Renita Thompkins Linville was sworn in Monday as the new Forsyth County Clerk of Superior Court, the first black person to ever hold that position.
Her youngest sister, Tina Thompkins, told the crowd gathered in Courtroom 6A that it wasn’t really a surprise that Linville had gotten to this place — she comes from a family of what Thompkins called legacy-builders.
Linville’s late father, David Thompkins, was the first African-American to hold the position of executive director for the Housing Authority of Winston-Salem. Her mother, Olivia Thompkins, who attended the swearing-in ceremony, worked for years as the finance director of Reynolds Health Center.
And Renita Thompkins Linville has worked as an attorney for more than 30 years, first founding the law firm Buie & Thompkins in 1987 and then starting her own firm in 1988, where she specialized in family, traffic and real estate law.
Judge Todd Burke of Forsyth Superior Court appointed Linville to complete the unexpired term of Susan Frye, who retired June 1 as clerk of court. Frye was elected in November 2018 to her third four-year term. Linville will earn an annual salary of $123,554 as clerk of court.
Linville said she was humbled and honored at the appointment.
“My life may have looked easy, but I have had trials and tribulations” like many of the people who come to the Forsyth County Hall of Justice, she said.
The Forsyth County Clerk of Court has more than 90 employees and is responsible for recording and maintaining thousands of documents, such as criminal judgments and divorce cases.
Burke said the Forsyth County Clerk of Superior Court is the face of the courthouse. About 40 percent of court employees work in the clerk’s office, he said.
Most people who spoke described Linville as a problem-solver and a person who has a great heart for people.
Another legacy-builder also chimed in during Monday’s swearing-in of Linville — Chief Justice Cheri Beasley of the N.C. Supreme Court. Beasley is the first black woman to serve as Chief Justice.
“I know you have a heart for people and a heart for service,” she said.
Linville received her law degree from Howard University School of Law and got her undergraduate degree in business administration from N.C. Central University. Her husband is James F. Linville, who is the pastor of Piney Grove Baptist Church.
Linville said she just wants to be the best Forsyth County Clerk of Court that she can be.
The county didn’t know it had ordered a bunch of Confederate battle flag wristbands.
The wristband dealer didn’t know a discontinued product had been sent to the county.
But Sage Magness sure knew on Sunday that the thing she was wearing around her wrist didn’t look like an American flag.
That’s the story that emerged after a July 4th weekend episode involving wristbands and the sometimes convoluted explanation of how they wound up at the Tanglewood Park pool.
Forsyth County parks and recreation officials said that on Monday they disposed of wristbands with a Confederate battle flag design after looking at Magness’ complaint.
Magness, a former Forsyth County resident visiting for the holiday, said she was shocked Sunday afternoon when she noticed that the pool wristband she was wearing at Tanglewood had part of a Confederate battle flag printed on it.
“I’m looking at my wristband, and it is red, white and blue,” Magness said. “I looked at it more and said, ‘This is not the American flag.’ I said, ‘This cannot be what I think it is.”
When she took off the wristband and stretched it out, Magness said, “it was very clearly a Confederate flag.”
Magness said she was “pretty mad because the Confederate flag is something I don’t have in my life.”
She said that, at one point, she told a pool staffer, “I am going to take this racist wristband off.”
Magness complained on the county’s Facebook page. She got a response from someone with the county who at first said that in the catalog the county ordered from, the wristbands “have a generic stars and stripes pattern.” The county employee said the bands have been used for the past several years without generating any complaints.
The person who responded also said that “some of the bands and the way they were cut, can be viewed as having a similar pattern to the Confederate flag.”
Magness didn’t buy the explanation. She sent a photo back of the band stretched out, and commented that “it isn’t about how the band was cut.”
“It’s very clearly a red flag with a blue ‘X’ with stars inside,” Magness wrote. “It isn’t generic.”
The respondent agreed with her assessment after seeing the second photo and did say that the wristbands were all pulled from use Monday morning and thrown away.
Damon Sanders-Pratt, the deputy county manager of Forsyth, said Monday afternoon that a young staffer who ordered the wristbands mistakenly thought he was ordering a patriotic theme.
“Our staff person selected two styles that they believed were patriotic in that they were homages to the American flag,” he said. “One was called ‘Stars & Stripes Red & Blue’ and the other was called ‘Stars and Bars Multicolored.’”
Sanders-Pratt said the employee “didn’t recognize the connotation” of the latter wristband’s title.
“The employee’s intention was to recognize the American flag and Independence Day, but they made an uninformed selection,” Sanders-Pratt said. “Again, the county made a mistake by using these wristbands, no matter what they were called, and apologizes to those who were offended.”
Sanders-Pratt said the Confederate flag design was only one of 12 different designs the county ordered for use at the pool. The others come in single colors or happy-face designs and the like, he said, so there’s no shortage of wristbands without the ones that were tossed.
Meanwhile, MedTech Wristbands chimed in Monday afternoon with an email to Sanders-Pratt, who asked the company if he could get a refund on the five boxes of Confederate wristbands the county had gotten. Each box had 500 wristbands inside and they cost $59 altogether.
Someone from MedTech wrote Sanders-Pratt to say that an employee hadn’t been aware that “we do not sell, support or promote these bands any longer, and she also wasn’t aware of what they resembled.” The company is putting credit for five boxes of wristbands on the county’s account.
The wristbands shouldn’t have been sent out in the first place, the company told Sanders-Pratt.
Confederate symbols have been a hot-button issue across the South in recent years and in Winston-Salem, where protests over a downtown Confederate statue eventually ended in its removal.
On Sunday, Magness said, she showed the wristband to one of the pool employees, a young man who, she said, “kind of laughed and said, ‘I guess the parks and recreation department bought them.’”
The county employee who communicated with Magness online thanked her for bringing the wristband to the county’s attention, apologized for the behavior of the staffer who laughed and said it would be brought to his supervisor’s attention.
Magness said she still can’t believe someone at the pool didn’t realize what was on the wristbands.
“My 3-year-old had a Confederate flag wristband,” Magness said. “It was kind of like an out-of-body experience ... What century am I in? ... I’m a big fan of the show ‘Parks and Recreation,’ but this wouldn’t even happen on the show.”
Winston-Salem officials are taking a longer path toward possibly changing the name of the Dixie Classic Fair, with the cancellation of a couple of meetings this month that were originally designed to get a potential new name before the Winston-Salem City Council in August.
Assistant City Manager Ben Rowe said Monday’s meeting of the marketing committee of the Public Assembly Facilities Commission, along with next week’s meeting of the full Public Assembly Facilities Commission, was canceled.
Under the city council’s original timeline for considering a name change for the fair, the canceled meetings would have been held to come up with a potential new name that would take effect in 2020 after coming before the council in August.
Instead, Rowe said, city staffers plan to put together a proposal to hire a consultant to help the city come up with a new name, one that would go into effect in 2021.
“We are looking at engaging a consultant and having the consultant develop the new name and use focus groups to develop the name,” Rowe said, noting that the suggestion to do that came from a meeting of the Fair Planning Committee held in June.
Members of the committees and commissions who looked at the fair name have complained that the process was rushed: If the fair does get a new name, some members said, more effort should be put into making sure that whatever name is picked is one that can stand up for the long haul.
Opponents of the name Dixie came to a city council committee meeting in April to call on the city to change the name of the fair. Members of the group, including some ministers, said that the name Dixie evokes the South of slavery and segregation.
A city survey found an overwhelming majority of people wanted to keep the name Dixie. A public forum on changing the name brought out strong passions on both sides.
The city is considering the name change in a process that takes the idea through a number of committees.
On June 10, the Fair Planning Committee, first up in the process, voted to recommend that the city “reconsider” the name, but at the same time called on the city to take more time.
Some members of the committee pointed out that name changes usually take place in a process that brings in consultants to do things such as trying out names with focus groups.
And while the city had asked people to suggest new names during the survey, fair committee members said they felt they didn’t get much helpful feedback on that question. Instead, they said, the survey had become a referendum on the name Dixie.
Rowe said that he’s hopeful a consultant hired to help the city find a name won’t be too costly.
Rowe said he will likely bring the proposal to hire a consultant before two city council committees in August. The Finance Committee will hear about the idea first, since it involves spending money. After that, the city’s committee on general government will hear the proposal.
Winston-Salem police have identified the 5-year-old boy who was shot to death Saturday in a drive-by shooting in the city’s southeastern section.
Alberto Rios Navarrette died at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, police said.
Oscar Mendez-Rodriguez, 17, of Pleasant Street in Winston-Salem is charged with murder in the child’s death. A 15-year-old boy and a 14-year-old boy are also charged with murder in the boy’s death, police said. The teens are being held in custody with no bonds allowed.
Mendez-Rodriguez made his first court appearance Monday.
Officers went to the Cole Village Apartments at 5:20 p.m. Saturday on a report of a shooting. Officers found Alberto with a gunshot wound to the head. The child was in the apartment with his parents, 37-year-old Alberto Rios and 27-year-old Alma Navarrete, and his 3-year-old sister, police said. No one else was injured.
A bullet fired from a car traveling along Cole Ridge Road went through the apartment and struck the child, police said.
Police Lt. Gregory Dorn confirmed that the shooting that killed Alberto was not random, but the child wasn’t the intended target. Investigators received information that a group of individuals were targeted, but police don’t know why. Dorn didn’t elaborate on who was the target of the gunfire.
Police initially said it didn’t appear that the child’s family was the target of the shooting.
Alberto’s death is the 13th homicide in Winston-Salem this year, compared with 12 at this time last year.
Mendez-Rodriguez was dressed in a green jumpsuit Monday for his court appearance.
Judge Laurie Hutchins of Forsyth District Court advised Mendez-Rodriguez that he was charged with murder and asked him what he wanted to do about a lawyer — hire a lawyer; have a lawyer appointed to him; or represent himself.
However, Hutchins appointed him a lawyer because Mendez-Rodriguez is 17. He will be appointed a lawyer through the Capital Defender’s Office.
A Forsyth County prosecutor recommended that Mendez-Rodriguez continue to be held in the Forsyth County Jail with no bond. A bond hearing has been scheduled for Thursday. He also has a court hearing on July 25.
Mendez-Rodriguez was arrested after police developed information that led them to an apartment in the 3800 block of Old Vineyard Road, where they found the vehicle that witnesses said shots were fired from. Police seized a .38-caliber handgun and the silver Nissan Sentra. The 14-year-old boy was arrested at the scene. The 15-year-old boy was arrested at his residence, police have said.
Investigators learned from witnesses that a silver car occupied by several males drove through the area and handguns were fired from the vehicle. Witnesses described multiple rounds being fired, and investigators located several fired shell casings in the area, police said.
Two other apartments and an unoccupied vehicle were also struck. One other damaged apartment was occupied, but no one was injured.
“It appears it was a light-colored sedan coming down Cole Road firing,” said Dorn, who was on the scene about 8:30 p.m. Saturday. “The shots were fired from the moving vehicle.”
“There’s been quite a bit of shootings, discharging of firearms in this area,” he said. “We’re not sure if it’s gang-related.”
Mendez-Rodriguez provided his fingerprints and a DNA sample to the authorities at the jail, a court record shows. Another court paper shows that Mendez-Rodriguez lives with his mother in Winston-Salem. No one answered the phone at a number that was listed for Mendez-Rodriguez’s mother.
Additional details about Mendez-Rodriguez’s life emerged Monday.
Mendez-Rodriguez was stabbed in downtown Winston-Salem on Feb. 8, police said at the time. The assault happened about 1:15 p.m. in the parking of the Winston-Salem Street School at 630 W. Sixth St., police said.
Mendez-Rodriguez was able to drive himself after the assault to the Downtown Health Plaza at 1200 N. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, police said. He was then taken to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. Mendez-Rodriguez told police that the stabbing took place at the Crystal Towers housing complex at 625 W. Sixth St., a short distance from the school, according to a police news release.
Police looked for several suspects who ran from the scene. Dorn said he believes that someone was arrested in the stabbing, but Dorn didn’t identify the perpetrator.
Investigators are uncertain whether the stabbing of Mendez-Rodriguez was related to his alleged role in Saturday’s shooting.
Mendez-Rodriguez had a run-in with the law earlier this year. He was charged April 18 with driving with no operator’s license and misdemeanor possession of an alcoholic beverage, court records show.
A city police officer accused Mendez-Rodriguez of driving a 2005 BMW on Pleasant Street without being a licensed driver and possessing vodka while being younger than 21, an arrest warrant says.
Mendez-Rodriguez entered a deferred prosecution agreement regarding those charges for six months, court records show.
Under the agreement, Mendez-Rodriguez agreed to complete 25 hours of community service, not to commit any further crimes and to complete an online course on alcohol prevention and intervention. Mendez-Rodriguez was required to complete the agreement’s conditions by Oct. 23.
If Mendez failed to comply with the agreement’s conditions, he would be prosecuted for the driving and alcohol-possession charges.
Anyone with information about the shooting can call Winston-Salem police at 336-773-7700 or Crime Stoppers at 336-727-2800 or its Spanish line at 336-728-3904. Crime Stoppers may also be contacted via “Crime Stoppers of Winston-Salem” on Facebook.