Law

KKK members take weapons from the back of a car prior to the shooting between them and members of the Workers Viewpoint Organization/Communist Workers Party on Nov. 3, 1979.
News & Record file photo

In 1979 a clash between white supremacist groups and protestors in Greensboro left five dead and 12 badly injured.   The incident gained national attention and over the past 36 years the city has undergone a number of programs to try and provide some reconciliation.  But a new move by the North Carolina Highway Advisory Marker Committee is drawing some controversy. 

Joseph Sledge and his attorney Christine Mumma 1/23/15
Jorge Valencia

A man held in a North Carolina prison for most of his life was released on Friday, after a special panel found he had been wrongfully convicted of a double murder in 1976.

Following a brief hearing in Columbus County, a specially appointed three-judge panel found Joseph Sledge had proven he was innocent of the stabbing deaths of a mother and her adult daughter in neighboring Bladen County.

Photo: UNC School of Law
Photo by Caroline Culler

Prosecutors, defense attorneys, activists and former police officers will discuss the deaths of unarmed minorities at the hands of law enforcement at a forum at the University of North Carolina School of Law today.

The forum, organized by law school professors, will include three panels examining civil rights, self defense, and the use of force from legal, historical and activist perspectives, said Associate Professor Tamar Birckhead, one of the organizers.

Tommy Rieman in his office at Charlotte Bridge Home, with the action figure that bears his likeness.
Carol Jackson

Under different circumstances, Tommy Rieman could have been charged with a DUI when he got drunk and drove into a tree. But because he's a veteran he was enrolled in the state's first Veterans Treatment Court, a program designed to give support rather than punishment.

This chapter of Rieman's story starts in Iraq, 2003.

"Before the war started we were in Iraq, calling in air strikes you know?" he remembers. "I was 21, 22 years old. You're on top of the world."

A picture of a couple at a bench.
pedrosimoes / Flickr

This fall, all UNC-Chapel Hill students, faculty and staff will have learned the same definitions for "consent", "sexual assault" and "harassment". It's part of a new, mandatory, online training.

Christi Hurt works in Student Affairs and directs the Carolina Women's Center. She says the goal is to define terms simplify communication. Hurt says this lays the foundation for student groups and dorm life to spur discussion.

President Obama's choice to be the next attorney general grew up in a state where her parents fought for the right to vote.

Loretta Lynch is a North Carolina native who hails from a long line of preachers. Her academic talent propelled her into some of the country's elite institutions.

Now Lynch is trying to win Senate confirmation as the top U.S. law enforcement officer, as the first black woman in line to hold that job.

Lynch was born 55 years ago, in Greensboro, N.C., where sit-ins and protests provided a soundtrack to her youth.

Bob Jones, leader of the N.C. KKK, April 1965
Bruce Roberts / The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin

At one time North Carolina had more Ku Klux Klan members than all other the states combined, even though the state was seen as more racial progressive than others in the South.

The PBS documentary series American Experience explores this idea with its latest episode, Klansville U.S.A.

Callie Wiser is the film's director. She talked with Phoebe Judge about the rise and fall of the KKK in North Carolina:

Interview highlights:

crime scene tape
Ian Britton / Flickr/Creative Commons

Delays at North Carolina's State Crime Lab are a longstanding issue. Now, some local law enforcement agencies are seeking quicker assistance elsewhere.

Steve Williams heads Greensboro's Forensic Services division. He says that because rapes and homicides take precedence, the review of evidence for other crimes can take a very long time under the state system.

"It could take years to get a lot of the property crimes even looked at," Williams said.

City of Fayetteville Police Department
bethebadge.com

There’s an organization in Holly Springs that trains law enforcement officers across the country to better serve their communities.

The International Academy of Public Safety or IAPS, began training police and sheriff’s departments five years ago.  Today, more than 12,000 law enforcement officers in ten states have participated in their program. More than 3,000 of them are in North Carolina.

Chris Hoina is an expert trainer at IAPS.  He says one of their biggest success stories is in Jefferson Parrish, Louisiana.

Bladenboro, N.C.
Gary Dincher / Flickr Creative Commons

    

In August, 17-year-old Lennon Lacy was found dead in the small town of Bladenboro, N.C, hanging by his neck from a swing set.

Local police say Lacy killed himself, but Lacy's family says suspicious circumstances have raised questions about whether Lacy's death was a suicide or a lynching.

Durham Police at Jesus Huerta protest in December 2013
Laura Lee

    

Across the nation, protestors have taken to the street to call for reforms in police action. The protests come in the wake of  two grand juries declining to indict police officers who killed Eric Garner and Michael Brown.

From the coast to the mountains, activists in North Carolina have joined the movement calling for greater police accountability.

A picture of a yellow NCDOT truck.
ncdot.org

Yellow Department of Transportation trucks have been used to disguise roving patrolmen. The North Carolina Highway Patrol used them for a pilot program in which troopers patrolled for people who illegally text while driving.

Lieutenant Jeff Gordon says it's hard for roadside troopers to see whether motorists are texting, and people are quick to stop if they see a police cruiser.

“So you need to be creative in ways of trying to get people to abide by the law. I wouldn't classify it as tricking people because it is a law, and laws need to be enforced.”

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled that police officers don't necessarily violate a person's constitutional rights when they stop a car based on a mistaken understanding of the law. The ruling prompted a lone dissent from Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who warned that the court's decision could exacerbate public suspicion of police in some communities.

Photo: Death row inmates are housed at Central Prison in Raleigh. No executions have been carried out in North Carolina since 2006.
North Carolina Department of Public Safety

About 12 percent of the inmates in North Carolina's prisons are mentally ill, state prisons administrators told lawmakers at a hearing this week.

Administrators, including David Guice, the commissioner for the state Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice, said the they're starting a re-structuring of how they handle the roughly 4,600 mentally ill inmates. They're beginning to concentrate transfer some inmates and concentrate some services in some locations - instead of having them spread among the roughly 37,000 inmate population throughout the system's 56 facilities.

 Saint Paul, Minnesota police officers covered in riot gear march and line up during the 2008 Republican National Convention (RNC) at the Xcel Energy Center.
Tony Webster

Police departments across the state of North Carolina are arming themselves with the same weapons and gear as the U.S. military. 

Now this is surprising:

A picture of lights on a police car.
Alejandro Mejía Greene/JubiloHaku / Flickr Creative Commons

The decisions not to indict white police officers who killed unarmed black men in Ferguson, Mo., and New York have led to calls for reform.

Demonstrations across the country suggest a deep divide between some law enforcement agencies and the people they are charged with protecting.

Joseph Sledge, photographed at Pamlico Correctional Institution in Bayboro, N.C. Thursday, February 28, 2013.
ETHAN HYMAN — ehyman@newsobserver.com

In 1976, Joseph Sledge escaped from an Elizabethtown prison and within 24 hours, mother and daughter Josephine and Ailene Davis were murdered. 

Venus flytrap
David McAdoo / Flickr/Creative Commons

Did you know that picking a Venus Flytrap in North Carolina can now land you two years in prison? The law, enacted earlier this week,  is meant to protect the Venus Flytrap, a rare carnivorous plant that only grows in the wild in swamps near Wilmington.

Hundreds gathered in downtown Durham on Tuesday night to protest the lack of charges against Darren Wilson. They held signs that read "We Are All Michael Brown."
Reema Khrais

Hundreds of people gathered throughout central North Carolina Tuesday night in response to the decision in Ferguson, Missouri to not indict white police officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of black 18-year-old Michael Brown.

In Durham, dozens of protesters briefly stopped traffic on the northbound lanes of the Durham Freeway around 6:30 p.m.  They were chanting slogans like “No Justice, No Peace" and "No Racist Police." 

The Rev. William Barber, president of the NC NAACP, addressed reporters on Tuesday morning.
Reema Khrais

Leaders of North Carolina’s NAACP are expressing their disappointment in the decision to not indict Ferguson, Missouri white officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of black 18-year-old Michael Brown.

Reverend William Barber spoke at a press conference in Durham this morning. He said that the decision to not indict Wilson is an indictment of the system itself.

“And we're plagued with it here. It's an indictment, right here, on the system in North Carolina. Racial profiling is real in this state,” he said.

peoplesworld / Flickr Creative Commons

A grand jury in St. Louis has decided not to indict Darren Wilson, the white Ferguson police officer who shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown, an unarmed black man.

In Ferguson, the decision sparked outrage, with several instances of arson and looting overnight. Police have arrested at least 61 people.

In other parts of the country, the decision was met with mixed response and reflection about how race plays into the criminal justice system.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/30928442@N08

Long-term solitary confinement is a cruel, inhumane and degrading form of punishment, according to a new report from The University of North Carolina School of Law.

Tonya Rush is an analyst at the crime lab. The NC General Assembly recently added funding for 30 more analysts to help with the backlog.
Eric Mennel / WUNC

We've been looking at the problems in the State Crime Lab this week, particularly the backlog in evidence testing. A group of judges, lawyers, and scientists came together in recent months to suggest solutions for clearing up the backlog, but inside the lab, some efforts are already under way.

One of the refrigerators at the NC State Crime Lab
Eric Mennel

Like many crime labs across the country, the North Carolina State Crime Lab in Raleigh has a serious backlog. One reason is finding and paying qualified staff. But a new report issued by researchers at the University of North Carolina School of Government shows a second, more complex problem.

The report goes into detail about the effect a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Melendez-Diaz, had on the way forensic evidence gets admitted at criminal trials.

    

On March 12, 2014, Michael Anthony Kerr, an inmate at the Alexander Correctional Institution, died from dehydration en route to a hospital in Raleigh.

The treatment of Mr. Kerr in days leading up to his death have led to many questions as well as investigations by the US Attorney’s Office and the State Bureau of Investigation.

Image of Asheville police cra
Osajus / Flickr Creative Commons

  

The state Justice Department is looking into allegations of administrative failure at the Asheville Police Department.

One lieutenant says he faced retaliation for raising concerns about outdated equipment and a short staff of patrol officers. Another says Police Chief William Anderson asked him to lie during an SBI investigation of the chief’s son.

Book by Mark Achteimeier. WJK Press/2014
WJK Press

  

Theologian and pastor Mark Achtemeier led the movement to prohibit gays and lesbians from becoming ordained in the Presbyterian church in the 1990s. His opposition to homosexuality was firmly rooted in his Christian faith and his interpretation of Biblical teachings. He succeeded and the Church banned the gay ordination in 1997. Just a few years later, he developed a friendship with a gay man in a committed relationship and Achtemeier began to question his beliefs. After reexamining the scriptures, he concluded there is a Biblical basis for supporting same sex couples. Now he leads the movement for inclusion in the Presbyterian Church.

Host Frank Stasio talks with Mark Achtemeier, theologian, pastor and author of The Bible’s Yes to Same-Sex Marriage (WJK Press/2014).

New Right: Judge Or Jury

Nov 5, 2014
Picture of gavel
Flickr.com

State voters passed a constitutional amendment that would give people accused of a felony a choice to have a judge hear their trial rather than a jury of their peers. The amendment was approved with about 54% of the vote. 

Up until last night's vote, North Carolina stood alone in refusing to allow that choice.  The option will only be available to persons not facing the death penalty. 

Child with flag
jvoves on Flickr

More than 400 women and children from Central America are currently being held at a temporary detention center in southeast New Mexico. Most fled to the United States to escape violence in their home countries. They are seeking asylum in the United States but face many legal and personal challenges. A group of attorneys from North Carolina traveled to the remote town of Artesia, New Mexico to represent the detainees. Host Frank Stasio talks with two of the attorneys, Evelyn Smallwood and Natalie Teague, about their experiences.

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