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Social media helped free Milton Dunlap

Milton Dunlap and mom, Kim Richardson, at Power 98 FM in Charlotte, NC October 3, 2013.
Courtesy of CMWriter.com

After three days in a Charlotte jail cell and facing decades in prison, Milton "Tre" Dunlap is now a free young man. Yesterday, October 2, 2013, Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department announced that all 17 felony counts against him had been dismissed. Dunlap can thank the love of his mother and step-father, Kim and Clarence Richardson, as well as social media.

No, Dunlap was not a trending topic on Twitter, nor was there a "Free Tre Dunlap" page on Facebook. Dunlap happened to have been texting and posting on Instagram from the comfort of his home at the time a pursuit of suspects in several home invasions was taking place. The only problem was, no one would listen when his mother presented that information.

Dunlap, who is set to begin college at UNC Charlotte soon, faced an uncertain future when a state trooper identified him as the driver of an SUV carrying alleged burglars during a high pursuit on a Tuesday afternoon. Today, Dunlap and his mother appeared on CBS Radio's No Limit Larry and the Morning Maddhouse, with Civil Rights advocate John C. Barnett describing what had occurred the afternoon of September 24, 2013 when Dunlap was arrested.

According to mother and son, Dunlap was home playing a new video game when he decided to go to the convenience store. Right before leaving the house, Dunlap posted a video to Instagram celebrating his victory over the game. As he walked outside to go to his car that his parents had just purchased for him, CMPD officers yelled at him to go back into the house. So he ran into his home.

Moments later officers entered his home and grabbed Dunlap, and then his stepfather, who questioned why they were taking his son. In the confusion, Clarence Richardson's finger was allegedly broken (Kim Richardson presented a picture of Clarence Richardson's dangling finger to Examiner.) and Dunlap's head was slammed to the ground outside. Dunlap complained about headaches but did not receive medical treatment while in jail. According to Dunlap, one officer said to him, "I should have shot you when I had the chance," as he was hauled off in cuffs.

Dunlap's mother was convinced that CMPD had the wrong teen. Instagram posts and text messages between Dunlap, his girlfriend, and family supported Kim Richardson's convictions. Richardson knew her son, who texts her several dozen times a day and lets her know his every move, unlike most people his age, could not have been involved in criminal activity. Her pleas for her son's release fell on deaf ears and she could not afford the seventy-five thousand dollar bond he was under.

That's where John C. Barnett and WBTV news reporter Steve Crump came in. Richardson contacted Barnett and he attended Dunlap's court appearance with them. While at the courthouse, Barnett spoke to Crump who decided to cover Dunlap's story. After the hearing, Dunlap was released but had to wear an ankle bracelet.

CMPD continued their investigation and eventually dropped all charges after discovering that Dunlap had absolutely no connection to any of the crime scenes nor the SUV driven in the chase.

Dunlap described his harrowing ordeal when he and his mother called into Money Talk with Atiya Harris on WGIV 103.3 FM in China Grove:

I never wanted to go to jail. It was like a nightmare. Like I was having a bad dream. Then I would wake up on the second day and realize it was real. I didn't want to go in and take a shower with all those people, so I stank for three days. The food was horrible. The only thing that was okay to eat was the apples and shortcake.

Dunlap is a bright young man who has never been in trouble. He is a talented actor who has appeared in two movies, Taledega Nights and Blood Done Signed My Name. Dunlap took a year off between high school and college to decide where he wanted to go, and worked at a local clothing store. Unfortunately, this incident cost Dunlap his freedom and his job. He is currently in search of new employment and internships.

Dunlap's close relationship with his family, his good upbringing and social media helped clear his name. His family fought for him and would not stop until the truth was revealed. Richardson said she's always taught her children to respect officers as authority figures and people to go to for help. She says she now has to figure out a way to explain this situation and help her son and family recover from this ordeal.

Dunlap's mugshot is still all over the web. CMPD says they will work to expunge his arrest record.

How would you explain this situation to your own children if something like this were to occur? How might the Richardsons renew their faith in expecting protection from officers and not allow fear of them to creep in? Can police train differently to prevent future incidents like this one? How can Dunlap restore his good name?

If you need assistance from John C. Barnett, you may call him at 704-713-0448.