Durham DA: I will seek “a just resolution” in Confederate monument cases

Durham County District Attorney Roger Echols

Durham County District Attorney Roger Echols made a public statement Thursday on the cases of 8 activists so far charged in the toppling of a Confederate monument in Durham on Monday.

Echols took no questions after the statement, saying to do so would be a violation of the rules of professional conduct.

His statement in full:

“I am waiting to receive the full investigation material from the Durham County Sheriff’s department, including the video used to identify those charged.

I will not prosecute any people who simply participated in the protest and were not directly involved in destruction of the monument. I will ask the county manager to consult with the county commissioners and provide me with a proper financial value for the monument and the cost of cleanup.

As District Attorney for Durham, it is my job to seek a just resolution in this matter. A just resolution will include an analysis of the property damage. A just resolution must also include balancing accountability for the actual destruction of property and violation of the law with the climate in which these actions were undertaken. Justice requires that I must take into account the pain of the recent events in Charlottesville and the pain in Durham and the nation. Justice requires that I consider that Durham citizens have no proper recourse for asking our local government to relocate or remove this monument. Justice also requires that I be aware that asking people to be patient and to let various government institutions address injustice is sometimes asking more than those who have been historically ignored, marginalized or harmed by a system cane bare.

Thank you for your attention and for your support of Durham and our vibrant community.”

Four activists were arrested earlier this week: Takiyah Fatima Thompson, 22; Dante Emmanuel Strobino, 35; Peter Hull Gilbert, 36; and Ngoc Loan Tran, 24.

Thompson, who climbed the statue and affixed a rope to help pull it down, was arrested on Tuesday. The arrests of Strobino, Tran and Gilbert all followed on Wednesday.

On Thursday another four turned themselves in to the Durham Sheriff’s Department. They are Aaron Caldwell, 24;  Elena Everett, 37; Taylor Alexander Jun Cook, 24 and Raul Mauro Arce Jimenez, 26.

All eight activists have been charged with disorderly conduct by injury to a statue and damage to real property. Those are both which are both misdemeanors. They are also charged with participation in a riot with property damage in excess of $1,500 and inciting others to riot where property damage exceeds $1,500, both of which are felonies.

A rally was held Thursday at which supporters of those arrested called for the dropping of charges. Dozens also offered to be arrested to symbolically share responsibility for the toppling of the monument, but the Sheriff’s department declined to arrest anyone without an active warrant.



Justin Burr files campaign finance report 16 days late

Rep. Justin Burr

Rep. Justin Burr

Rep. Justin Burr (R-Montgomery, Stanly) filed his mid-year semi annual campaign finance report 16 days late.

It was first reported last week that the five-term Republican legislator had yet to file the report, which was due July 31. He filed it Wednesday without any receipts.

Burr did not return an email asking why it took so long to file the report. He did not receive any contributions from the beginning of the year through the end of June, according to the report. His campaign spent $6,330.45 during the same time period.

Expenses included $500 per month for rent for an apartment, a $1,024.90 hotel expense in Arlington, Va. for President Donald Trump’s inauguration and two different photography expenses totaling $845.

Burr’s campaign donated $70 to the North Carolina Republican Party and $100 to the North Carolina Committee to Elect Republican Women.

Other expenses include communication costs, district phone bills and other random “operating expenses.”

At the end of the reporting period, Burr’s campaign reported $1,315.24 in “cash on hand.” You can read the report here.

The State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement can fine Burr up to $50 per day for each day his report was not filed, but the fine cannot exceed $500. Burr was already assessed a fine earlier this year for being late filing a report.

His fourth quarter 2016 campaign finance report was due Jan. 11 and not filed until Jan. 17. He was assessed a $150 penalty which the Board waived “for good cause.”

Commentary, News

The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. Merit or maps? Judges’ futures could come down to clashing legislative proposals
Senate favors form of merit selection for judges as alternative to House judicial redistricting bill

The fate of judicial selection in North Carolina may come down to a clash between the House and Senate.

The N.C. Association of District Court Judges was presented last Friday with a potential “alternative” to judicial redistricting – a merit selection plan with which Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger is testing the waters.

The nonprofit organization hired lobbyists Chuck Neely and Rick Zechini, both of Williams Mullen, earlier this month and Neely brought Berger’s chief of staff Jim Blaine to a meeting of the group’s board of governors last Friday to discuss merit selection.

It’s the first time the judges had been approached about the process, which would require a constitutional amendment and approval from North Carolina voters. [Read more…]

*** Bonus read: Lawmakers announce 7 public hearing locations for input on new proposed, but still secret, legislative maps

2. Americans want the Affordable Care Act improved not undermined

Here is something you probably haven’t heard much lately, if at all, given the shocking news from Charlottesville and the disturbing reaction by President Trump.

Roughly 80 percent of Americans believe that Trump and his administration should do all they can to make the Affordable Care Act work while only 17 percent believe they should try to make the law fail so they can replace it.

The numbers come from a recent survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation that also found that even more than half of the supporters of President Trump want him to do what he can to make the law work.

That hasn’t stopped Republican members of Congress from continuing to push for repeal of the ACA or to continue to misrepresent the bill they supported earlier this summer to allegedly replace it. [Read more…]

3. The thing that wouldn’t leave
Lawmakers to return to Raleigh yet again; agenda may include dangerous “de-reg” proposal

The North Carolina General Assembly will return to Raleigh yet again this week. Despite abysmal poll numbers, the toxic national political environment and their close association with a president of the United States who continues to set new standards for mendacity and outrageous behavior, legislative leaders will commence yet another special session on Friday to take up any number of matters that could include gubernatorial vetoes, new legislative maps, pending legislation from the “long session” that adjourned in June and maybe even constitutional amendments. Despite the Friday-at-noon start time, actual legislative action is not expected to get underway in earnest until next week – emphasis on the word expected.

That members of the general public (and even close observers) have only a general idea of what might be on the legislative agenda is, of course, par for the course these days.[Read more…]

4. People rally in Durham to support activists in toppling of confederate statues
More than 100 people rallied outside the Durham County magistrate’s office Thursday morning, calling for the county to drop charges against activists who toppled a Confederate statue Monday.

Three activists for whom the sheriff’s office had outstanding warrants related to Monday’s protest turned themselves in Thursday. Dozens symbolically lined up to take responsibility for the toppling of the statue in solidarity but were not arrested or booked.

Among those who were booked Thursday were Aaron Caldwell, 24, of Raleigh and Elena Everett, 37, of Durham. The name of the third activist charged could not be immediately confirmed early Thursday.

Later in the day, Taylor Alexander Jun Cook, 24, also turned himself over to  Durham County Sheriff’s Office. [Read more…]
***Bonus read:
Senate President: Governor “reactionary” in call to remove Confederate monuments, legislature unlikely to repeal 2015 law

***Bonus audio interview: Dr. Michael Bitzer: Trump’s”baffling” remarks requires GOP to take a stand against “repugnant” racism

5. DEQ had GenX info under Secretary Donald van der Vaart; under Michael Regan, delay attributed to scheduling conflicts

Donald van der Vaart, former Department of Environmental Quality secretary, was in charge when state officials first learned last fall there could be a problem with GenX in the Lower Cape Fear River. And the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority knew even earlier.

But not until June of this year, when the Star-News in Wilmington reviewed and reported on the study, did DEQ under the current administration begin to investigate the presence of GenX in drinking water.

According to a letter sent Aug. 14 from DEQ and the Health and Human Services department to  Sen. Bill Cook, and copied to the Senate and House leadership, in November 2016, “the previous administration” received a research report from the EPA and NC State University scientists regarding the Cape Fear watershed. This study, conducted in part by NC State professor Detlaf Knappe, showed GenX was present in the Lower Cape Fear and in untreated water at the Cape Fear utility. [Read more…]


Senate President: Governor “reactionary” in call to remove Confederate monuments, legislature unlikely to repeal 2015 law

When the General Assembly convenes in special session Friday, don’t expect lawmakers to rush to repeal a 2015 state law that prevents cities and counties from removing or relocating Confederate monuments.

Governor Roy Cooper called for the repeal of the law on Tuesday in response to recent violence in  Charlottesville, Virginia and the toppling of a confederate statue in Durham Monday night.

Senate President Pro-Tem Phil Berger responded to the governor’s appeal on Facebook Thursday:

Personally, I do not think an impulsive decision to pull down every Confederate monument in North Carolina is wise. In my opinion, rewriting history is a fool’s errand, and those trying to rewrite history unfortunately are likely taking a first step toward repeating it. Two years ago, the state Senate unanimously passed a bill that tried to reduce the politics in making these decisions. I believe many current members of the Senate would be hesitant to begin erasing our state and country’s history by replacing that process with a unilateral removal of all monuments with no public discourse.

I don’t have a lot of answers about what we can do to heal the wounds of racial injustice that still exist in our state and country. But I know it won’t happen with angry mobs. It won’t happen with opportunistic politicians trying to drive a wedge further between us. It will require our leaders to show some humility and compassion as we try to chart a path forward.

Berger also said the governor “falsely protrayed” House Bill 330 that would grant immunity from civil liability to a motorist who strikes a demonstrator with their vehicle.

HB 330 passed the House in April and possibly could see action by the Senate in an upcoming special session, if leadership decides to advance it.

You can read Senator Berger’s full statement about Charlottesville and Durham here.


What ‘Schoolhouse Rock’ didn’t tell you: How House Bill 589, the renewable energy law, was made


Rep. John Szoka (Photo: General Assembly)

R ep. John Szoka, who lives in Fayetteville, but is originally from Ohio, was present during a pivotal moment in modern environmental history.

“I remember when the Cuyahoga River burned” in 1969, Szoka, a three-term Republican, told the NC Energy Policy Council this week. The result of pollution, the blaze ushered in a new era of environmentalism, including the creation of the EPA.

Considering a major river ignited in his home state, Szoka nonetheless has a conservative-leaning environmental history. For example, he supported a measure that would have wrestled control from local governments to regulate the cutting of trees for the placement of billboards.

But he is interesting in solar energy, and after failing to advance renewables legislation in the 2015-2016 session (third-party solar energy sales were unpalatable for Duke) he was the leading co-sponsor on House Bill 589: hard-fought, flawed, fast-tracked, but as-good-as-we’re-going-to-get-under-the-circumstances legislation that could further spur the growth of solar power and imposes an 18-month moratorium on wind energy. It is now law.

The NC Energy Policy Council is an appointed board operating under the auspices of the NC Department of Environmental Quality. Its members heard from Szoka and the special interest groups that helped craft the legislation, which provided insight into how most of the bill was made — and how it nearly failed.

At one point in May, nine months’ of talks among clean power groups and Duke Energy had stalled. The river, so to speak, was about to catch fire.

“There would be potential solutions and then they would drift away,” said Szoka, who by design, did not attend these meetings until the impasse. “We got involved when there were intractable problems that had to be resolved.”

On Saturday, May 13, the interest groups and the bill co-sponsors, including Reps. Dean Arp and Sam Watford, hunkered down for a marathon six-to-eight hour mediation. “Using different settlement techniques,” Szoka said, “we had a breakthrough.”

Read more