Bowing out awkwardly

by YES! Weekly staff

With the changing of the guards in both Greensboro, where a new mayor and three new city council members won election earlier this month, and Winston-Salem, which will see three new members when the next council takes their seat, a couple high-profile law enforcement types have decided that now is as good a time as any to be hitting the bricks.

Forsyth County District Attorney Tom Keith formally announced his retirement last week after 19 years on the job. His last day will be on Friday.

And while we respect anyone who puts in a couple decades on what is essentially a public service job, we cannot say that Keith has had a flawless reign.

A lot happened on Tom Keith’s watch. His office came to more accurately reflect the demographic make-up of Forsyth County since 1990; it placed a new emphasis on domestic violence and tried more than 1,000 felony cases and, according to his retirement statement, “has convicted more firstdegree murderers of capital murder than any other county in the state, and has convicted all but 20 out of 421 defendants charged with murder.”

Unfortunately, one of those convicted murderers was Darryl Hunt, who was released from jail more than 19 years after it was proven that Keith had imprisoned the wrong man, a decision Keith defended until the fact could no longer be credibly denied. Remember, DNA evidence cleared Hunt of sexual assault in 1994. He didn’t get out of jail for another 10 years, and Keith had a lot to do with that.

His legacy will forever be stained by his actions in that case.

And it’s important to remember that Kalvin Michael Smith still sits in jail for the assault of Jill Marker, a thin conviction that is disturbingly reminiscent of Hunt’s. Keith will go on, his statement said, “to pursue several law enforcement related and crime prevention projects” while Smith awaits justice.

Over in Greensboro, police Chief Tim Bellamy, who was installed in 2007 after the events that precipitated the exit of his predecessor, David Wray, announced he would be retiring in the next 12 months.

Not that we blame him. Mayor-elect Bill Knight has publicly stated that Bellamy got the position strictly because of his race, and told the News & Record, “[Bellamy]’s a good No. 2 man. He’s a good No. 3 man. He’s not a No. 1 man.”

Faint praise indeed. Bellamy leaves controversy in his wake as well. Under his leadership the department has failed to regain full trust and confidence from the public after the events surrounding his appointment. The department seems to remain split along racial lines, as evidenced by pending lawsuits brought by more than 40 black officers against the city.

On the plus side, crime is down, but metrics like that, it seems, have a small role in the evaluation of Bellamy’s legacy.

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