The family of 22-year-old Tyrance “Duke” Benbow, a Brunswick County, North Carolina man killed by Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office deputies in an illegal “pit maneuver” on July 8, 2022, has filed a federal lawsuit in his death against the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office, four Brunswick County Deputies, and a fire chief.
The mother of Benbow, Becky Laselle, and the family are represented by civil-rights attorneys Ira Braswell of Braswell Law, PLLC in Laurinburg, North Carolina, and Chantel Cherry-Lassiter of Law Office of Chantel Cherry-Lassiter in Elizabeth City, North Carolina.
In the 30-page lawsuit, Benbow’s family details the events that led to the murder of Benbow. The lawsuit alleges an officer with the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office told Benbow two days before his murder that he would hang Benbow. The officer named as a defendant in the lawsuit is Alexander Melvin, a Deputy Sheriff at the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office.
The suit also alleged that the officer(s) who illegally pitted Benbow was not “trained” or “certified” to perform a pit maneuver. Before the pit was illegally performed, Officer Melvin told Officer Keith E. Bowling, a defendant in the lawsuit, “to stop him(Benbow) before he gets to the seashore”- a neighborhood where Benbow lived.
The death of Benbow is in the hands of the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office, and the lawsuit details how this office wanted Benbow dead, and the actions carried out by these deputies show it.
On Wednesday, July 6, Benbow had court in Brunswick County for two misdemeanors that were later dismissed when Deputy Melvin approached Benbow. According to the lawsuit, two witnesses heard Deputy Melvin threaten Benbow, telling him, “I’m going to hang you.”
Benbow’s family and attorneys said that threat led Benbow to fear for his safety, so he began having a friend or family member ride with him or follow him when he was out and about.
Two days later, on Friday, July 8, 2022, a friend named Deatrice Gore met Benbow on Freedom’s Star Road to follow him home. According to the lawsuit, around 6:45 p.m., Gore and her fiancé Tremaine Thomas met Benbow and began following him home. During Benbow’s travel home, he stopped at a Circle K on Ocean Highway West in Ocean Isle, North Carolina.
In a press conference in July 2022, Brunswick County Sheriff John Ingram lied and said that Benbow was transporting cocaine back from South Carolina into Brunswick County, which is why his officers were watching Benbow as he left the Circle K the night of July 8, 2022.
In the Benbow’s family lawsuit, they say deputies with the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office “could have peacefully and safely stopped Benbow in the parking lot of the Circle K, or at any point, along the ten-mile stretch of four-lane roadway he traveled on Highway 17 North to reach Red Bug Road and then search his vehicle.”
As Benbow left Circle K and is being followed by his friend Gore and her fiancé Tremaine, deputy Bowling who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit and two other DEU deputies followed Benbow as he was going home.
According to the lawsuit, after traveling approximately five miles from Circle K, Deputy Sgt. Josh Davies and Deputy Phillip Davis stopped Gore’s vehicle, claiming they smelled “marijuana.” Deputies searched Gore, her fiancé, and their vehicle and found no drugs. Gore’s seats were also pulled out, and the trunk was searched, but no drugs were found.
Ultimately, Gore received a verbal warning about her car window tint. The deputies planned to separate Gore from Benbow, so they could get behind Benbow and take him out, illegally and without legal cause. After Gore was separated from Benbow, the lawsuit says, “within minutes of Sgt. Davies and Dep. Davis separating Benbow from his escort, Bowling “Pitted” him directly into oncoming traffic and killed him.”
Deputy Melvin, who had told Benbow two days earlier, “I’m going to hang you,” joined deputy Bowling following Benbow.
Sheriff Ingram said his deputies were trying to initiate a traffic stop on Benbow and that Benbow speeds allegedly reached 100 mph.
Eye-witnesses said in an affidavit that they witnessed “three (3) undercover cars were ‘bumper-to-bumper’ behind Benbow’s vehicle.” The eye-witness also stated that the vehicle driven by Deputy Bowling “appeared to be bumping Benbow’s vehicle.” While Benbow went towards Holden Beach Road– close to home, Deputy Bowling “pushed Benbow’s car onto the shoulder of the road,” according to the eye-witness.
During the pursuit, footage obtained from Barrett’s Garage showed Benbow slowing approaching a vehicle in front of him and activating his left turn signal. The video showed that Benbow was not driving at 100 mph, as Sheriff Ingram claimed in his victim-shaming press conference. The video also showed Benbow slowly maneuvering around the car to turn left onto Hwy 130 East.
Talk about breaking the law, the same video footage showed Brunswick Deputies Bowling, Melvin, and Benton, illegally crossing the double yellow lines and driving down the wrong side of Red Bug road “head-on into vehicles turning onto Red Bug Road from Hwy 130,” according to the lawsuit.
As Benbow got closer to home, deputy Melvin could be heard over radio traffic saying, “Keith, you got to get him stopped.” According to the lawsuit, deputy Bowling sped up and raced directly towards the left side of Benbow’s car to pit him. Benbow avoided the first attempt. Next, deputy Bowling positioned his vehicle to Benbow’s rear bumper to the point that, in Bowling’s statement, he said he could “see Benbow looking in his rearview mirror.”
The deputies illegally pitted Benbow into a head-on collision with another vehicle.
During Sheriff Ingram’s press conference, he lied again and said that Benbow lost control of his vehicle, went off the road, overcorrected, and hit another car head-on. But according to the other vehicle’s driver, in an affidavit, their story differed from the sheriff’s.
According to the lawsuit, Eddys Arias, Daniela Siliezar, and their three children were traveling west on Holden Beach Road towards Shallotte, NC, when the driver Arias noticed a dark-colored Nissan Altima being followed dangerously close by a white Chrysler 300, which deputy Bowling was driving. Arias said in an affidavit that he pulled his 2003 red Nissan Maxima onto the narrow right shoulder of the road when the white Chrysler 300 head-on hit Benbow into their car.
The black car slow down behind the grey SUV, and that’s when the police took advantage, Arias said in a sworn statement. The black car, driven by Benbow, slowed down for the grey SUV, and that’s when the white Chrysler 300 hit the rear of Benbow’s car and flipped it head-on into my car.
Arias also said he never saw Benbow’s car travel off the road or outside his lane as claimed by Sheriff Ingram.
It was the police’s fault, Arias said ending his statement.
According to the lawsuit, Arias said by the time he freed himself from his crashed vehicle, the white Chrysler 300 driven by deputy Bowling and the dark-colored Nissan SUV driven by deputy Melvin had left the scene.
Neither deputy Bowling or Melvin rendered medical aid to Benbow, Arias, his wife, or their three minor children.
The family and attorneys say they believe deputy bowling drove his white Chrysler “to an auto body shop in Leland, NC. Once there, the BCSO directed the auto body shop to “cover-up” the damage to the front end of the white Chrysler 300 caused by the two (2) collisions Bowling had with Benbow’s car.”
Deputy Bowling’s white Chrysler 300 was not towed to the county garage after the wreck, according to an NCHSP police report.
According to the lawsuit, after the crash, Benbow was still alive. Two Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT’S) responded to the scene and said they thought Benbow was dead because no one was rendering aid.
I assumed Mr. Benbow was dead because no emergency personnel was rendering aid, and BCSO drug agents were just standing around not doing anything, the EMT’S said. Then I heard Chief Hewett shout; he’s alive; get me some help over here. I could hear Mr. Benbow making sounds.
Chief Hewett, Fire Chief for Civietown, is named as a defendant in the lawsuit. A Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Col. Laurie Watson said Chief Hewett had prematurely pronounced someone’s death before. It was also reported that Chief Hewett ignored Benbow for 20 minutes while he was alive.
In September 2022, Brunswick County District Attorney Jon David declined to file criminal charges against the officers involved but did say in a closed meeting to Benbow’s mother and attorney’s that he would look into new evidence and make a determination.
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