was damage to clothes, furniture and other personal belongings. London says she had to toss out a lot of her clothes; she says the chemical agents police sprayed made them unwearable. The smell hung in the home for the next few days as the family worked to clear out her belongings.

"I couldn’t go in there, I had to sit out here, I sat on the other side of the tree and I could still smell it come out of the house," London recalled.

And then there’s the mental pain. London has trouble sleeping at night. She had to take time off work to deal with the logistics of moving out suddenly.

Gunter called what happened to her mother a form of police brutality.

"So many times we see it on the news and say, 'Oh, that can’t happen to us.' And then it happens to our family, it continues to happen to people that look like us," Gunter said. "Brown skin, Black people. If this same situation was in Ballantyne, we wouldn’t even be standing here."

The family is still feeling many emotions several weeks later — anger, frustration and fear.

While some officers were helpful, London says others were not only unsympathetic, but also dismissive.

"Y'all left empty handed and laughing at us. Even one of cops did this to one of my son’s friends -- you know, that 'You’re a cry baby,'" London says bringing her hands up to her eyes to show the exaggerated motion.

Her daughter jumped in: "It was like, 'Are you taunting us?' At the end of the day, I know you are an officer and you got a badge. But we are human, we are people. You can take your badge off and put your gun down. We are humans at the end of the day. Why is that necessary? Is that a part of your job description?"

Credit Sarah Delia / WFAE
The family says they offered keys to police to avoid damage to the home.

And the family’s also confused. Because before this incident on July 11, Gunter said, CMPD came to her mother’s home on July 9, looking for McClendon. She said the family let police search the house without incident.

CMPD confirmed the family offered access to police on July 9.

"You came and you did your job, and everybody went back to normal," Gunter said. "Why couldn’t we do the same thing on Saturday? What was so different between Thursday and Saturday?"

Now, the family is displaced. London is staying with her daughter. Gunter says the family is in a constant state of flux trying to figure out where people can stay and for how long.

"Who’s going to live with who? Is this a long-term or short-term thing? How are we going to make concessions for everyone to be comfortable?" Gunter said. "Because everybody was comfortable until CMPD disrupted our lives. And now we have to pick up the pieces so it saddens me that no one has been held accountable or even reached out to say anything to my mother."

In a statement sent July 16 CMPD said, "The CMPD extended an offer of alternate living accommodations to the residents, who declined."

A follow-up press release was sent July 17 when McClendon was arrested without incident on Rockmoor Ridge Road, about four miles from Andora Drive, where London lived.

In that press release, CMPD wrote: "The renters of the residence have declined assistance from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and have found alternate living arrangements while repairs are made."

WFAE asked CMPD what specific accommodations were offered. In an email, police said, "Hotel accommodations were coordinated and offered to the mother of the family. She declined CMPD’s offer for the accommodations."

Both Melinda London and Ebony Gunter say no accommodations were offered.  

"CMPD hasn’t reached out to me to ask how they could help," London said. "They lied about offering housing. We never got that. I had a whole house. I had a king-size bed. I had four bedrooms. I'm sleeping on somebody's sofa. How is that fair to me? When they left, they didn’t leave with a (expletive) -- except for the ones that tore this house up."

Even if a hotel was offered, the family’s attorney, Dominque Camm, says that’s not the same as permanent housing and providing funds to replace belongings.

"It wasn’t that they just got this wrong, it was the way they got this wrong," Camm said. "In the way they say they offered concessions for a hotel. Well, a hotel for how many? A hotel for how many people?"

CMPD also said in a press release that McClendon had been previously arrested at London's home in January. 

"That's what we’re trying to lean on and push on, that, ‘Hey this guy has been here.’ OK, well so has the mailman and the FedEx man, that doesn’t mean they live there or are barricading there," Camm said.

Camm said he reached out to CMPD’s attorney but has yet to hear back. Even if the house was currently habitable, the family says they no longer feel safe there.

"I made it a home, not just a house," London said. "It was a home for my family to gather. And a home that I loved. I loved this house. And to see it just look like this and for CMPD to come do what they did, and then they don’t want to be held accountable for it -- it’s hurting. I don’t feel safe."

Mother and daughter are working together to try to figure out what next steps should be for the family. Gunter called the office of Mayor Vi Lyles around July 20 to ask what could be done about the damage and who her family should talk to. On Monday, a city employee confirmed Gunter’s call had been received and that the mayor’s office had been in touch with Gunter that day and advised the family to file a claim with the city’s Risk Management Office.

Three weeks after the ordeal began, the family might be slowly starting to get some answers on how to pick up the pieces of their lives -- pieces they’ll have to continue to figure out how to put back together bit by bit.

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