Winston-Salem Police Chief Catrina Thompson said late Friday that she is focused on investigating the fatal shooting of Julius “Juice” Sampson at Hanes Mall and does not plan to respond to questions raised by a former police officer for the city.
And the city of Winston-Salem is not releasing recordings of 911 calls that might shed light on what led to the shooting, saying the Winston-Salem Police Department’s investigation is still underway.
Sampson, 32, a married father of three who worked as a barber, was shot to death Tuesday afternoon outside BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse on a outparcel at Hanes Mall.
Robert Anthony Granato, 22, of the 100 block of Cloverhurst Court, on the western outskirts of Winston-Salem, is charged with felony murder and misdemeanor carrying a concealed weapon while or after consuming alcohol.
Race has emerged as an issue in the case. Some people on social-media platforms have said Granato, who is white, uttered a racial epithet at Sampson, who is black.
Thompson has said that investigators have not uncovered any evidence so far that indicates the shooting was racially motivated, even though she did say that both men used racial epithets during an altercation before the shooting.
Arnita Miles, a former Winston-Salem police officer who is a friend of Sampson’s and who organized a vigil for him Wednesday outside the restaurant, wrote a letter to members of the Winston-Salem City Council in which she posed questions about the police investigation.
Miles pointed to what she described as “the conflicting media statement made by Chief Catrina Thompson and the Facebook video captured (by) Evaristo Amador Guerrero of the murder.” Guerrero posted the video he recorded immediately after Sampson was shot.
“I have read the letter you’ve referenced, and Ms. Arnita Miles, like all citizens, has the right to express her opinion,” Thompson wrote in an email to the Winston-Salem Journal. “As for me and my team of the Winston-Salem Police Department, we must conduct our investigation on FACTS. As such, I have no intention of addressing the letter from Ms. Miles.”
In the letter, Miles criticizes police for not interviewing several witnesses, including a retired N.C. Highway Patrol trooper who is seen in the video helping subdue Granato soon after the shooting. She also said staff members from the nearby Olive Garden restaurant saw the shooting but had yet to be interviewed by police.
She also raised concern about Winston-Salem police officers’ response time. The video shows a woman using a cellphone and then walking forward, waving a hand. Soon after, a police car comes into view. That’s within a minute after the video starts. In another minute, a second police car shows up.
Miles also said the video shows police officers appearing to be overly aggressive in how they handle a man who tells them he is Sampson’s brother. He is shown in the video trying to come to the scene. The officers bring him to the ground.
And finally, Miles said she was concerned about the lack of urgency she perceived from the first officer on the scene. The officer parks his car, gets out of the vehicle and puts a notebook into his back pocket, according to the video.
Thompson also declined to respond specifically to several questions the Winston-Salem Journal posed to her in an email Friday. That included a question asking for clarification about what she meant when she said the shooting didn’t appear to be racially motivated.
The Journal requested access to recordings of the for 911 calls connected to the incident. Assistant City Attorney Lori Sykes told the Journal the city will not be releasing the 911 calls while the investigation is active.
Under state law, 911 calls are a public record in North Carolina. Authorities can withhold the audio but are supposed to release transcripts of the calls, according to Amanda Martin, the Journal’s attorney.
Police have not disclosed what started the fight and have not confirmed reports that the altercation began after Sampson tried to defend a female bartender at BJs. Though Thompson said both men used racial epithets, she hasn’t said who used one first or what it was.
Thompson said she made a public statement “releasing as much information as possible without jeopardizing the integrity of the case.”
She asked that anyone with information about the indicent contact the police department directly or through CrimeStoppers.
“At this time my focus and the focus of the Winston-Salem Police detectives is on continuing to conduct a thorough and complete investigation, with the ultimate goal of only the truth bringing this case to the appropriate end and bringing justice to Mr. Sampson’s family,” she said.
In a statement Friday, City Council Member Denise D. Adams called Sampson’s death a travesty and demanded transparency in the police investigation.
“Justifiably, the community has serious questions,” she said. “All leadership in the city, including our chief of police, must commit to fully investigating the circumstances leading up to this senseless killing.”
Her statement came after the state NAACP on Thursday also demanded a full investigation.
“We know a black man was publicly shot to death in our city,” Adams said. “We know the alleged killer is a white man. We know social media postings from the alleged killer indicate he may harbor white supremacist views. We know this killing took place just days after a highly publicized, and bigotry-motivated slaughter in El Paso, Texas.”
Granato’s Instagram account shows several pictures and videos of him handling firearms. It also shows a 2014 picture of him and a friend wearing shirts that read “’Murica” and holding up the OK hand signal. In the past two years, the hand signal has increasingly been associated with white supremacy, but according to the Anti-Defamation League, it is often hard to say whether a person is using the hand signal to show support for white supremacy without some other evidence.
Mayor Allen Joines is scheduled to hold a news conference Monday morning at City Hall to show support for the Sampson family and to reassure the family that city officials will explore all possible motives for the shooting.
Deborah Sampson, Julius Sampson’s aunt, gave a brief interview Friday morning. She wanted people to know how good of a man Julius was and how much he loved family. She said she hoped and prayed that the man charged in her nephew’s death is brought to justice.
And then, her voice seemingly exhausted by grief, she quietly hung up.
Five-year old Nayeliz Garcia scoured a large, white board for a capital “K” in class recently at Bolton Elementary School.
After looking left to right, she spotted the red magnet letter in the upper left corner of the board.
Then she placed it at the bottom, along with other letters and numbers that Michele Kelley, a teacher assistant, had asked that she show her.
“Very good,” Kelley said.
Nearby, Jayden Hernandez, Benjamin Roberts, Allison Garcia and Aiden Gomez, all age 4, sat around a table, smiling broadly as they created pink slime. To make the sticky matter with their teacher, Christina Heiner, the children used Borax detergent booster, water, food color and glue.
“See how it falls right off your fingers?” Heiner said, as the children grabbed handfuls of the slippery matter.
All five children were among more than 500 who participated this summer in two Pathway transition programs — Pathway to K and Pathway to One — at nine schools throughout the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school system. In addition to Bolton, the programs were held at Old Town, Gibson, Griffith, Kimberley Park, Petree, Smith Farm, Kernersville and Speas elementary schools.
The transition programs give rising kindergarten and first-grade students extra time to develop the academic and social skills they need to be successful on the first day of school.
Transportation and meals are provided to students.
The programs have an integrated curriculum, meaning they include science, math and STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — with a heavy focus on literacy skills.
“This year, our attendance is the highest it’s ever been in both programs,” said Kelley Bendheim, the interim program manager for Project Impact and the liaison between the school district and Project Impact.
The programs are paid for by Project Impact, a community initiative and nonprofit aimed at providing additional operating money to Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools to address student achievement gaps.
“If Project Impact did not provide this funding there would be no Pathway summer programs,” Bendheim said. “Project Impact is imperative to the work that we do here in the district.”
The goal is for Project Impact to raise $45 million overall through donor funds and local and national foundations over a six-year endeavor.
So far, the non-profit has raised more than $25 million.
“Not only do they fund these summer programs but they also fund the work of the (WS/FCS) Office of Early Learning,” Bendheim said.
She said that the nonprofit focuses on pre-K expansion, extended learning opportunities such as the two Pathway summer programs and family engagement, as well as professional development for teachers.
This year, Project Impact provided $584,802 for the Pathway summer programs.
Elizabeth Noell is the director of Pathway to One and Miranda Rich is the director of Pathway to K.
Pathway to K started in summer 2016. The idea for the program grew out of the local Ready Schools Committee that included stakeholders from the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools and Smart Start of Forsyth County
Pathway to K focuses on four areas of development — social and emotional, physical, cognitive, and language, said Vanessa Osborne, transition coordinator in the Office of Early Learning for the school district.
Children learn such things as how to identify feelings, how to make friends, cut with scissors, solve problems and tell stories, Osborne said.
Bendheim said that Pathway to K gives children their “first experience with school and you are doing it before they begin kindergarten, so you are setting them up for success before they enter the door on that first day of school.”
Bendheim said the program is doing well because it gives parents the opportunity to engage in the work.
She also attributed the program’s success to the fact that transportation was provided for the first time this year for Pathway to K, and to the way the school day is outlined.
“We have intentional focuses on early childhood development and that includes academic, and social and emotional development,” Bendheim said.
Although Pathway to One has always had transportation services, this is the first year, transportation has been offered for Pathway to K.
In 2018, Pathway to One came online for rising first-graders.
Noell said the vision was to create “a summer program that would address the needs of our kindergartners to bridge the gap during the summer for their reading foundational skills needed.”
She said that kindergarten is where children begin their journey of being able to read.
“If we don’t continue that practice during the summer, they typically come back to first grade a little behind where they left kindergarten,” Noell said
She said that the classes are small and there is an abundance of resources for the children, including specially designed reading games.
“We also have the ability to train our teachers to support the children in this type of program,” Noell said. “There is none other like it in the state.”
Family engagement is a big part of both programs.
“We show them how to help their child and coach them through any homework they (children) might get, just remind them of the opportunities that are around them on a daily basis to be able to integrate literacy and math into their conversations and their activities with children at home,” Osborne said.
Bendheim said that the programs also enable parents to start developing relationships early with the schools and teachers.
Thursday was the last day of the summer transition programs before school starts on Aug. 26. Classes were held for 15 days last month.
For the last day of school, students were treated to a “Books A Palooza” in which they each received 10 free books of their choice along with other educational goodies.
The items were put in backpacks, provided by East Winston Missional Network, a group of Methodist churches.
A letter from the N.C. Association of Educators to state Treasurer Dale Folwell may have been the tipping point in resolving the State Health Plan’s network coverage dispute for 2020.
Thursday, the SHP and Folwell ended their controversial attempt to compel the state’s 126 hospitals to sign a contract requiring reduced rates for reimbursement.
The goal was making the Clear Pricing Project plan the only in-network option for the state health plan.
The NCAE letter, sent Wednesday by President Mark Jewell, pointedly described the group’s worries about public school educators and staff potentially having to pay higher costs for out-of-network health care, or having in-network options not accessible, particularly in rural areas.
The NCAE represents 165,000 public-school educators and about 260,000 SHP participants overall when counting family members, or about 36% of the 727,000 participants.
“SHP members are rightfully frightened and frustrated at the lack of information coming out of your office, and we feel strongly that it is time to stop playing political games and put the best interests of members first,” Jewell wrote.
“N.C. educators need you to do your job, so they can concentrate on doing their jobs.”
The SHP and Folwell agreed to retain Blue Cross Blue Shield of N.C.’s Blue Options network for 2020, as well as the CPP network for five hospitals and 27,000 providers.
The hybrid network was unveiled just three days after a second CPP sign-up period ended Monday with just one hospital joining, and only five overall. The first sign-up period ended July 1.
Frank Lester, spokesman for the treasurer’s office, said Friday he did not believe the NCAE letter played a role in the 2020 SHP coverage network plan, but deferred comment to Folwell, who could not be reached.
On Friday, Jewell released a statement saying “we are relieved that all SHP participants will have access to quality, affordable health care next year, and that our members will not have the prospect of their local hospital or doctor being out-of-network hanging over their heads as they prepare for the start of the upcoming school year.”
“It appears the combination of the Blue Options network and the new State Health Plan network will give members sufficient choice and access for their health care needs.”
Folwell launched in October his attempt to move the SHP to a government pricing model tied to Medicare rates via the CPP contract.
Hospitals and medical providers that did not sign the contract could have become out-of-network for SHP participants on Jan. 1.
Jewell told Folwell that the NCAE “shares your concerns over the billing practices of hospitals and health systems. We share your vision for a more transparent and open health-care marketplace, and also agree that steps must be taken to save the SHP money wherever possible.”
“Unfortunately, both of these laudable goals are now in jeopardy as a result of the flawed CPP strategy and implementation.”
Jewell wrote of NCAE’s concerns intensifying “given the revelations of the past week. ... that the Oct. 1 open enrollment date has been suspended until a date ‘that has not yet been finalized.’ It is clear that your office has not sufficiently planned for this outcome.
“With only (five) hospitals signed onto the program, and the largest health systems completely absent from the program, there would be hundreds of thousands of SHP members who are functionally unable to access quality, affordable, ongoing medical care within a reasonable distance of their home.”
Jewell asked Folwell to “fully explain your proposed solution to the current impasse, including a detailed timeline for implementation.”
The combined hybrid network will have more than 68,000 in-network providers. Blue Cross is the third-party administrator of the SHP.
The SHP said the combined network “is designed to comply with access to care requirements for hospital coverage.”
“For members, this means they will continue to have access to the provider network they utilize today, along with some new providers that were not previously part of the Blue Options network” after those providers signed the CPP contract.
The N.C. Healthcare Association conducted a statewide public-relations campaign against the reimbursement contract, targeting Folwell’s role in the initiative. That included lobbying Gov. Roy Cooper and legislative leaders of both parties. The legislature has given the state treasurer the authority to negotiate SHP contracts.
“While the specific benefit design for this plan has yet to be seen, this move will help maintain access to in-network care for them (SHP participants),” the NCHA said in a statement Thursday.
“NCHA and our members look forward to working with the treasurer and the General Assembly to develop a stronger, sustainable, transparent future for the State Health Plan.”
Folwell stressed in Thursday’s statement that “the Clear Pricing Project is just the beginning” of his efforts to reduce health-care costs.
Folwell said that by the NCHA “spending millions of dollars to oppose us and by using cartel-like tactics, these organizations were able to convince most hospitals to boycott the State Health Plan.”
“If big hospitals could do this to their largest customer, just think what they can do to the individual average citizen or business.
“We’re in a medical arms race in North Carolina,” Folwell said. “Every dollar unnecessarily or inefficiently spent on health care is a dollar that can never be spent on education and other core functions of government.”