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No turning back in lawsuit pitting father against daughter

One phrase in an otherwise routine story about a nonprofit organization published in a college newspaper has led a father to sue his own daughter.

But dear God, what a phrase. Here’s the way the lawsuit describes it:

“On or about February 1, 2019 … the defendant DTH Media Corp. published an article on the front page of its newspaper ‘The Daily Tar Heel’ that stated that (the alleged victim) was drugged and raped the spring of her sophomore year and experienced sexual abuse from her father during her childhood,” the lawsuit reads.

That one phrase, printed in bold in the suit, when combined with the uncomfortable fact that a father would feel so aggrieved that he would even consider, much less file, a lawsuit against his daughter for defamation of character, can neither be ignored nor forgotten.

It’s hard to look away.

An unusual step

This legal confrontation began Feb. 1 when The Daily Tar Heel published a story about a nonprofit organization founded by a UNC grad from Winston-Salem that aims to pair victims of sexual assault survivors with emotional support animals.

“Running alongside the Bolin Creek at Carolina North Forest with her dog, Biscuit, crashing through the water, Sophie Capshaw-Mack felt one thing — freedom,” the first sentence of the story reads.

Sounds nice, right? Innocuous, even. But soon after came the kind of wrecking ball accusation that destroys families and reputations.

The father, Bradley Mack, a businessman formerly of Winston-Salem, was understandably mortified and ultimately took the highly unusual step of hiring a lawyer to sue his own daughter — and The Daily Tar Heel media corporation — for libel and defamation.

“Sophie Capshaw Mack had made these false allegations to The Daily Tar Heel with specific knowledge of their falsity and with specific knowledge that the statements would damage the Plaintiff personally and in his business relationships,” paragraph nine of his suit reads.

After fielding a complaint, The Daily Tar Heel did change online the offending sentence to read that Capshaw-Mack “said she was sexually assaulted during her sophomore year. The paper added an editor’s note which says simply: “This story has been updated for clarity.”

But the damage was done.

In the Internet-fueled world of instant, constant communication via social media, there are few take-backs and no do-overs. What’s done is done.

To repair and remedy that damage, Mack filed his suit asking for damages in “an amount greater than $25,000.”

(The DTH Media Corp, the defendant with presumably deeper pockets than a 24-year-old woman, has been dropped from the lawsuit. Most likely that is because it was settled.)

“I can’t comment on the claim with (The Daily Tar Heel) other than to say that we have resolved the matter with The Daily Tar Heel) to our mutual satisfaction,” wrote John Vermitsky, Mack’s attorney. “The matter with the other defendant remains outstanding and my client is very committed to prosecuting this claim and clearing his name.”

A father suing his daughter

In her answer filed earlier this month, Capshaw-Mack, through her lawyers Dudley Witt and David Freedman, responded simply and forcefully, albeit couched in legalese that’s best summed up this way: It’s true. And I’m not sorry that I spoke up.

The answer maintains that the father molested his daughter regularly until she was 8 years old, and that “intermittent instances of inappropriate physical touching” occurred until she left for college in 2013.

“Based upon the foregoing, Defendant Capshaw-Mack submits her allegations which appeared in The Daily Tar Heel were accurate and truthful, and asserts truth as an affirmative defense to all claims raised by the Plaintiff in the present action,” the answer reads.

Her answer also says that the lawsuit has caused Capshaw-Mack to suffer damages “greater than $25,000” for shame and embarrassment. And it makes plain her intention to file a counter suit after Jan. 1 under a new state law that extends the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse claims.

“Plaintiff’s conduct clearly crosses a threshold which goes beyond all bound of decency,” the answer reads.

Witt declined to comment on the suit and his client’s answer other than to say: “We look forward to Sophie having an opportunity to tell her story.”

Lives forever altered

Under ordinary circumstances, victims — alleged and real — of sexual abuse, rape or incest are not identified by name in print. Not here anyway.

But these are not ordinary circumstances. A lawsuit filed in the Superior Court of North Carolina makes this so.

A young woman told the UNC campus about jarring events she believes to be true, and shared her story via social media. No criminal investigation into the alleged molestation ever happened and no criminal charges stemmed from the allegations of sexual assault while a sophomore.

Still, speaking out was brave. Doing so is permanent and life-changing consequences. #MeToo is real and it affects a lot of women you know. Ask your wife, sister or daughter.

To look away is to pretend that sexual assault, rape and molestation don’t happen. Hiding behind denial is to say that what happens to women and girls — sometimes at the hands of the very people who should be most protective of them — doesn’t matter.

We could look away or act like these sorts of incidents don’t happen. But they do.

Cops, prosecutors and social workers know. Similar cases involving similar allegations are heard regularly in courthouses across the country.

The flip side is that a man was accused by his own daughter of despicable acts in a very public forum, and then the claim was amplified via social media. That sort of accusation is forever.

Yes, Mack v DTH Media Corp. and Sophie Capshaw-Mack is horrifying. It’s a tragedy, and it’s landed in court. A jury ultimately will decide whom to believe.

But the damage has been done. And it’s impossible to look away.

Trump's GOP support hardens despite damning impeachment testimony

WASHINGTON — After two weeks of extraordinary open hearings that Democrats envisioned as their best opportunity to shape public opinion on impeachment, President Donald Trump claims to be impervious to the cascade of damaging revelations because of hardening Republican opposition to his removal from office.

So far, the historic proceedings have exacerbated the political divide. Some moderate Republican lawmakers once seen as the most likely to break with Trump condemned his conduct but signaled in recent days that they would probably vote against his impeachment because they do not believe the president’s actions meet that threshold.

This phase of the inquiry was particularly damning for Trump, simply because of the fact pattern that emerged. A series of government witnesses, testifying under oath and at risk of perjury, implicated the president in a scheme to pressure Ukraine to influence the 2020 election.

But impeachment is not a criminal or legal proceeding; it is a political one. And as the inquiry hurtles toward a likely House vote on impeachment next month and a possible Senate trial, Republicans on Capitol Hill are solidly behind the president, even if they offer scattershot and at times contradictory defenses of his alleged wrongdoing.

Trump said Friday that he was looking forward to an impeachment trial and expressed confidence he would prevail. “There has never been so much unity and spirit in the Republican Party, as there is right now!” the president tweeted.

Anecdotal evidence backs up his declaration. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., a former FBI agent who represents a swing district in the Philadelphia suburbs and was considered a possible defector, told reporters Friday that although Trump’s behavior was troubling and represented poor judgment, Congress in his estimation had not yet gathered enough evidence to warrant impeachment.

Another would-be impeachment fence-sitter, Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, a former CIA officer who is retiring from Congress next year, made clear where he stood.

“An impeachable offense should be compelling, overwhelming, clear and unambiguous,” Hurd said last Thursday. “And it’s not something to be rushed or taken lightly. I’ve not heard evidence proving the president committed bribery or extortion.”

Many Democrats had counted on this phase of the inquiry to change the political contours of impeachment, hoping that hearing powerful accounts from government witnesses could galvanize public support for removing Trump and therefore pressure some GOP senators to abandon the president.

The proceedings remain fluid, and it is too early to fully measure whether the attitudes of voters have shifted. Dramatic testimony from career national security professionals, as well as some of Trump’s own political appointees, placed the president at the center of a plot to coerce the Ukrainian government to open a corruption investigation into former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

Although House Democrats say the evidence that Trump abused his office and orchestrated a bribery scheme is unambiguous, the hearings appear to have changed the minds of few, if any, Republican lawmakers. This is a reflection of Trump’s supremacy within his party.

“Ironically, it enhances the president’s position,” said Ari Fleischer, a Republican former White House press secretary. “He has never been and is not in danger of being convicted in the Senate. The only issue is whether he loses ground in the House, and by all measures he has not lost ground in the House.”

Fleischer said the hearings “demonstrated, and it was eloquently done by several career experts, how inappropriate what the president did was. The more I listened, the more it was clear it was inappropriate. But there’s a major difference between inappropriate and overturn the will of the people and impeach him.”

Should the Democratic-controlled House vote to impeach Trump, a two-thirds majority in the Republican-controlled Senate would be required to convict and remove him from office. No Republican senator has yet said he or she would convict Trump.

“Trump has control of the 202 branch of the party and he has control of what remains of the party nationally,” GOP strategist John Weaver, a Trump critic, said, referring first to Republicans in Washington. “It’s not a party anymore in the traditional sense; it’s a cult. So he’ll be successful in averting conviction in the Senate and removal from office because the party is completely subjugated to him.”

Even if Trump is acquitted in the Senate, his impeachment risks being a stain on his reelection bid next year. Most public polls show the president’s approval rating mired well below 50% and project him losing in head-to-head matchups with his leading Democratic challengers.

“Every measurement of the president’s performance and personal acceptance is underwater, and this is a week that underscores both his concern singularly about himself and his ability to represent and fight for the best elements of the country,” said Peter Hart, a prominent Democratic pollster.

Trump has long considered impeachment “a dirty, filthy, disgusting word,” as he put it in May, although he has come to see it as all but a foregone conclusion given the trajectory set by House Democratic leaders.

The president and his aides are preparing for the next phase in part by wooing lawmakers, from invitations to sporting events to weekends of s’mores and skeet shooting at Camp David. Last Thursday, Trump invited a handful of Republican senators — including two who have criticized his conduct with Ukraine, Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine — to lunch at the White House, where they casually discussed a possible Senate impeachment trial.

“Frankly, I want a trial,” Trump said during a rambling, 53-minute telephone interview with Fox News Channel on Friday morning on “Fox & Friends.”

Hour after hour of blockbuster testimony in front of the House Intelligence Committee painted a corrupt portrait of foreign policy in the Trump administration. Witnesses detailed a rogue operation led by Trump to withhold military aid to Ukraine, as well as a White House visit by President Volodymyr Zelensky, until its government announced an investigation into the Bidens, which could benefit Trump’s campaign for a second term.

In a dramatic coda to two weeks of hearings, former National Security Council official Fiona Hill, a Russia expert and Trump appointee who directed the administration’s policy in Europe, bolstered the case for a quid pro quo. She also plainly debunked a Ukraine conspiracy theory propagated by the president and pleaded with Republicans on the panel to help safeguard America’s democracy from further Russian interference.

But judging by the comments of Hurd and others, Hill did not appear to persuade Republicans on the panel to buck the president. Rep. Devin Nunes of California, the committee’s top Republican and a fierce defender of Trump, insisted that Democrats were using the inquiry to try to “overthrow the president.”

Even Trump’s real-time badgering of a witness — a tweet attacking ousted ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovich during her congressional testimony on Nov. 15 — did not move the needle for Republicans. Democrats suggested it could form the basis of its own article of impeachment.

“You can disagree or dislike the tweet, but we are here to talk about impeachment, and nothing in that room today and nothing in that room earlier this week — nothing rises to the level of impeachable offenses,” said Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., who has cultivated a profile as a moderate Republican but emerged during the hearings as a fiery partisan defender of Trump.

Leaders in capitals around the globe are watching the inquiry unfold with interest.

“If there is impeachment, if he’s tried and acquitted, the message will be that this will continue as long as he’s in office,” said Angela Stent, a Russia specialist and professor of government and foreign service at Georgetown University.

“If you’re President Putin and you see Trump acquitted, you can continue doing what you’re doing and there will be no penalties to pay for it.”

WS/FCS superintendent makes plea to community to ensure success of students, talks about district's positives and challenges

Angela P. Hairston, superintendent for the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, made a plea to the community Saturday morning to support the district in finding ways to ensure that children have access to early learning.

She said that members and groups in the community can support agencies such as Headstart so that children walk into kindergarten prepared to learn.

Hairston said it is important to help parents be aware of what’s expected of children.

“No longer can we walk in and keep our children at home with grandmother, as I was, and walk into kindergarten and say, ‘Here I am. Do everything for me.’ Because you are already behind when you walk in.”

Hairston spoke before more than 200 people about positive things happening in the district as well as its challenges and a bit about herself at St. Stephen Missionary Baptist Church on Noble Street in Winston-Salem.

She has been on tour, holding listening sessions for the community as well as school system staff since mid-September. The event at St. Stephen, which was open to the public and hosted by the Alpha Pi Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., was her last scheduled session.

She said there is also the need to find a way to have productive, out-of-school activities for children starting in fourth and fifth grades.

“We are losing our children to gang activity in fifth grade,” she said.

In terms of talking to children about college, Hairston said, “Middle school is where we lose their attention and their focus. We really must prepare ourselves to go into elementary schools and say to children, ‘You will be going to college and have a college-going attitude,’ even if they don’t do four years. Maybe they do two years.”

She said that the experiences of children and learning was a lot different when she started her teaching career years ago compared to the current accountability system in K-12 schools that started in 2001 with the No Child Left Behind Act.

“We put a lot of pressure on teachers to reach certain test scores,” Hairston said. “We put a lot of pressure on administrators to meet certain scores .... We wanted a more educated population of citizens.”

In her 11 weeks as WS/FCS superintendent, Hairston said she has learned more about the accountability system in terms of the grades provided by North Carolina.

“I learned the resources here are remarkable,” she said.

She said there is a lot of energy around student achievement throughout the district.

Her listening sessions have made her aware of the fact that there is a desire in the community to move children forward.

“There is also a great concern about what’s fair,” Hairston said. “There’s lots of concern in our community about fairness and equity. A lot of that has shifted over the years simply because of the way we hold folks accountable.”

She said that WS/FCS is a highly decentralized district, “which means that a lot of achievement rises and falls on the principal.”

She said many of the underperforming schools have new principals and new teachers who are doing their best, but they need more support.

“We can no longer be so decentralized,” she said. “We have to have a very mixed bag of what we offer our principals. We have to be centralized to some degree and offer very structured support and at some schools we must do some different things.”

Hairston said she has also learned in the listening sessions that access is not always equal across the district.

“We’re trying to shore those things up,” she said.

She added that it is important for the district to make sure children have access to learning.

“Our average students have to have access to support and to resources to help them catch up,” Hairston said.

Other topics she touched on included how the district has commissioned a study on the salaries of classified employees, filling vacant administrative positions, a new equity policy that is expected to be presented to the school board in December, as well as top growth schools and those going in the negative.

“We have really great schools in our district, but we’re often measured by how we perform with our lowest-performing students or our students with the most needs,” Hairston said. “First, we have to understand this growth measure and we have to understand what’s happening with our children.”

She said that even at the district’s highest performing schools there are still pockets of children who are still performing at underperforming levels, gaps that are not closing.

“Most of the children who have the gaps are African American children and second language learners,” she said.

Hairston added that she prefers the term “underperforming” to “low-performing.”

Earlier this month, eight schools in the WS/FCS system were put on notice that they need to improve their academic performance over the next few years or they could be turned over to an outside group such as a charter school operator.

Those schools are Philo-Hill Magnet Academy with a school-performance grade of 25 out of a possible 100, based on last year’s test scores; Kimberley Park Elementary, 32; Ibraham Elementary, 33; Petree Elementary, 33; Ashley Academy, 34; Easton Elementary School, 36; Old Town Elementary, 39; and Winston-Salem Preparatory Academy, 39.

Q&A session

Community members had questions about several topics, including the highly academically gifted program, ethnic studies, low-performing schools and ways to engage parents.

“What is being done with the African-American infusion project,” asked the Rev. Felecia Piggott-Long, a teacher at Carver High School. “Is there a Latino infusion project? What are we doing to make sure our students are exposed to more than just …white men? That they understand that there are women and there are people of all kinds of backgrounds?”

Hairston said that Rebecca McKnight, the director of social studies for the district, is leading that initiative and has had community listening sessions about it and is getting feedback from the community.

The Cultural Infusion Project was started in the mid-1990s aimed at helping African American students see themselves within the K-12 curriculum.

Hairston said that African American Studies has been offered for quite a while but not at all high schools.

In late October, the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Board of Education rejected a mandatory African American history course for the school system. However, the board unanimously approved an infusion program recommended by Hairston.

On Nov. 4, the school board approved the African American Studies, Latin American Studies courses, both going from half credits to full credits as proposed by Hairston, as part of the 2020-21 high school course program. American Indian Studies was also added to the program.

The African American studies and Latin American studies courses will be offered as an elective in every high school.

The goal is for McKnight, who is on the state’s curriculum revision project, to write units so that the district will be able to monitor the infusion program, using nine-week checks, Hairston said.

DaKisha Payne Williams, a teacher at Philo-Hill Magnet Academy, one of the district’s under-performing schools, wanted to know the district’s plans to address how children of poverty learn.

“In order to work with that we must have a curriculum that’s reflective of children in which we serve and is relevant to children,” Hairston said.

She said work is being done on standards and expects shifts to begin in those areas.

Judge Kornegay, a former assistant principal, wanted to know how to develop a better relationship between administrators, school leadership teams and parents so parents feel valued enough to step up to help train children.

“I think you can’t force people to develop those relationships, but the only way you get the student achievement where it needs to be is to have those relationships,” Hairston said. “Hopefully, the people we hire will acknowledge that. But oftentimes it takes people asking you into a community.”

Valeria Cobos, a parent, was concerned about an incident that happened when her son, now in sixth grade, was a third-grader.

She said her son tested 97 percent when he needed to test 98 percent to be in the Highly Academically Gifted, or HAG, program.

“I had no idea and I was not reached out to from the school’s AG coordinator that I could have had him retested to get him into that program,” said Cobos.

She also wanted to know if Hairston would be releasing a report on the listening sessions.

Hairston invited Cobos and other parents to attend a meeting Dec. 7 about the gifted program, and said there would be a report on the listening sessions.

Twana W. Roebuck, executive director of Experiment in Self-Reliance Inc., asked about Hairston’s vision for engaging parents, saying ESR wanted to partner with the district in helping parents be more engaged in the schools.

Hairston said the district would set up an appointment with Roebuck to discuss the issue.

Judge Denise Hartsfield of Forsyth District Court said she wanted to let people know that the Raise the Age legislation will become law in North Carolina on Dec. 1 and how important it is for students.

“Finally we are going to stop criminalizing 16 and 17 year olds…” Hartsfield said.

“One of the bigger issues is going to be that parents of 16- and 17-year-olds will now have to be deeply involved in the juvenile justice system,” Hartsfield said. “In the criminal justice system, you are not required to come to court with your kid.”