2010, the Year That Was
James Baldwin, the American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist, is credited with saying, “People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.” 2010 will soon be part of our collective history, so it bears looking back on the events of the past 12 months to understand the events that shaped our lives. Here’s a breakdown of the top 10 stories of 2010 as chronicled in the pages of YES! Weekly.
Alcoa controversy heats up
In January, Dean Najouks, the Yadkin Riverkeeper, expressed confidence that Stanly County would win its pending appeal of a water quality certification issued by the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources, or NC DENR, to aluminum-maker Alcoa for the Yadkin Hydroelectric Project.
In July, NC Sen. Fletcher Hartsell (R-Cabarrus) took the unprecedented step of issuing a subpoena for work tapes and materials compiled by former UNC-TV senior legislative correspondent Eszter Vajda during her investigation into alleged PCB, PAH, cyanide, arsenic and fluoride contamination of Badin Lake and the Yadkin River by Alcoa’s Badin Works facility.
Hartsell, a co-sponsor of the Yadkin River Trust bill, was looking to build support for the legislation. The Yadkin River Trust bill would have created a vehicle for the state to regain the water rights to the 38-mile stretch of the Yadkin River that encompasses four hydroelectric dams in the event the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission denied Alcoa’s relicensing application. Ultimately, the General Assembly passed a bill that established the Uwharrie Resources Commission instead.
By September, the lawsuit filed by the Yadkin Riverkeeper and Stanly County was being heard in a Raleigh courtroom. On Dec. 1. Coleen Sullins, director of the NC Division of Water Quality (DWQ), sent a certified letter to Alcoa officials, notifying the company that it was revoking its water quality license after learning the aluminum-maker submitted “incorrect” information to DWQ as part of its application for a new license and “intentionally withheld information material to determining the project’s ability to meet the state’s water quality standards.”
In November, a source within Alcoa Power Generating Inc. told YES! Weekly that the company has experienced problems with at least one of its hydroelectric dams and those problems posed a significant environmental and public health risk. On Dec. 10, NC Sen. Stan Bingham (R-Davidson) requested that the Environmental Protection Agency conduct a criminal investigation of Alcoa for alleged violations of the Clean Water Act at its hydroelectric dams on the Yadkin River. The allegations leveled by the anonymous source against Alcoa in the Nov. 10 edition of YES! Weekly spurred Bingham to action, according to a press release.
Republicans make gains in midterm elections
Republicans made significant gains statewide on Nov. 2.
US Sen. Richard Burr defeated Elaine Marshall, the NC Secretary of State, by winning 55 percent of the vote on election night.
Burr became the first person re-elected to that Senate seat since Sam Ervin accomplished the feat in 1968.
Bill Whiteheart, a Republican, defeated Democrat incumbent Ted Kaplan in the Forsyth County Commission at-large race. In the District B race, Republican incumbent Debra Conrad defeated Stan Dean by winning 63 percent of the vote. In the US House District 5 race, Republican incumbent Virginia Foxx easily defeated Democratic challenger Billy Kennedy, winning 66 percent of the vote.
A number of incumbent Democrats maintained their seats in the midterm elections.
In the US House District 12 race, Democrat Mel Watt won a 10 th term in Congress by defeating Republican challenger Greg Dority. Democratic incumbent Linda Garrou easily defeated Republican challenger Nathan Jones in the NC Senate District 32 race, and Democrat Earline Parmon cruised to a victory over Republican challenger John Magee in the District 72 race.
In the NC House District 74 race, Republican incumbent Dale Folwell triumphed over Democratic challenger Cristina Vazquez by winning nearly 70 percent of the vote as Republicans seized control of the both the NC House and NC Senate.
Guilford County bucked the national and statewide trends. The GOP failed to pick up seats in Guilford County races. Maggie Jeffus fended off a challenge from Republican Theresa Yon in NC House District 59, prevailing by a 5-percent margin, while her colleague, Pricey Harrison, bested Republican Jon Hardister with an 11-point spread. In NC Senate District 28, Gladys Robinson prevailed over Republican Trudy Wade by more than 4,000 votes. Democrat Don Vaughan, a one-term incumbent, won by a solid 19-percent margin in NC Senate District 27 against tea party-inspired Republican challenger Jeff Hyde.
GPD controversy intensifies
Controversy surrounding the Greensboro Police Department escalated throughout 2010.
In February, Assistant Chief Ronald Rogers was placed on suspension. Rogers, 49, is a plaintiff, along with 38 other black police officers, in a federal lawsuit alleging racial discrimination by the GPD. The disciplinary action against Rogers arose from a sexual harassment allegation made against the assistant chief by a former police employee, Latania Marrow, at her termination hearing.
Rogers subsequently filed suit against the city of Greensboro seeking a court order to vacate a disciplinary action by the city manager, but the suit was dismissed by a Guilford County judge.
On June 7, Capt. Charles Cherry was placed on administrative leave by the Greensboro Police Department. Cherry stated in an e-mail that he had assisted four separate officers who came to him and asked his help in writing grievances on unrelated issues. In July, Cherry called for a US Justice Department investigation of the department. In August, Cherry’s firing led dozens of pastors and clergy to sign a letter to the US Department of Justice requesting an “immediate intervention” into the culture of corruption within the department. In September, Robert Reyes, a Greensboro police officer who was reinstated following suspension and recommended termination was once again under investigation for possibly violating departmental regulations regarding disclosing personal medical information about Officer DA Pinson.
In November, two NC A&T University seniors ended up spending the night in jail after a traffic stop that they contend amounted to racial profiling. They say officers gave false information to a magistrate, resulting in unlawful detention.
Downtown Babylon remains in the spotlight
A shooting outside the N Club in Greensboro’s downtown entertainment district this fall appeared to strike a nerve among local business leaders.
The incident prompted Milton Kern, a developer connected with plans to build a luxury hotel near the International Civil Rights Center and Museum, to call for the nightclub’s closure.
In the early morning hours of Oct. 28, a 22-year-old Winston-Salem man named Quinton Dewayne Campbell, who was wanted on multiple warrants, left the N Club as part of one of two groups that reportedly exchanged words inside. Campbell reportedly turned and began firing into the other group from the corner of South Elm Street and February One Place.
Greensboro police Cpl. JM Atkins, who happened to be on the scene, repeatedly ordered Campbell to drop the weapon, according to police. When Campbell reportedly leveled the gun at the officer, Atkins fired his weapon at the shooter, hitting him in the chest and leg. A request made by YES! Weekly to the Greensboro Police Department for service calls for six nightclubs that regularly accommodate large crowds found that 117 S. Elm St., the address corresponding to the N Club, ranks behind addresses for Greene Street Club and Inferno. Over the past six months, police have responded to 85 calls for 113 N. Greene St., the address of Greene Street Club; to 60 calls for 212 S. Elm St., where Inferno is located; and to 53 calls associated with the N Club.
The nightclub closed briefly for repairs, but reopened as Allure Nightlife on Nov. 27.
During a November community forum, Greensboro police Chief Ken Miller said he had met with nightclub owner Rocco Scarfone, Downtown Greensboro Inc. and members of city council to discuss the incident, but emphasized that violent crime is down overall in Greensboro.
DEVELOPMENTS IN SILK PLANT FOREST CASE
In March, Winston-Salem Police Chief Scott announced that some of the evidence seized by police investigators during their investigation of the 1995 Silk Plant Forest-Jill Marker assault case had never been sent out for testing. The discovery of the untested evidence resulted from the department’s internal review of the case. The evidence — comprised of Jill Marker’s clothes and a piece of cardboard with blood and hair on it— was sent to the SBI Crime Lab in Raleigh for testing “to determine if it contains any identifiable forensic information,” Cunningham said. The evidence was sent to the State Bureau of Investigation Crime Lab for testing, but it only revealed links to Marker. However, some hair fibers found on Marker’s clothing didn’t belong to the victim, nor did they belong to Smith or any other suspect in the case, Cunningham said.
On July 21, Cunningham announced that a second round of “touch” DNA testing on clothes worn by Jill Marker did not reveal male DNA. Cunningham said detectives delivered new cheek swabs taken from Marker and Kalvin Michael Smith, the man convicted of brutally assaulting Marker while robbing the Silk Plant Forest shop on Dec. 9, 1995, to LabCorp in Research Triangle Park for comparison purposes. Cunningham also said blood samples from a “subject of interest” were delivered to LabCorp for DNA comparison.
In November, an internal review committee of the police department concluded that the Silk Plant Forest case should remain closed. The internal review flew in the face of the Silk Plant Forest Citizens’ Review Committee report, which stated the nine-member citizens committee had no confidence in the police department’s investigation of the Silk Plant Forest case.
NC A&T SUPPRESSES INFORMATION IN INVESTIGATION OF STUDENT’S DEATH
On Aug. 19, Jospin “Andre” Milandu, a student at NC A&T University, collapsed during a track tryout at Belk Track in the Aggie football stadium. The university attributed the 20-year-old sophomore’s death to “complications of an elevated heart rate.”
University administrators acknowledged three violations of university and NCAA policies: The university did not have physical examinations on file for Milandu or 28 other prospective student athletes who participated in the tryouts; there was no signed waiver on file for Milandu; and no trainer was on site during the tryout.
An official release by the university on the day of Milandu’s death characterized the activity as “a supervised, voluntary track team open tryout.”
By Aug. 31, the university had appended an additional descriptor: “unscheduled track tryout.” Tightly controlled information releases regulated by the university’s legal counsel have gradually expanded the body of information available about the circumstances of Milandu’s death and how university policies were violated, without shedding much light on how those violations might be related to the fatality or how an understanding of the incident might prevent future tragedies.
UNC-TV EMBROILED IN FIRST AMENDMENT CONTROVERSY
Former UNC-TV reporter Eszter Vajda denied that she helped orchestrate a subpoena issued by the NC Senate Judiciary II Committee for footage she compiled during her investigative story on Alcoa’s efforts to retain control of a 38-mile stretch of the Yadkin River that includes the aluminum giant’s four hydroelectric dams. But internal documents released by UNC-TV in August reveal that Vajda was pleased by a highly controversial decision by NC Sen. Fletcher Hartsell (R-Cabarrus) and Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight (D-Dare) to issue a subpoena for all of Vajda’s work tapes on behalf of the NC Senate Judiciary II Committee on July 1.
“Hartsell is saving my ass!” Vajda said in a June 30 e-mail to North Carolina Public Radio reporter Laura Leslie.
On Aug. 17, UNC-TV fired Vajda, a six-year veteran of the station. The more than 5,800 pages of internal documents released by UNC- TV show that the station’s management team was deeply concerned about Hartsell’s actions and opposed turning over Vajda’s work tapes to the committee.
Complying with the Senate committee’s subpoena for Alcoa footage would cast doubt on UNC-TV’s impartiality and objectivity, which would be a breach of journalism ethics, Shannon Vickery, UNC-TV’s director of production, stated in an e-mail.
Still, UNC-TV handed over Vajda’s work tapes to the NC Senate Judiciary II Committee, and the committee publicly screened Vajda’s documentary, The Alcoa Story, before grilling Alcoa executives on the company’s record of environmental stewardship. In retrospect, Vajda acknowledged that the subpoena of the Alcoa footage was “the worst thing that could’ve happened.”
Attempt to weaken Greensboro residential inspection program stalled
In July, a task force set up to recommend changes to Greensboro’s model rental housing inspection ordinance faced uncertainty after Donna Newton, advisor to the Greensboro Neighborhood Congress, made it clear she would oppose any compromise. Newton pointed out that proponents of the city’s Rental Unit Certificate of Occupancy, or RUCO program had already met representatives of the real estate industry halfway two years ago.
“We have already compromised when we went from full-on inspections to sampling,” Newton said. “A ‘trust-me’ system — ‘We’re going to do everything right, and everything’s going to be fine’ — is not believable.”
Ultimately, talks broke down and the ordinance remained unchanged.
City of Greensboro and Hairston Apartments residents reach settlement
In February, JT Hairston Memorial Apartments resident LaTonya Stimpson won a reprieve from a looming eviction in a Guilford County courtroom. The city of Greensboro had sought a temporary restraining order against Hairston apartments to delay Stimpson’s eviction long enough to allow a fair housing specialist to complete an investigation into allegations of discrimination at the public housing project. Assistant City Attorney Jamiah Waterman said it was the first time the city had ever intervened in an eviction since its fair housing ordinance was adopted in 1991.
In June, a settlement was reached in a lawsuit filed by the city on behalf of Stimpson, which allows her to retain possession of her apartment, requires Westminster Co. to revoke all lease violations against Stimpson, erase any alleged debts and revise the public housing community’s practices, rules and regulations.