GREENSBORO — A judge told Greensboro City Council members last year that they could only view police body-camera video of a controversial 2016 arrest if they agreed to not publicly discuss it.
On Tuesday, the N.C. Court of Appeals upheld Superior Court Judge Susan Bray’s 2018 gag order.
“The gag order does not violate the city’s First Amendment rights,” wrote Appeals Judge Chris Dillon. The gag order only prohibited talking about “matters that the council, otherwise, had no right to discover except by the grace of the legislation through a judicial order,” he wrote.
Zared Jones of Greensboro had alleged that police harassed him and his friends in downtown Greensboro, escalating tension and leading to their arrests. A 1-minute, 45-second video of the arrests was posted on YouTube, gaining public attention in 2017.
Under state law, police officers’ body-worn camera footage is not considered public nor a personnel record, and only those depicted in the video or their representative may view the footage, Dillon wrote.
In January 2018, Bray agreed to let the council and certain city officials view the body-worn camera footage but said they could only discuss it with each other. Any council member who violated the order was subject to a $500 fine and up to 30 days in prison, Bray ruled.
In February 2018, the council moved to lift the gag order so they could discuss it with their constituents. But Bray became irritated when she learned the council hadn’t watched the videos in that month.
“The council has not viewed it?” Bray asked. “Motion denied.
“They didn’t even make it a priority to watch it? They want to be able to discuss what they didn’t even watch?” the judge said
The council then filed an appeal.
Dillon wrote that the gag order does not prevent city officials from commenting on the case generally but only from discussing the body-camera footage.
And the gag order didn’t prevent the council from performing its duties, he wrote; council members could discuss with constituents information gathered from other sources.
“The trial court did not exceed its authority in imposing the gag order as a condition of access to the body-cam footage,” Dillon said.
The Greensboro Police Department cleared the officers involved of wrongdoing, and the city’s Police Community Review Board, which investigates complaints from the public, viewed the footage in March 2018 and closed the case.
An attorney representing the city of Greensboro, Patrick Kane, said by email Tuesday that city officials were evaluating their options going forward in the case.
GREENSBORO — Get to know your neighbor.
It’s why most people said they came out to one of the 140 events around Greensboro Tuesday for the annual National Night Out — they wanted to meet someone new.
National Night Out also is a great event for law enforcement to get out in calmer environments and build relationships with their community, said Greensboro Police Deputy Chief Brian James, who oversees the patrol division.
The national event encourages community partnership between officers and residents. Greensboro has won more than 20 national awards for their participation in the event.
In the Village of Carriage Woods neighborhood, Rebecca O’Ferrell organized an event that had families sharing fried chicken and fish and playing basketball with officers.
“People can come out here and express their opinions on what is going on in the neighborhood and express issues, problems or things they want to see improved,” she said.
At another spot, Sgt. R.B. Todd, who works as a recruiter for the police department, was blowing bubbles with children and one of his newest recruits, Dan Ware. He said it is easy to get distracted by day-to-day work and miss out on socializing with the community.
“This is the night we carve out every year to go out and be with people,” Todd said.
Ware, who moved to the city this week, said the event was helping him get acclimated and meet the people he’s about to serve.
“This is a fantastic city and I want to be a part of it,” he said.
At various events throughout town children were playing together with officers and firefighters.
At one site, a police officer pulled a stuffed animal out of his trunk to give to a small child.
Todd and Ware were in College Hill with James who was hula hooping nearby.
City Manager David Parrish was walking past looking for ice cream or a hot dog with mustard, chili and slaw.
There was no shortage of food including pizza, sushi, fish, hamburgers and hot dogs.
Parrish said he appreciates that he and city staff can get out into neighborhoods, learn about residents’ problems and really see how they are making a difference.
“We can come out here and continue to make and solidify relationships with people,” Parrish said. “If someone has a question we can give them a card and make that connection.
“One of my core beliefs is that we’re people-centered.”
At the Village of Carriage Woods gathering, two families could be heard discussing an issue with a loose dog.
And soon Karen Ellis, principal of Northern Middle School, walked by.
She uses National Night Out as a chance to get to know her students and let them know she is not just a face at their school.
“We’re not at school and I miss them,” Ellis said.
Cyclists on the Hope Ride almost got taken out by an ostrich crossing the asphalt in front of them one year.
In places along their route, the road has the texture of crunchy peanut butter. But the impetus for being there, in the heart of Africa, can be found in a blog post from a previous trip from David Crabtree, the senior pastor of Calvary Church in Greensboro. He came up with the idea to raise money for humanitarian missions, including fresh water wells, in some of the most remote locations in west Zambia.
He wrote: ”While I was riding today, I was thinking about the children we ride for ... Kutulu, a palsied little girl who sits in the shadows, watched over by her grandfather … dancing girl, whose name I have not discovered, though I have seen her bright smile at the children’s church on the past two Hope Rides, dressed in the same ragged clothing … the 10-year-old kid paddling a leaking dugout canoe across the crocodile-infested river … I think about the hope I have in Christ, and the longing for them to know this hope, and the call I feel to help.”
This year’s Hope Ride participants — ranging from a Realtor to a retired Navy SEAL — arrived in South Africa on Monday and started their trek Tuesday.
Those riders pay their own way and got pledges and sponsors to help underwrite the building of new wells — more than 169 thus far in villages in proximity to the most crocodile-infested river in the world, the Zambezi River, where water collected by villagers is only a few shades lighter than chocolate milk.
Watching a well being dug is mesmerizing for the families affected — and the cyclists, still. By the time the water comes gurgling out of the ground, the villagers are often cheering.
“To give to people without getting anything in return — there’s a beauty to that,” said 2018 rider and coach Matt Clancy, who was a sponsor before joining the team.
And the wells are springing up. Every $5,000 secures a new one.
The idea of pairing cycling with mission work came to the passionate but pragmatic pastor in 2009, about the time the once avid runner turned his attention and energy to cycling and 200-mile rides along the Outer Banks.
“It was somewhere around 150 miles into (one) ride that it suddenly struck me that I’m passionate about this, but this passion isn’t connected to any purpose,” Crabtree said.
Eventually, Crabtree linked up with an organization called Reaching a Generation in South Africa that led to a 600-mile path.
August, when the ride takes place, is spring in the southern African country of Zambia, where road signs warning travelers about dangerous animals are common.
“When I started, I thought maybe before I die I’m going to raise a million dollars on the back of this bicycle,” Crabtree said.
The effort has surpassed a million dollars. But the need remains. The group also helps to sustain children’s churches, feeding programs, sustainable farming, girls homes and church plants.
After Monday’s 16-hour non-stop flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg, the group traveled for two hours into the bush north of Mokopane, South Africa, where they would later take off from their base in the Waterberg Mountains.
They’ll spend six days on their bicycling trek.
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RALEIGH — A survivor of the mass shooting at UNC-Charlotte this spring and Democratic state politicians are urging action on stalled gun-control legislation.
Shooting survivor Drew Pescaro lamented Tuesday that the April 30 attack at the university didn’t prompt the Republican-run General Assembly to act.
Pescaro said two Democrat-sponsored bills long stalled in committees might have prevented a gunman from killing two and wounding four in his Charlotte classroom. He raised his shirt to show bullet holes in his abdomen and back.
North Carolina’s legislature hasn’t passed gun control legislation since 2015. But in the wake of this weekend’s mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, pressure is building to change that.
Several bills changing gun policy have stalled in committee, and on Monday Gov. Roy Cooper and four House Democrats urged pulling two of them out for debate.
House Bill 86 would restrict who can obtain firearms. Currently, North Carolina requires either a concealed-carry permit or a sheriff-issued pistol purchase permit to buy a handgun, but long guns including assault-style rifles can be bought with only a state ID and a background check at the counter.
Under HB 86, long guns like rifles would also require a permit, and there would be a 72-hour waiting period before the buyer could take the gun home.
“This includes the weapons that were used in the mass shootings this weekend,” said Rep. Christy Clark, a Mecklenburg Democrat who’s co-sponsoring the bill with Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Guilford County Democrat, and Reps. Marcia Morey and Shelly Willingham. They filed a discharge petition to pry HB 86 and another bill out of committee.
HB 86 had 42 signatures and HB 454 46 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon, the News & Observer reported. No Republicans had signed on at that point. Sixty-one signatures are required for the petition to work.
There is no deadline for securing enough signatures outside the adjournment of the legislative session.
House Clerk James White told the paper that no discharge petition has been successful in at least 20 years.
Harrison said she hoped that a successful discharge petition would spark “a bipartisan discussion about how to make North Carolina safer.”
“This issue should unite us in a common purpose and that purpose is to use our best efforts to protect our citizens from gun violence,” she said.
Republican state Rep. Jon Hardister of Whitsett said he plans to “review the bills as well as other ideas that come up.”
“We can’t ignore the fact that steps need to be taken to protect public safety,” Hardister said. “We need to work closely with law enforcement and mental health experts in this process.”
A spokesman for Republican state Senate President Phil Berger of Eden said that he “is always willing to listen to proposed solutions on any topic.”
But Berger also “is concerned about whether some of the ideas being discussed by Democrats at press conferences following the shootings would have stopped the recent tragedies,” said Berger press aide Bill D’Elia.
The New York Times reported that the weapon used in Sunday’s Dayton shooting was an AR-15 assault rifle, the same one as the Parkland school shooting in Florida last year. HB 86 would also ban high-capacity ammunition magazines, which were used in both of the weekend’s shootings, the Times reported.
“No one needs a high-capacity magazine,” said Becky Ceartas, executive director of North Carolinians Against Gun Violence, which supports the bill.
HB 86 would also restrict assault-style weapons from anyone under the age of 21. Currently, the legal age in North Carolina is 18.
Other measures in the bill would require residents to purchase firearm liability insurance, to reduce the recognition of concealed-carry permits issued by other states, and to ban trigger cranks and bump stocks, the latter of which was federally outlawed last year.
Paul Valone, president of North Carolina’s largest gun rights group, Grass Roots North Carolina, called the measure “the we-want-everything” bill. Valone said the answer to mass shootings isn’t limiting access to firearms, and that his organization opposed every one of the bill’s measures.
Valone’s solution is simple: “Mass killers avoid armed victims.” His group advocates for opening up carrying laws to allow guns to be borne in more areas than currently permitted to discourage shooters from targeting unarmed civilians.
Valone also decried the second of the bills Cooper endorsed Monday, HB 454. It’s what’s called an extreme risk protection or “red flag law,” and allows people to file a court order to take away the weapons of someone who they think may be a danger to themselves or others.
“The shooter in El Paso was clearly a white supremacist, and somebody must have seen warning signs,” Ceartas said. The bill would pull people’s weapons for a one- to three-week “waiting period,” and is aimed at reducing both shootings and suicides — the largest group of gun deaths.
Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia currently have some type of “red flag” law on the books.
“It’s more than just the mass shootings,” said Grace McClain of the Charlotte chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. “There’s more that we can do to keep our families safe.”
McClain cited the growing number of gun deaths in the country, as well as the high murder rate in Charlotte this year as reasons to enact the two laws.
Her group is focused on petitioning North Carolina’s two U.S. senators to vote on a national background check bill that passed the House five months ago. Both U.S. Sens. Thom Tillis and Richard Burr were among the top four most well-funded congressman by the National Rifle Association last year.
Clark said the NRA’s influence over North Carolina’s Republican-majority legislature is one reason the state has stalled on gun control legislation.
Other gun control bills have also lingered in committee. HB 842 would require the registration of all assault-style weapons, as well as the reporting of any lost firearms. And HB 816 would lay out how weapons could be stored in vehicles.
There are also proposed N.C. bills that would reduce limits on gun ownership, such as one that proposes doing away with the concealed-carry system. And Valone’s group supports a bill to train more teachers to carry in schools.
In order for the bills supported by Cooper and the four representatives to leave committee and reach the House floor for debate and a vote, the discharge petition would require 61 votes in a House with 55 Democrats.