‘No evidence’ against Durham City Council member in alleged extortion probe, DA says

Durham City Council member Monique Holsey-Hyman will not face state charges after investigators found “no evidence” of alleged extortion and campaign finance violations, the District Attorney’s Office announced Tuesday.

“In fact, the (State Bureau of Investigation) was unable to discover any credible allegations against her at all,” DA Satana Deberry wrote in a letter to city officials.

Holsey-Hyman, a social work professor at N.C. Central University who was appointed to the City Council in 2022, is currently running for election. She has denied the charges but has spoken little about them publicly.

“Honestly, do you think that if I did not really care about the people of Durham that I still would be standing in here and standing up for what’s right?” Holsey-Hyman said in a July interview. “I would have went home, which is what people wanted me to do. The truth will come out.”

Holsey-Hyman said she will hold a press conference outside City Hall at noon Wednesday.

In-person early voting starts Thursday. Three at-large council are seats up for grabs, with a field of 12 being narrowed to six in the Oct. 10 primary.

At-Large Durham City Council Member Monique Holsey-Hyman
At-Large Durham City Council Member Monique Holsey-Hyman

What were the accusations?

The investigation began in March after developer Jarrod Edens told the planning director that Holsey-Hyman had solicited a campaign contribution to vote for a project of his.

Edens was seeking a rezoning for a 132-acre property in a rural area of Durham near Falls Lake. Holsey-Hyman voted against it when it failed on March 6 and again when it passed in May. The plan calls for 235 single-family houses and 25 townhomes.

Deberry said Edens did not cooperate with the investigation. It’s unclear if he knew the allegations would surface publicly when he made them.

“So... someone is going to ask me to divulge who the developer was... I promised I wouldn’t share that info (there is no record... it was said to me, not written). How should I handle that when it comes up?” planning director Sara Young texted city attorney Kimberly Rehberg on March 15.

“Source has been warned of disclosure and is fine with it. All good,” Young followed up several hours later.

Edens has declined to discuss the matter since the mayor revealed his name in May.

“I don’t know what to say,” he told The News & Observer that night. “Honestly, I learned some stuff tonight.”

Jarrod Edens speaks at a Durham City Council meeting on May 15, 2023.
Jarrod Edens speaks at a Durham City Council meeting on May 15, 2023.

Holsey-Hyman and city staff did cooperate, however.

“(Special Agent N.) Deming interviewed Holsey-Hyman at length. She not only willingly answered his questions, but she also voluntarily provided documentation of her conversations with the developer, Jarrod Edens,” the letter stated. “Deming reviewed text messages between Holsey-Hyman and Edens and found nothing improper.”

The SBI was also looking into work a city employee did on Holsey-Hyman’s campaign while on the clock. The agency determined that Holsey-Hyman did not solicit that, and the employee was appropriately reprimanded.

The matters sharply divided the City Council, prompting a shouting match that council member DeDreana Freeman was accused of escalating physically. Freeman and Mayor Elaine O’Neal have publicly stood by Holsey-Hyman.

Some accused Mayor Pro Tem Mark-Anthony Middleton of orchestrating a conspiracy against Holsey-Hyman. In emails, Middleton called it an “egregious attack” on his character, “a slanderous lie” and “also just embarrassingly stupid.”

Mayor Elaine O’Neal, left, hugs council member Monique Holsey-Hyman in a Durham City Council meeting on Monday, May 1, 2023.
Mayor Elaine O’Neal, left, hugs council member Monique Holsey-Hyman in a Durham City Council meeting on Monday, May 1, 2023.

Deberry also refuted that in her letter Tuesday.

“Additionally, there is also no evidence that there was a coordinated effort led by any other Council Member to initiate allegations against Holsey-Hyman,” she wrote.

The FBI was also investigating allegations against Holsey-Hyman, though it’s unclear if that investigation remains open.

“Per Department of Justice policy, we cannot comment on anything related to investigations. I apologize that this is not very helpful,” a spokesperson told The News & Observer in an email Monday.