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Crime
Suspect was cut off at bar before fatal shooting outside Hanes Mall, search warrant says

The argument that led to the fatal shooting of a Winston-Salem man at Hanes Mall earlier this month started because a female bartender told the alleged shooter that he couldn’t drink alcohol at the restaurant anymore, according to a search warrant.

Winston-Salem police have released few details about the shooting of Julius Randolph “Juice” Sampson, except to allege that Robert Anthony Granato killed Sampson after the two had an argument on Aug. 6 inside BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse. That argument, police said, spilled outside the restaurant and resulted in Granato shooting Sampson to death.

PHOTOS: Scene of the fatal shooting outside BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse.

Granato, 22, is charged with felony murder and misdemeanor carrying a concealed gun while or after consuming alcohol. He is being held in the Forsyth County Jail with no bond allowed on the murder charge. His next court date in Forsyth District Court is Dec. 5. Nothing substantial will happen in the case until Forsyth County prosecutors seek an indictment that will send the case to Forsyth Superior Court.

Detective R.E. Williams said in an affidavit for a search warrant that on Aug. 6, Granato and his friend, Landon Smith, who has not been charged in connection with the shooting, were at BJ’s Restaurant and drinking alcohol. Managers at the bar decided they would cut Granato and his friend off because of their behavior. When an unidentified female bartender told the two men they couldn’t have any more alcohol, they became belligerent towards her, Williams said in the search warrant.

“Management of the business decided to ask Robert and Landon to leave the property based on their behavior after being told they would no longer be served alcohol,” he wrote in the search warrant application.

The search warrant said Sampson, a 32-year-old married father of three who worked at Supreme Legacy Barbershop in Hanes Mall, asked Robert to stop bothering the bartender, and the two men began arguing. Winston-Salem police have said that both men used racial epithets. Granato is white and Sampson is black. Police have declined to clarify what racial epithet was used and who may have used it first. Police had previously declined to confirm reports that the argument began after Sampson defended the female bartender. Winston-Salem Police Chief Catrina Thompson has said investigators have not uncovered any evidence that the shooting was racially motivated, but she has not released any other information. She has said she has to limit public information to protect the integrity of the investigation.

According to the search warrant, Sampson and Granato continued arguing outside the restaurant. Then the two men began fighting, and Granato pulled out a handgun he had in the backside of his waistband, Williams said in the search warrant. Granato shot Sampson in the chest.

Williams was seeking a search warrant to obtain blood so he could determine if Granato was legally impaired. If he was legally impaired, it would be a violation of state law for him to be carrying a concealed weapon.

Journal challenges sealing of 911 calls

Separately, the Winston-Salem Journal and three television news stations want a Forsyth County judge to release 911 calls in connection to Sampson’s fatal shooting.

Judge David Hall of Forsyth Superior Court signed an order Aug. 9 to seal five 911 calls, saying the public release could jeopardize the ongoing investigation and hurt Granato’s chances at a fair trial.

Authorities did release two 911 calls after Hall’s order. Those calls were from two women who wanted to make sure police were aware of the shooting. A dispatcher tells the callers that police are on the way.

The order sealing the remainder of the calls was file-stamped on Aug. 12, the same day that Mayor Allen Joines held a news conference ensuring a full and transparent investigation into Sampson’s death. Many people believed the shooting was racially motivated.

The Winston-Salem Journal and news stations WXII, WFMY and WGHP filed a motion in Forsyth Superior Court on Friday seeking to overturn Hall’s order sealing the 911 tapes. According to the motion, the process through which Hall signed the order was unconstitutional because media organizations were not notified of a hearing and were not given a chance to be heard on the possible order to seal.

Mike Tadych, Amanda Martin and Hugh Stevens, attorneys representing the media organizations, also object to what they call an implied gag order. Hall’s order limits the copying, dissemination and distribution of the 911 calls to Forsyth County prosecutors, Granato’s attorney, Paul James, and anyone working on their behalf. But the order also applies to “all persons in possession of the above-referenced audio recordings and material until further hearing by this Court.”

Under state law, 911 calls are public record. Law-enforcement agencies can choose to not release the audio of a 911 call if the audio identifies the caller. But if the audio cannot be released, agencies have to release a written transcript of the call. They can also release audio edited to obscure the voice of the caller.

And they can seek to seal the 911 calls through a court order, but the attorneys say law-enforcement agents and prosecutors have to prove that sealing is necessary by a “preponderance” of the evidence.

In this case, the Winston-Salem Journal sought the 911 calls soon after the fatal shooting of Sampson.

Race had emerged as a central issue in the case, with police confirming that Granato used a racial epithet. People on social media have pointed to a 2014 picture from Granato’s Instagram account that shows Granato and a friend both holding up the OK hand signal. Since 2017, the OK hand signal has increasingly become associated with white supremacists.

A video posted on Facebook showed the immediate aftermath of the shooting, and Arnita Miles, a former Winston-Salem police officer, sent a letter to City Council members, raising questions about the police investigation and the response times of police and paramedics to the scene.

Andy Morrissey, managing editor for the Winston-Salem Journal, said the case — a fatal shooting at Hanes Mall — has generated significant community interest.

“The intent of the motion by local news media is to make public records available that may yield crucial evidence about what happened in the moments before the confrontation and shooting,” he said. “As with any death, the question of why is often the most important, and the most difficult, to answer.”

According to the motion filed on behalf of media outlets, even though the Winston-Salem Journal requested the 911 calls from city officials, the Journal never got any indication that police or prosecutors were seeking to formally seal the calls.

The Journal also never got a notification that there would be a hearing in judge’s chambers. There’s nothing in the public record indicating that Hall took sworn testimony from anyone.

“It appears from what is on the public record at present, the in-chambers hearing on August 9, 2019 was conducted without providing notice and an opportunity to be heard to (the requesting parties) or anyone else, and without the most cursory compliance with open court rigors, flouting all constitutional mandates of notice and opportunity to be heard,” the attorneys for the news organizations said in court papers. “These clandestine actions fly in the face of constitutional and statutory protections for public transparency and should be overturned.”

Tadych, Martin and Stevens also argue that the implied gag order is unconstitutional because there are less restrictive ways to protect a defendant’s right to a fair trial.

O’Neill could not be reached for comment. James, Granato’s attorney, said he did not object to prosecutors’ request to seal the 911 calls.

“It is better for all parties that this case not be tried in the press and potentially taint a jury pool to the point where any trial might need to be moved to an adjoining county,” he said Tuesday.

Winston-Salem attorney Angela Carmon said the city would comply with whatever order a Forsyth County judge issues in this matter.

A hearing on the motion has not yet been set.

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Z-no-digital
New Business 40 section to and from downtown Winston-Salem to be opened Friday

A new milestone in the Business 40 renovation will be reached Friday morning when ramps to and from South Main Street are opened to link to Business 40 near U.S. 52.

Crews are scheduled to open both ramps about 5 a.m., before the sun rises and rush-hour traffic starts, according to a state highway official.

“We are excited,” said Larry Shaver, the senior assistant resident engineer for the N.C. Department of Transportation in Forsyth County. “We are going to get some relief out to the east side of town.”

With the ramps open, drivers traveling west on Business 40 will no longer be forced to exit at U.S. 52. Instead, they can use the one lane that will be open over U.S. 52 to the new Main Street exit, where they’ll have got off Business 40.

Similarly, drivers downtown can get onto eastbound Business 40 at Main Street. Once on Business 40, they will have the full range of options at the U.S. 52 interchange: They can take ramps to go north or south on U.S. 52 or continue straight on Business 40 toward Kernersville.

Shaver said he expects a lot of traffic on the newly opened section as commuters are joined by the curious.

“This is brand new for everyone, and everyone is going to go see it,” Shaver said. “With the morning rush-hour traffic, I expect there to be some congestion. Everyone is going to want to come and see the new route. You’ll get a chance to see the new retaining walls. It is definitely worth coming to take a look at.”

In November 2018, officials closed Business 40 between U.S. 52 and Peters Creek Parkway to make it easier and quicker to completely renovate the freeway through downtown.

The $100 million project includes lowering much of the Business 40 roadbed to create more clearance beneath the overpasses; provide longer on- and off-ramps; and reduce the number of exits.

State highway officials have long promised to open up the eastern end of the project as soon as possible and ahead of the full freeway reopening.

Mark Owens, the president of the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce, said the reopening shows the DOT’s commitment to the business community.

“Especially people around the Wells Fargo tower will like having that ramp open,” Owens said. “The DOT is working hard so that the business community can have full access downtown.”

Shaver said electronic message boards will let drivers know the Main Street connection is open.

Westbound traffic on Business 40 will still be reduced to one lane as it approaches U.S. 52 because highway officials don’t want drivers to repeatedly change lanes. People who want to go north on U.S. 52 will take the exit they do now.

Past that exit, the lane will continue over U.S. 52 and lead to the ramp onto southbound U.S. 52. However, westbound drivers will see a new option: A left exit that takes them to Hamilton Bridge and the Main Street off-ramp.

“The primary route still goes to U.S. 52 South, but you will have an exit for Main Street,” Shaver said.

Drivers won’t be able to get to Main Street from U.S. 52 just yet. That will have to wait until the whole project is finished.

“We didn’t want to add to the congestion by opening U.S. 52 South to Business 40 West, and we’re keeping the loop closed to westbound Business 40 (from U.S. 52 north)” Shaver said. “We didn’t want to put all that traffic into downtown because it is just a ramp.”

Meanwhile, drivers who get onto Business 40 east from Main Street will have a full selection of three lanes as soon as they get to Hamilton Bridge.

The new ramps aren’t in their final marking pattern. Traffic will be shifted to the outer edges so construction workers can carry out their tasks on the inside portions beside the future travel lanes.

Even with the recent rains, Shaver said he is confident about Friday’s opening because the weather-dependent part of the work has been squared away.

Other significant milestones are approaching, Shaver said.

In late October, work should be finished on lowering the road level where Business 40 passes underneath the Peters Creek Parkway and Fourth Street overpasses. Business 40 will be down to one lane there while that work is going on.

About the same time, workers should be finishing the new bridge taking Business 40 over Brookstown Avenue, allowing Brookstown to be reopened.

Still later, bridges taking Cherry and Marshall streets over Business 40 will be finished.


Crime
N.C. DMV closes Rural Hall License Plate Agency, citing contract violations

The N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles closed the Rural Hall License Plate Agency on Tuesday for alleged contract violations and possible violations of state law, the division said in a statement.

The agency, which is at 1014 Bethania-Rural Hall Road, was closed following an investigation by the DMV’s License and Theft Bureau, the DMV said. Investigators determined that the alleged activities warranted the office’s closing and the cancellation of its contract.

Since 1989, the Rural Hall License Plate Agency has operated at its Bethania-Rural Hall Road location, the DMV said. John Brockwell, a DMV spokesman, said that Virginia Moore was the office’s manager.

Moore, 62, of 114 Ridgeview Drive in King, was charged Aug. 21 with selling a vehicle at a car dealership without a state sales license, illegally altering a vehicle title and falsely affirming a motor-vehicle registration form as a licensed notary for the state of North Carolina, an arrest warrant says.

Moore is accused of selling a 1999 Toyota Tacoma on behalf of Moore’s Auto Detailing to a customer without having a state sales license, according to the warrant. Moore also is accused of falsifying a motor-vehicle registration form for that vehicle by stating that another person, not Moore, was the vehicle’s seller and fabricating a name and fraudulently notarizing a DMV form regarding the vehicle’s sale, the warrant says.

The offenses took place from Aug. 13 to Aug. 21, the warrant said.

Moore couldn’t be reached Tuesday to comment on the warrant’s allegations. A man who answered the phone at Moore’s Auto Detailing in Rural Hall said that his business had nothing to do with the charges against Moore and that Moore had committed no wrongdoing. The man declined to identify himself, but he said he was Moore’s ex-husband.

Moore was released from custody Aug. 21 after she posted a $2,000 bond, court records show. She is scheduled to appear on Sept. 5 in Forsyth District Court.

No state employees worked at the Rural Hall agency, Brockwell said. Independent contractors operated the office, he said. Brockwell didn’t say how many independent contractors worked in the agency.

Mayor Larry Williams of Rural Hall said the closing of the town’s licence-plate agency is a setback. The agency serves residents in northern Forsyth County, he said.

“I hate that it closed,” Williams said. “I hope it’s temporary.”

John McDermon, a member of the Rural Hall Town Council and the mayor pro tem, said he was surprised and disappointed when he learned about the agency’s closing.

“The license plate office in Rural Hall is always a very busy place,” McDermon said in an email. “The loss of this service will most certainly be a cause of disruption for the citizens of the area.”

If the closing is permanent, town officials will look for ways to replace it and its services, said McDermon, Ricky Plunkett and Tim Flinchum, who are also council members.

“It’s a loss to our community,” Plunkett said. “The town of Rural Hall will be monitoring the situation and will encourage N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles to re-establish license-plate agency services in Rural Hall as soon as reasonably possible.”

DMV officials will perform a final inventory audit of the agency, and will remove state-owned equipment and supplies, the DMV said. Residents can go to license-plate agencies in Winston-Salem, Walnut Cove, Kernersville and Mount Airy.

Residents also can access DMV services online such as making property-tax payments and registration renewals at www.MyNCDMV.gov, DMV said.

License-plate agencies provide vehicle-registration services, title transactions, vehicle license-plate renewals, replacement tags and duplicate registrations, DMV said. There are 126 license-plate agencies across North Carolina.


Crime
Three armed robberies in less than 2 hours Friday night in Winston-Salem. Police say the crimes are connected.

The Winston-Salem Police Department is working to determine who robbed three different people in slightly less than an hour and a half Friday night.

At least three times, in a span of one hour and 18 minutes, a group of young men in a black sedan robbed someone at gunpoint, police Lt. Greg Dorn said Tuesday.

Dorn said the first robbery happened at 8:02 p.m. when the driver of a black sedan pulled up to a car in the 2300 block of Bethabara Road. A man with a gun got of the sedan and demanded money from the other car.

The second robbery happened shortly afterward in the 4900 block of Home Road, where the same black sedan approached another car.

The third robbery happened in the 300 block of Polo Road at 9:20 p.m.

Dorn said police currently don’t have any solid leads and expressed surprise at the brazen attitudes of the robbers.

“They were on a tear,” he said. “They were very active Friday night in an area with a lot of police patrolling.”

Dorn also said he thinks there were other robberies that night that went unreported.

“I feel there may be other victims out there who didn’t come forward because they may be scared or embarrassed that this happened to them,” he said.

Dorn asked that anyone with information about the robberies contact Winston-Salem police at 336-773-7000 or CrimeStoppers of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County at 336-727-2800.