News 01/23/20

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DA’s Office Not Pursuing Charges in Second VCMS Assault Allegation

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Statement from the Office of District Attorney Mike Waters:

On December 16, 2019, I learned a parent had made more allegations about the use of inappropriate force against school resource officer, Deputy Warren Durham and Assistant Principal Kevin Ross. These allegations were first detailed in a short statement written by the female juvenile student and provided by the minor child’s mother to the Vance County Sheriff’s Office late in the day on Friday, December 13, 2019, after a video of Warren Durham became widespread through social media and news outlets.

At the request of Vance County Sheriff Curtis Brame and the mother of the minor child, I undertook a review of the evidence provided in this case including the minor child’s initial statement, the statement taken by Vance County Sheriff’s Office investigators, medical records, and video footage provided by the Vance County School System.  Additionally, with the assistance of Ellington Digital Forensics, I was able to more closely examine the video of the incident. After reviewing the evidence available, and carefully examining the relevant law, I have determined that no charges will be filed against former School Resource Officer Warren Durham or Assistant Principal Kevin Ross related to this incident.

In summary, the investigation revealed that on December 11, 2019, shortly after 11 a.m., a female, sixth-grade student was changing classes, and during that time accessed her backpack to retrieve a cell phone in violation of school policy. The student was in the vicinity of the School Resource Officer Warren Durham who appeared to tell her something as he walked by.  Within a few seconds, the student is approached by Vance County Middle School Assistant Principal Kevin Ross and he extends his hand to retrieve the cell phone. The student initially pulls the phone away but then hands the phone over.  At that point, a verbal exchange between the student and the assistant principal begins and the student appears to try and push past Assistant Principal Kevin Ross. The School Resource officer steps over to the vicinity of the exchange and begins directing students around them. The student reported to Vance County Sheriff’s Office investigators at this time she intended to leave the school, but it is unclear as to whether she told Assistant Principal Kevin Ross her intentions. It appears from the video that Assistant Principal Kevin Ross directs her to retrieve her belongings and the student reported that he told her to go upstairs to his office. At this point, Assistant Principal Kevin Ross physically redirects her to retrieve her belongings, and, at that point, she complies.

Assistant Principal Kevin Ross was acting in his official capacity and thus his actions are governed by NCGS 115C-390.3, which states school personnel may use reasonable force to force or control behavior for the purpose of 1) correcting students or 6) to maintain order on educational property. This use of force must be reasonable and cannot be excessive as to cause any serious or permanent injury to the student.  After review of the video and this juvenile’s medical records, it cannot be determined that she suffered any serious injury. Further, several hours of video were made available to this office and a review of the same tend to show that the sixth-grade student did not exhibit any signs of discomfort or injury in the hours following the incident.

Initial claims made by the juvenile that School Resource Officer Warren Durham pushed the student or pulled her hair are not supported by the video, as it appears that at no time was there ever any physical contact between the student and the school resource officer.

For these reasons, I met with the family and their legal counsel today and shared my decision not to pursue criminal charges in this matter.

Vance County Schools has issued the following statement:

Vance County Schools received the statement from District Attorney Mike Waters this afternoon.  At this time, we plan to meet with our attorney and Kevin Ross to bring closure to the personnel portion of this matter, as outlined in our school board policy.

As we committed to our community when this event occurred, to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again, district officials coordinated a training, led by the National Association for School Resource Officers, on January 14-15.  The two-day training was attended by all Vance County School Resource Officers, representatives from the Sheriff’s Office, County Government officials and school-based and district administration. Our work with the NC Center for Safer Schools will involve that our current MOU (memorandum of understanding) is aligned with the best practices included in our training. Our goal is to ensure that, as a district, we are maintaining the highest standards for school–based policing.

As always, safety is our top priority and we are committed to educating our students in an environment that is welcoming and safe.

‘Rise Against Hunger’ Exceeds Meal Packing Goal

THIS STORY IS PRESENTED IN PART BY DRAKE DENTISTRY

Keeping the spirit of service and working together alive on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, approximately 400 volunteers, including local residents, 14 churches and various businesses and organizations, came together Monday for a “Rise Against Hunger” meal packing event and ACTS Food Drive. The event was held at the Vance County Regional Farmers Market.

With 61,128 meals packed, event organizer Brian Daniel reported that the hard work of the volunteers and the support of the community allowed the fundraiser to exceed the original goal of 50,000 packed meals.

“I’m not sure about the final number of food items collected, but it was significant,” said Daniel. “We filled up the bottom of a 6×12 foot enclosed trailer. It was a long day but a great day for the folks who came out.”

Vance County Farm Bureau endorsed the drive, providing the Farmers Market facility for the venue and seed money to launch the fundraising campaign.

“We will be having a meeting in the near future to discuss plans for next year,” Daniel said. “We need to have that meeting while everything is fresh in our minds.”

For more information on Rise Against Hunger, including ways to make a secure donation and future volunteer opportunities, visit http://events.riseagainsthunger.org/Vance.

Photos courtesy Brian Daniel:

Commissioners Review Current Plans, Prioritize New Goals at Retreat

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-Information courtesy Jordan McMillen, Vance County Manager

The Vance County Board of Commissioners met at Perry Memorial Library on Tuesday, January 21, 2020, for the first of two planned retreat days designed to assist with the review of current plans and development of new goals for the coming fiscal year.

Below are the commissioners’ goals from last year’s retreat which were reviewed:

  1. To move forward expeditiously with acquiring, designing, and renovating former Eaton-Johnson to include exploring alternative financing opportunities to house the Department of Social Services, Senior Center and other departments as space allows.
  2. To provide the necessary funding and support to improve fire response county-wide with the idea of reducing response times and assisting departments with lowering ISO ratings to create savings for our citizens.
  3. To create additional jobs and investment through supporting existing businesses, finalizing Phase III of the Henderson-Vance Industrial Park and marketing available buildings.
  4. To provide support and complete the broadband planning process by selecting an internet service provider company in order to provide affordable broadband to the unserved and underserved areas of the County while also providing an alternative service for our citizens.
  5. Explore ways to clean up and address trash throughout the county.
  6. To continue addressing public health and wellbeing with an emphasis on substance use disorder and mental health.

Coming out of day one of the retreat, each commissioner will be submitting their top goals for the upcoming year. Our plan is to come back on February 10 and work on creating and prioritizing new goals for the coming fiscal year. We also intend to begin looking at budget impacts as well as our capital improvement program during day two of the retreat.

Overall, today went well and there were a few topics that bubbled to the surface. There was good discussion on the need for a community paramedicine program within our EMS department, and there was discussion on the need for addressing employee pay to ensure we stay competitive with our surrounding counties.

Town Talk 01/22/20: Caregiver’s Cup at Sadie’s & Local Senior Games

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Harvey Holmes, family caregiver resource specialist, and Michele Brigandi, aging projects coordinator – both with the Kerr-Tar Area Agency on Aging, appeared on WIZS Town Talk Wednesday at 11 a.m.

Holmes discussed the formation of a new social group for caregivers affectionately referred to as “The Caregiver’s Cup.” The name is a play on the actual meeting location – Sadie’s Coffee Corner in downtown Henderson – and the metaphorical filling of one’s social cup. The group will meet on the second Friday of every month from 12 until 1:30 p.m. at Sadie’s. All family caregivers are welcome.

Citing statistics that caregivers tend to self-isolate from outside activities and interactions, Holmes said the intent of the group is to promote socialization and, in turn, mental health.

“It’s very easy for caregivers to isolate themselves because caregiving is a 24/7, exhausting job,” explained Holmes. “Everyone struggles and moves in and out of loneliness during their lifetime; this group is here to help ease that loneliness.”

Promoting another great activity to encourage socialization as well as physical health, Brigandi discussed the upcoming Kerr Tar Senior Games that will be held in Franklin, Granville, Vance, Warren and Person counties March through May 2020. Competitive athletic events ranging from basketball to horseshoes will be offered.

“This is essentially the Olympics for active adults 50 and better,” explained Brigandi. “There is something for everyone and it is a lot of fun.”

According to Brigandi, awards are given, and those who place first, second and third in their respective event have the opportunity to compete in the state finals in Raleigh. Those that place on the state level will move on to the national competition.

New on the list of local athletic events offered this year is mini-golf, which will be held at Adventure Island in Henderson on April 28.

For those with mobility issues and/or for those with an interest in the arts, the Senior Games also offers “SilverArts” competitions with a variety of mediums including heritage arts, basket weaving, quilting, painting, photography, dance, comedy, drama, poetry readings and storytelling.

To register for local games or for more information on the SilverArts sessions, please visit the North Carolina Senior Games website by clicking here.

For more information on the Caregivers Cup group, please contact the Kerr-Tar Area Agency on Aging at (252) 436-2040 or email Holmes directly at [email protected].

To hear the interview with Holmes and Brigandi in its entirety, go to WIZS.com and click on Town Talk.

Work Completed on Bennett H. Perry/Corbitt Museum Porch

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In the words of Kenneth Stegall, Corbitt Preservation Association member:

Just an update on the porch work at the Bennett H. Perry/Corbitt Museum. The job was just completed and, of course, we have an overrun due to damage underneath the porch.

The original project estimate was $6,000. With all the damage and rot under the porch, the total is now at $8,402.76. We received a grant for $6,855, plus we had a surplus from last year still available in the maintenance account for the museum. However, we need to make this up somehow, hopefully through some donations to the project.

The Corbitt Preservation Association will have a Spring Fling on April 25 this year to help with the cost. It would be nice to put some money back into the maintenance account since it is now depleted. What I am asking for is to try and cover the $549.09 that we had to take out of our general fund.

The museum is really a shining star in Henderson and for us as an association. Your help is greatly appreciated in this matter.

Donations may be mailed to:
Corbitt Preservation Association (CPA)
PO Box 74

Henderson, NC 27536

Photos courtesy Kenneth Stegall/Corbitt Preservation Association:

News 01/22/20

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News 01/21/20

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Volunteers Gather on ‘Coldest Morning of 2020’ for Smoke Detector Campaign

THIS STORY IS PRESENTED IN PART BY DRAKE DENTISTRY

Community leaders, first responders and volunteers gathered at the Henderson Fire Department this morning for the day’s kickoff of Vance County’s “Sound the Alarm” event, an in-home smoke detector and fire safety inspection campaign sponsored by the American Red Cross.

During the first half of the day, volunteers visited homeowners in the county who made previous appointments for an inspection. The focus then shifted to the City of Henderson residents who had not previously been visited by the Henderson Fire Department during its 2019-2020 smoke detector campaign.

Participants included local fire departments, churches, Henderson Collegiate representatives, Red Cross volunteers, NC Central University students and community volunteers.

Thanking the volunteers for coming out on “the coldest morning so far in 2020,” American Red Cross Executive Director Vicki LaBelle expressed her appreciation for those willing to serve others.

“I appreciate y’all being here to celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. on this day of service to help keep folks in the Henderson area and Vance County safe and to help us prevent and reduce the injuries and deaths related to home fires,” LaBelle said.

LaBelle further thanked participating fire departments who work with the American Cross year-round to keep families safe from fires and provided for in the case of an emergency. Fire stations participating in the event included the Henderson Fire Department, Cokesbury, Drewry, Hicksboro, Watkins, Epsom, Townsville and the Vance County Fire Department.

LaBelle also thanked Chick-fil-A of Henderson for supporting the cause by donating lunch for all volunteers.

Henderson Fire Chief Steve Cordell also addressed the crowd gathered at the station: “I can’t express enough how important it is for every home to have an operating smoke alarm; statistics show that it saves lives,” he said.

Gordon Wilder, chair of the Vance County Board of Commissioners, praised the high turnout for the day of service and reminded the crowd of the important role first responders play in the overall health and safety of a community. “I want our citizens to know how important our first responders – our firefighters, volunteer firefighters, EMS and others – are and how important they are to this county,” Wilder said. “We appreciate you.”

Those interested in having their home inspected can make an appointment with the fire department or can request a fire alarm through the American Red Cross by visiting www.soundthealarm.org/enc.

Town Talk 01/20/20: Democratic Chair Discusses Meeting, Low Voter Turnout

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Marcia Allen, the acting chairperson of the Vance County Democratic Party, appeared on WIZS Town Talk Monday at 11 a.m.

Allen encouraged all registered Democrats, and those interested in learning more about the party, to attend the Vance County Democratic Party meeting to be held Thursday, January 23, 2020, at 6:30 p.m. The meeting will be held in the Commissioners’ Room of the old Vance County Courthouse located at 122 Young Street in Henderson. The elevator is in service for attendees with mobility issues.

Officers are needed and discussions will include precinct organizations.

Describing the Democratic Party as “the party of empowerment, education and inclusiveness,” Allen said the local chapter’s goal is to mirror state Democratic caucuses including African-American, women, youth and the most recently approved – Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer or Questioning (LGBTQ).

Allen said the local party is especially interested in finding effective ways to get more young people involved in politics and the voting process. “If we say that young people are our future, then they need to be involved in the process. It’s troubling to hear that young people do not want to take part in the political process when everything that happens politically will affect them.”

Citing statistics from the most recent non-partisan City of Henderson municipal election in October, Allen said everyone should be concerned about declining voter turnout. “We had close to 10,000 eligible voters for the most recent election and it’s troubling that only 13% voted,” said Allen. “That means 13% of the people made a decision for 100% of the community. Our goal is to look at that and to reach out to those who did not vote to see why.”

According to Allen, the number of citizens that are disgruntled about decisions made by elected officials is disproportionate to the percentage that voted. “More than 13% of people are complaining about things that are done locally, yet they don’t vote to make a change about what’s going on,” Allen said.

While voting is at the top of Allen’s list of making sure your voice is heard, she also encouraged citizens to attend Henderson City Council and Vance County Commissioners meetings, reach out to their respective political party and get involved in community activities.

Questions about the upcoming Vance County Democratic Party meeting can be directed to Marcia Allen at [email protected] or (252) 767-5195.

To hear the interview with Allen in its entirety, go to WIZS.com and click on Town Talk.