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As Winston-Salem police continue to investigate fatal shooting, discussion today will focus on strategies to prevent violence, need for people to cooperate with law enforcement

Winston-Salem police are trying to unravel the details behind the shooting of seven people at a birthday party on Cody Drive late Saturday.

What was a festive event ended in violence that caused the deaths of Jalen Chavon Cockerham, 23, of Ogburn Avenue and Fred Douglas Hawkins III, 26, of Regents Park Lane. Two other men and three women were shot — either with penetrating or graze wounds, said Lt. Gregory Dorn of the Winston-Salem Police Department. An eighth person was pistol-whipped. Their names are not being released while detectives investigate the incident, which took place in the city’s north.

In response to the shooting on Cody Drive and other recent gun violence, a news conference is scheduled for noon today, Friday, at the Public Safety Center, 725 N. Cherry St. The scheduled speakers include the Winston-Salem police chief, the Forsyth County sheriff and district attorney, the president of the Minister’s Conference of Winston-Salem, and representatives of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

They plan to discuss strategies to prevent future violent acts, as well as the need for witnesses and victims to cooperate with law enforcement.

At one point Saturday night, between 100 and 200 partygoers were at the house in the 4200 block of Cody Drive, which is in a cul-de-sac neighborhood, Dorn said.

It was being advertised as the “fourth annual block party, with food, drinks, and BYOB,” according to one social media post. Dorn said the host of the party and the owner of the house where it was held are cooperating with police.

At the time of the shooting, there were likely about 100 people outside the house, Dorn said. The partygoers were in their 20s.

It’s unclear whether any of the people who were shot did any of the shooting, Dorn said. Neither Cockerham, who died in the street, nor Hawkins, who died in a local hospital Tuesday, was found with a gun, Dorn said.

Investigators are trying to determine a possible motive for the shooting.

“We’re still trying to sort out if there was a targeted victim or if it was random,” Dorn said. “There was a bunch of random gunfire.”

One of the victims, Hawkins, was a gang subject of interest, he said. There were several gang members in the area at the time of the shooting, according to authorities.

“We don’t know if this was gang-on-gang or just a beef between members,” Dorn said.

He added that police have not ruled out other possibilities for the shooting, including drugs, possible ongoing threats between people at the party or something else.

Multiple people fired shots, Dorn said. It’s unclear if an argument broke out before the gunfire. Dorn declined to comment on whether there was a feud among any of the guests at the birthday party.

The celebration began late Saturday afternoon and continued until the gunshots were fired around 10:55 p.m.

One neighbor on the street, who declined to give his name out of fear for his safety, said he was watching TV at the time and thought the gunshots were firecrackers.

“Then I heard somebody yelling, ‘He’s dead, he’s dead, he’s dead,’” the neighbor said, so he called 911.

Another neighbor, who has lived on the street for more than 40 years, said the gathering overflowed the quarter-mile street and spread onto the main road. His car was hit by a bullet in the rear door of the driver’s side and the windshield.

“This is all surreal,” the neighbor said.

Photos: Working for justice
Photos: Social justice issues discussed between members of faith community and justice system

Church foreclosure sale today

The foreclosure sale of the Greater Cleveland Avenue Christian Church property takes place today at the Forsyth County Courthouse, but that doesn’t mean it is the end of the story for either the church or its building.

The sale occurs at noon. It is taking place at the direction of Apex Bank, the current holder of the church’s debt of $3.3 million that was secured by the church property, following a ruling in bankruptcy court on Wednesday that denied an effort by the church to change the terms of its bankruptcy reorganization.

Judge Catharine Aron said the church had not demonstrated it could refinance the property, and ruled that the foreclosure could go forward. Aron also said that she believed the church had not acted in good faith in its proposed modification of the bankruptcy plan.

At the foreclosure sale, a representative of Apex Bank will be present to make the bank’s own bid on the property.

Even if a prospective buyer emerges for the 15-acre church property, that’s not the end of the process: A 10-day upset period starts in which some other buyer can step forward and top the high bid placed today. .

New bids have to be at least 5% higher than the previous high bid. Each upset bid kicks in a new 10-day upset period, until 10 days pass without an upset bid. If no outside bidders were to emerge, the bank would own the property.

Nothing prevents the church itself from bidding on the property, should it manage to get the money to carry forward. And the church can continue functioning in some new location, although in its motion before bankruptcy court on Wednesday, the church argued that leaving would make it impossible for the church to satisfy other creditors.

The church property consists of about 15 acres on Lansing Drive with a church sanctuary and family life center on the property.

The property has a tax value of $6.3 million, although the church pays no property tax because of the religious exemption.

The church borrowed the money leading to its current troubles in 2009. The original lender was Southern Community Bank and Trust, and the amount of the loan was $3.75 million. Apex Bank, based in Tennessee, acquired the loan in 2016.

When Greater Cleveland Avenue filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in April 2018, it still owed $3.3 million on the 2009 loan. In Wednesday’s hearing the current payoff amount on the loan was stated as being about $3.5 million.

Bill would make Surry County school boards partisan; members united against push by GOP

A bill headed to the floor of the N.C. Senate would make the three Surry County boards of education partisan, despite opposition from those boards.

Senate Bill 674 was introduced as a local bill Tuesday by Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and Sen. Deanna Ballard, R-Wilkes, who represents Surry among five Northwest N.C. counties. A local bill cannot be vetoed by the governor.

It was recommended by the Senate Redistricting and Elections committee a day later and by the Rules and Operations committee on Thursday. It could be heard on the Senate floor as early as Tuesday.

Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, said during the Rules and Operations meeting that “if the school boards don’t want it (partisan elections,) it must be a darn good idea.”

The Republican-led Surry County Board of Commissioners voted 3-1 April 1 to support the bill.

The legislation is opposed by Elkin Mayor Sam Bishop, who said he told Surry commission chairman Van Tucker “that four elected governing bodies, three school boards and the town of Elkin Board of Commissioners were unanimously opposed to partisan elections.”

“Obviously, they still want to move forward with their partisan agenda.”

The bill would go into effect with the 2020 election. Board members would serve four-year terms and would be required to state a party when they filing for office. Party affiliations would appear on the ballot. If the bill passes, board vacancies be filled from nominees made by the departing member’s party.

Surry has three school systems — Elkin City Schools, Mount Airy City Schools and Surry County Schools. Surry is one of just eight counties in the state with more than one school system.

“In general, this bill will increase voter participation in school board elections, and I believe that party affiliation gives voters a sense of a candidate’s philosophy,” Berger said in a statement. The Surry commissioners expressed similar sentiment before their vote.

“That’s especially true of an issue like education, where there’s a fairly stark divide between Republicans and Democrats.”

Berger acknowledged in the Rules and Operations meeting that the school boards were opposed, but said he supported it at the request of the Surry commissioners and “some members of the public.”(tncms-asset)3e5d2d26-7cc2-11e9-8f49-00163ec2aa770 —(/tncms-asset)

The boards held a joint meeting April 14, the first ever, about the bill and signed a joint resolution to “oppose any legislation changing the manner of election of any one or more of these boards of education from nonpartisan to partisan.”

Mitch Kokai, a policy analyst with Libertarian think tank John Locke Foundation, said that “it’s rare to see the top officer in a legislative chamber sponsor legislation.”

“So, Sen. Berger’s sponsorship of this measure highlights its importance to him. Something about the current composition of these school boards has attracted his attention.”

SB674 represents another attempt this session by Republican legislators to pass legislation opposed by members of local elected boards, including three such attempts that would have affected Forsyth County.

The bills were sponsored by Rep. Debra Conrad and Rep. Donny Lambeth. One bill would have changed the structure of the Winston-Salem City Council. The bill called for reducing the number of Winston-Salem city wards from eight to five, placing three black Democratic members in the same ward. Members of the council were not consulted before the bill was filed, and many found out about the bill through the media. Lambeth withdrew the bill after reaching an agreement with Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines to create a commission to study the city’s ward system.

The other two bills were aimed at the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education, which flipped to a Democratic majority in the November 2018 election. House Bill 490 would have changed the schedule and terms for school board elections, while House Bill 518 would have required Forsyth commissioners’ approval of any changes made by the school board to school choice and attendance zones. Both bills were opposed by school board members.

On May 7, the two bills were put on hold by Conrad and Lambeth after discussions with school board Chairwoman Malishai Woodbury.

Greensboro man is facing charges of trying to hire someone to kill a witness in a murder trial. He is being re-tried on allegations that he fatally shot a Winston-Salem man after a mistrial was declared last year.

A Greensboro man who is being retried in Forsyth Superior Court for first-degree murder after a mistrial last year is facing new charges that he tried to hire someone to kill a key eyewitness to the fatal shooting — the girlfriend of the victim.

William Anthony Brown, 29, of the 1900 block of Sheldon Road in Greensboro is charged with one count of solicitation of first-degree murder and one count of attempted solicitation of first-degree murder, according to arrest warrants and the prosecutor on the case.

Forsyth County Assistant District Attorney Matt Breeding said Brown is accused of trying to hire someone to kill Kayauna Talley, who was the girlfriend of Jahmil Ismail Al-Amin.

Al-Amin was shot multiple times on March 10, 2017, in the parking lot of 703 Bethabara Pointe Circle in Winston-Salem. Prosecutors in Brown’s previous trial in November 2018 said bullets pierced Al-Amin’s heart, lungs and bowels. With the jury deadlocked 9-3 on the first-degree murder charge after deliberating eight hours over three days, Judge Brad Long declared a mistrial.

According to the arrest warrants, alleged incidents of solicitation happened between May 10 and July 4 of 2018. At that time, Brown was being held at the Forsyth County jail awaiting trial on the murder charge.

Breeding declined Thursday to comment on the alleged facts because the case is still pending. But during the murder trial in November 2018, Breeding introduced jail letters that he said were Brown’s attempts to hire someone to kill Talley.

According to search warrants, a jail inmate said in February 2018 that Brown tried to get him to kill Talley. Brown told the inmate that once the inmate was released from jail, he needed to meet with someone named “Glock” and that “they would go kill the witness,” the search warrants said. The jail inmate told a detention officer that Brown would get him the address for that witness.

In May 2018, detention officers recovered a handwritten note from Brown to another jail inmate. That note, the search warrants said, asked the inmate to kill Talley.

Then in July 2018, Winston-Salem police Detective Michael Ognosky received a letter written by Brown that had been intercepted at the jail. The letter itself was addressed to a man named “Henry” but was inside an envelope addressed to Ray Inge Jr., a purported attorney who lived in Danville, Va. The envelope had “Legal Mail” written on it in several areas. An attorney with the name Ray Inge Jr. was not registered with the Virginia State Bar, the search warrants said.

“Henry, I gotta keep it short on a lot of things, but I need you,” Brown wrote in the letter, according to the search warrants. “I’m locked up on another one, no evidence just a finger. I go to trial in 90 days, if the finger doesn’t show, I will walk.” Breeding told a jury that in that letter, Brown noted that Talley’s house was not being watched.

Brown later wrote, “Fill up your tank, pull up, do it for real, get back on the highway,” the search warrants said. In another section, Brown wrote, “If you need a lighter, have my BM link you up with Kane.” The search warrants said the word “lighter” is another term for a gun.

Search warrants said Ognosky received another letter dated July 9, 2018, and addressed to an Imani Vanstory, saying that prosecutors had no evidence except for “a (expletive) saying that she saw my face and she watched me slump her boyfriend, looking out of a window into the parking lot of a dark (expletive) neighborhood.”

Talley testified during the trial that she was sitting on the arm of a sofa in an apartment and waiting for Al-Amin to return from running some errands when she saw a silver Chevrolet Malibu drive slowly by the apartment complex. Then the same car came back around and backed up between her car and another car, she told the jury.

Al-Amin was at the front door of the apartment when someone in the car called him back. Talley said she saw Al-Amin have a brief conversation with the people in the car and then she saw Brown, whom she knew as Skeme, pull a handgun and fire eight times.

Search warrants said jail officials seized several letters that Brown had written to other people, indicating that Talley did not need to show up in court and did not need to testify. He included in those letters information about Talley’s address, where she worked, her cellphone number and descriptions of her car, the search warrants said.

Jason Crump, Brown’s attorney, declined to comment Thursday on the new charges.

Breeding said Thursday that Brown is being retried on the murder charge, and that trial is scheduled to start Sept. 16. A trial date on the new charges hasn’t been set.

Brown is in the Forsyth County jail with no bond allowed on the murder charge and a $1 million bond on the solicitation charges.