A1 A1
Local
With bond relaxed in sex-assault cases, man facing multiple charges was released Monday

A High Point man accused of kidnapping and either physically or sexually assaulting four women and a 14-year-old girl walked out of the Guilford County Jail Monday morning, days after the head Superior Court judge of Forsyth County relaxed the conditions on his bond.

Michael Dean Myers, 33, of the 600 block of Sink Lake Road in High Point, faces several charges of kidnapping, rape, attempted first-degree rape, sex offenses and physical assault that stem from incidents that happened between Feb. 23 and March 25 of 2018. He was arrested and charged on March 28, 2018 and had been held at the Guilford County Jail with bond set at $5.5 million.

But Todd Burke, the senior resident Superior Court judge for Forsyth County, relaxed the terms of his bond on Thursday, allowing him to be released without posting bond with the promise that he appear in court. Specifically, Burke unsecured the bond. Before Burke’s decision, Myers had been held under a secured $5.5 million bond.

Having a secured bond means that a criminal defendant has to pay a percentage of the bond in cash or property or go through a bails bondsman in order to get out of jail.

Because of Burke’s decision, Myers was released from jail at 9:47 a.m. Monday. Burke ordered that Myers have no contact with the alleged victims or witnesses in the case. Burke also had initially ordered that Myers check in with Guilford County Court Services, which manages defendants who are out on pre-trial release.

But Guilford County Assistant District Attorney Lori Wickline said Burke struck that condition on Friday. Burke also ordered the district attorney’s office to obtain signed affidavits from all the alleged victims in which they state their desire to still prosecute the case, which is scheduled for trial during the week of Sept. 14.

“Our office has tried to reach out to the victims in this case (to notify them of Myers’ release),” Wickline said Monday. “The ones we were able to reach out to ... they were obviously very upset with that decision.”

Burke did not immediately respond to a message from the Winston-Salem Journal seeking comment. Michael Troutman, the attorney for Myers, declined to comment on Friday.

Burke’s ruling on the bond came out of a hearing Thursday on a motion to dismiss that Troutman had filed. Troutman had alleged that Myers’ constitutional rights to a speedy trial had been violated because prosecutors had failed to timely set a trial date in the case. Wickline opposed the motion. Burke ultimately denied the motion to dismiss.

The attorneys decided to set a trial for Sept. 14. Wickline said Friday that Burke cited the trial date and the fact that it could not be set any sooner as one of the reasons for unsecuring the bond.

Wickline said Monday that if Myers fails to appear at a court hearing in his case, a judge could issue an arrest warrant and set a secured bond. That bond could be set at $5.5 million or at another amount determined by the judge.

“I’ve been speaking with the High Point Police and the detectives about going door to door to warn women in the areas where these crimes (were committed) to be on the lookout and just to let them know he’s been released from prison because it is a public-safety concern,” she said.

According to a search warrant, the first alleged incident happened on Feb. 23, 2018. A 14-year-old girl told police that a man later identified as Myers was driving an SUV and had followed the girl while she was walking down Redding Street. When she got to a fence on Southern Place just before Courtesy Road, the man got out of his vehicle, knocked the girl to the ground and tried to drag her to his car. The girl kicked the man, who attempted to rape her.

The assailant, however, picked up a rock or a brick and threatened to smash her with it, the search warrant said. The girl then stopped struggling and the man forced her to perform oral sex on him while he pulled her by the hair. He also choked her. The man let her go and she ran to a family friend’s house.

The next day, a 33-year-old woman who worked as a prostitute said a man picked her up in an SUV and drove her to the 2100 block of South Elm Street, where he assaulted her and forced her to perform oral sex. She broke free, and the man chased her down in his car. He caught her and again forced her to perform oral sex. Then, according to the search warrant, he knocked her to the ground and hit her several times.

About that same time, High Point received a third report, this time of an attempted sex offense. A 29-year-old woman who was also a prostitute told police that a man in a light blue or gray SUV asked her if she needed a ride. She accepted and asked him to take her to a hotel. Instead, the man pulled the car over and started to choke her. The man also demanded the woman perform oral sex. She pushed the man and was able to get out, but the man tried to run over her as she ran away, the search warrant said.

In another court document, the woman wrote that she had mistakenly picked Myers out of a photo lineup. However, the charges against him in connection to her alleged assault are still pending.

On March 15, 2018, indictments allege Myers kidnapped and sexually assaulted a woman. He is also accused of grabbing her by the throat and hair.

Indictments also allege that on March 25, 2018, Myers kidnapped a 47-year-old woman. The woman had accepted a ride from Myers as she walked down South Elm Street. Myers then drove the car at a high rate of speed before slamming on the brakes and hitting the woman in the face. The woman got out her pocketknife and swung at the man, forcing him out of the car. She got into the driver’s seat and drove off.

Myers denied the allegations during an interview with High Point police detectives, the search warrant said.

Myers does not have any other court dates other than the Sept. 14 trial date. Other court dates may be set in the future for pre-trial motions.


Business
Shoppers say violent incidents at Hanes Mall make them cautious about venturing out

Hanes Mall has become a daytime-only shopping destination for Lisa Frenette.

Frenette, of King, was at the mall early Monday afternoon with a friend who was successful in finding a pair of boots she liked in the Macy’s store-closing sale.

“I only come here in the daytime, but even then I don’t feel totally safe,” Frenette said.

“It’s a shame, but the violence and online shopping are going to make malls a thing of the past.”

Frenette referenced a shooting outside the Forever 21 clothing store at Hanes Mall on Friday night that resulted in a male teenager being seriously injured and an 18-year-old being arrested. Winston-Salem police said the victim and the assailant knew each other.

The shooting shattered several windows at Forever 21, but no one inside the store was shot or injured, police said. The store opened for business Saturday despite the damage.

According to the mall’s curfew, which began in 2010, teenagers without an escort are required to leave by 6 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Unsupervised teenagers are not allowed to congregate in the parking lot, outside sidewalks and the entrance corridors at the mall.

The curfew policy is in effect for the entire mall except for Belk, Macy’s, J.C. Penney and Dillard’s, which have outside entrances, the mall policy states.

Friday’s shooting was the second high-profile incident of gun violence at Hanes Mall in the past five months. On Aug. 6, prosecutors say Robert Granato, 23, shot and killed Julius Sampson Jr., 32, in the parking lot of a restaurant on the perimeter of the mall. Granato is charged with first-degree murder.

Frenette said that when she chooses to shop in person, it’s typically at a non-Hanes Mall retail store, such as Kohl’s, Stein Mart or Target, “because people go to those stores to shop, and not just to hang out as the young people do.”

Jill Cline of Cleveland, who was shopping with her daughter and granddaughter, said she has enjoyed coming to Hanes Mall over the years because “it’s bright with lots of choices.”

Like Frenette, Cline said she also limits her shopping to daytime hours no matter where she goes.

“I’m just hesitant to go out at night in general where there are a large gathering of people,” Cline said.

“You have a generation of teenagers whose parents are either not doing a good job of keeping track of them, or would rather them be out of the house than at home.

“It’s why, when I am shopping, I’m always looking around for things that don’t look right, don’t add up, make me feel uncomfortable,” Cline said.

Sarah Kotelnicki, marketing director for Hanes Mall, said Monday that “we take the concerns of our customers and the community very seriously.”

“We evaluate our measures on an ongoing basis, and make adjustments as necessary. We are reviewing our procedures in light of this most recent situation and will make any necessary modifications.”

The mall’s code of conduct prohibits the “carrying or displaying weapons of any kind, except those carried by authorized law enforcement officers or security personnel in the performance of their duties, and by security officials specifically permitted by shopping center management.”

Kotelnicki said the mall employs a full-time third-party security company. Police Lt. Jose Gomez said the mall hires off-duty police officers for weekend duty.

“We work closely with and maintain open lines of communication with Winston-Salem Police Department,” Kotelnicki said.

“However, we are unable to discuss these measures in detail, as doing so would compromise our efforts.”

Gomez said off-duty police officers working at the mall are trained “that if they see a potential problem to call in backup.”

“The patrol captain has added an emphasis to officers to be more intentional about being more visible with their presence in and about the mall.”

Gomez said police consider Friday’s shooting as “an isolated incident.”

An internet search for mall shootings demonstrates that Hanes Mall is unfortunately not alone in having acts of violence and fatalities on or around its premises.

In December, a 13-year-old girl was fatally shot, and two others teens wounded with non-life-threatening injuries, in the parking lot of Concord Mills outside the Dave and Buster’s restaurant.

The Charlotte Observer reported that the fatal shooting has shoppers pushing for Concord Mills to institute a curfew for teenagers. The International Council of Shopping Centers reports more than 100 U.S. malls have some sort of policy limits on access for minors.

Friday’s shooting is the fourth known incident of violence on or at the Hanes Mall premises in the past three years.

In March 2018, five teenagers were charged in connection with a disturbance at the mall’s food court that involved up to 100 teens, police said.

A number of those teens refused to leave the mall premises, violating the mall’s 6 p.m. curfew and engaging in a skirmish with police.

More than 40 police officers responded to the incident and remained on-scene for more than two hours as they emptied the mall of all shoppers. The nearby McDonald’s was also cleared out by police as teens began to congregate around the mall.

In January 2017, a 22-year-old man was shot while in his vehicle in the parking lot of Chipotle Mexican Grill near the mall.

Like Friday’s incident, police said that shooting was not random. All the parties involved appear to have known each other or had prearranged a meeting at the restaurant for an unknown reason.

Duwooe Jones of Winston-Salem said he enjoys his weekly trips to Hanes Mall with his wife and other family members. “I find the mall a pleasant place to be and I’m not afraid to be here,” Jones said.

“But I am careful in how we carry ourselves. We tend to our own affairs. The problems that the mall is having are just problems that we in society are having no matter where you go.

“I’ve just decided that if I come across someone who looks off or angry just to get out of their way.”


Local
special report
Donors can pay off lunch debt for Winston-Salem/Forsyth students, school system clarifies

A spokesman for the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools said a miscommunication led donors to think the district would not accept donations for lunch debts at a local school.

“We worked to correct that information with the parties that questioned it,” Brent Campbell, chief marketing and communications officer for WS/FCS, said on Friday.

On Wednesday and Thursday, social media lit up with posts from folks worried about students getting nutritious meals and concerned that the school district would not allow donors to pay off lunch debts.

Based on the posts, people were also concerned that the school system would hold on to donations throughout the year then pay off the debts as a whole at the end of the school year.

Donors wanted to pay on the lunch debts for students at Morgan Elementary School in Clemmons. As of the end of December, Morgan’s lunch debt balance was about $1,934.

Campbell said the miscommunication has been cleared up and Morgan Elementary is more than grateful for the donation it has received for lunch debts.

“The educational team at Morgan is overwhelmed by the kindness the community partners continue to show,” Campbell said. “They are thankful so many community groups step forward and do so many different things to support the students and their learning.”

Students have their own meal account with the school system and can add money to that account or pay their debt down at any time.

A regular meal at elementary schools in the district costs $2.80 and consists of three items, including a meat/entree, and a beverage. Students can add items for an additional cost or buy less than $2.80 worth of food.

Campbell also said that WS/FCS Child Nutrition Services never turns students away from lunch, regardless of their ability to pay.

The free meal that students receive if they have a negative meal balance or don’t have money to pay is not the same as the regular school meal. The free meal does not include a meat or entree; rather it consists of a hot vegetable, two rolls and milk.

“Students who have not been approved as meeting the guidelines for free and reduced lunch, can accrue negative balances on their meal accounts,” Campbell said. “While the circumstances vary as to why a student may not have money in their account, we never deny a student lunch. We always provide a hot, nutritious meal.”

Campbell said community groups have helped in various ways to pay off negative balances throughout the district.

“Donations are always welcome and we apologize a potential donor may have been told otherwise,” Campbell said. “School provided breakfast, lunch and now dinner options ensure students all over this district have access to nutritious meals so they are ready to learn.”

As of November 2019, 39 of the district’s 80 schools are part of the Community Eligibility Provision where all students receive regular breakfast and lunch for free.