A week after Julius "Juice" Sampson was shot to death outside BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse at Hanes Mall, Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines said he would ensure police conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into all possible motives.
But most of the multiple 911 calls that might provide the public information about the shooting were sealed Friday by a Forsyth County judge. The judge said releasing the 911 calls would jeopardize the chances of a fair trial and possibly undermine an ongoing police investigation.
Race has emerged as an issue in the case. Winston-Salem police confirmed that Robert Anthony Granato, the man charged in Sampson's death, used a racial epithet during an argument with Sampson inside the restaurant on Aug. 6. The two men, police said, continued the altercation outside the restaurant and that Granato pulled a gun and shot Sampson. Granato is white; Sampson is black.
Police have said both men used a racial epithet during the altercation but have declined to give any other details about the epithet, including what it was and who used it first.
A source close to the investigation has told the Journal that Granato used the racial epithet after Sampson defended a female bartender.
Winston-Salem Police Chief Catrina Thompson said last week that investigators have not uncovered any evidence suggesting that the shooting was racially motivated. The state NAACP held a news conference last week, demanding a full investigation of all possible motives in the shooting.
"We can ensure that this will be a full, public and transparent investigation," Joines said Monday.
Winston-Salem police have released limited information about the case, saying they do not want to hurt an active investigation or derail a successful prosecution.
Judge David Hall of Forsyth Superior Court has sealed five 911 calls in the shooting. In his order, Hall said he reviewed the recordings and determined that the calls contain details about the shooting that are not known to the public and "that release of same could jeopardize the right of the State and the defendant to a fair trial and/or undermine an ongoing criminal investigation if disseminated to the public pre-trial."
The city released two 911 calls -- one that is a minute long and another that is about 30 seconds long. The calls are from two unidentified women who want to make sure that police are responding to the shooting. The woman in the minute-long call said she heard a popping sound and saw a man drop to the ground. In both calls, the dispatcher tells the women that police have received multiple calls about the shooting and that police are on route to the scene.
Joines made his statements during a news conference Monday morning in City Council Chambers. A number of elected officials stood behind him, including Council Members Denise D. Adams, Robert Clark, Dan Besse, Annette Scippio, John Larson and Jeff MacIntosh. Dave Plyler, chairman of the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners, and Commissioner Flemming El-Amin also attended. State House Representatives Paul Lowe, Donny Lambeth, Evelyn Terry and Derwin Montgomery were also there.
The news conference follows pointed criticism from Arnita Miles, a former Winston-Salem police officer who, in a letter she sent to members of the Winston-Salem City Council last week, raised questions about the investigation.
Miles, a friend of Sampson's who organized a vigil last Wednesday, criticized the police department for not interviewing several witnesses, including a retired state trooper shown in a witness' Facebook video helping to subdue Granato immediately after the shooting.
She also said staff members from Olive Garden saw the shooting but have not been interviewed by police.
One of the witnesses she referenced told the Journal that he has since been interviewed twice about the shooting, including on Monday. That witness declined to comment further on the shooting.
Miles also raised questions about Winston-Salem police officers' response time. She said a shift change before the shooting may have affected how long it took for police and paramedics to arrive. She also said there was a delay in police clearing the scene so that paramedics could get access to Sampson.
Dan Ozimek, the director of Forsyth County EMS, said from the time EMS was dispatched, it took paramedics a total of seven minutes to get to Sampson, who was declared dead at the scene.
In an emailed response to questions from the Journal on Friday, Thompson said she would not respond specifically to Miles' letter and that she was focused on the police investigation.
In a video posted to Facebook by Evaristo Amador Guerrero, the first officer arrives while Granato is being subdued by witnesses. Another police car comes to the scene within two minutes.
Thompson was at the news conference but did not speak. She said shift changes have nothing to do with response times.
On Monday, Montgomery said people in the community, particularly black people, have every right to question the investigation, and pressure from the community helps to ensure that the investigation is thorough. But he also urged people to be patient and to trust in the process.
The Ministers Conference of Winston-Salem and Vicinity also announced it had established a fund in Julius Sampson's honor at Mechanics & Farmers Bank. The Rev. Tembila Covington, the conference's president, said the money in the account will go toward supporting Sampson's wife, Keyia Sampson, and her family.
"We want to be in support of her," she said. "That was our initial message and that's what we're doing."
Granato is being held in the Forsyth County Jail without bond on the murder charge. He is scheduled to appear in Forsyth District Court on Aug. 22.
Funeral services for Julius "Juice" Sampson Jr. are scheduled for 1 p.m. today at Union Baptist Church, 1200 Trade St.