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N.C. House Democrats try to push gun-control bills out of committee and on to floor via petitions

Pescaro

A group of Democratic legislators in the N.C. House in Raleigh is attempting to push two gun-control bills directly to the floor, hoping to ride momentum from an unexpected assist by President Donald Trump.

Trump said in a press conference Monday that he supports states adding “red flag” gun laws.

House Bill 454 is the red-flag bill that Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper cited Monday as an appropriate legislative response to the latest national tragedies in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, in which at least 31 individuals died.

CNN described a red-flag law as enabling individuals who have seen warning signs — typically a family member, but the provision could include law-enforcement officers — to ask for a court order to intervene and temporarily prevent someone who is in an apparent crisis from having access to a gun.

Duke University researchers estimated in a 2016 study that a red-flag law in Connecticut averted one suicide for every 10 to 20 gun removals.

"Even conservatively, that’s about 40 lives over the 14-year period (October 1999 to June 2013) of the study," researchers said.

Middle-aged men, average age 47, were by far the largest demographic to which the orders were applied — 92% in the Duke study.

HB454 has not been acted upon in the House Judiciary Committee since being introduced March 27.

Another piece of legislation, House Bill 86, includes several provisions to improve background checks and deals with gun-ownership requirements. It has sat in the Judiciary Committee since being introduced Feb. 18.

Bill sponsors told House GOP leaders Monday night that they have created petitions to bring both bills out of committee. The petitions, known as a discharge request, are most often undertaken when the sponsors of a bill believe it has been languishing in committee and not given a fair review.

“We must make sure that those judged to pose a grave risk to public safety do not have access to firearms and that, if they do, those firearms can be taken through rapid due process,” Trump said.

The main argument against red-flag laws is concern that law-enforcement officers and the courts could seize an individual’s guns without due process.

HB454 would require the scheduling of a hearing within 10 business days to determine the nature of the danger with the individual, whether the weapons should be returned and whether the person needs treatment.

CNN reported that U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a key Trump ally, said he has reached an agreement with U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., on a federal grant program to assist with enforcing red-flag laws in 17 states and to “encourage” more states to adopt red-flag laws. Graham said Trump “seems very supportive.”

The grant would enable law enforcement to hire and consult with mental-health professionals to better determine which cases need to be acted upon, Graham said.

Petitions need support

from six Republicans

“The time for condolences alone has long passed, and now it is time for action,” Cooper said.

“The General Assembly should move quickly to debate the details of these bills so that we can end up with legislation to keep deadly weapons out of the wrong hands,” he said. “I am also directing my administration to ensure we are doing what’s needed to try to prevent these tragic events.”

The petitions need at least six House Republican signatures, as well as those of every Democratic member, in order for the bills to be heard on the floor.

There is no deadline for securing enough signatures outside the adjournment of the legislative session.

“We need six (Republicans) with the fortitude to walk into the clerk’s office, affix their signature to that petition that says let’s have a conversation about how to keep North Carolina safe. How hard can that be?” asked state Rep. Deb Butler, D-New Hanover. “I’m calling upon my Republican colleagues to do just that. To step up and in this moment, do something. Let this be the moment when you made history. When you did something truly courageous and made your grandchildren proud.”

State Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, a co-sponsor of HB86, said no Republican had signed the petition as of 2:30 p.m. Tuesday.

One of the speakers at the Democrats’ legislative news conference was Drew Pescaro of Apex, one of six UNC-Charlotte students who were shot in the April 30 mass shooting on the university’s campus.

After showing the medical scars across his stomach from his wounds, Pescaro said that legislators “got elected to act.”

“You did not get elected to simply not allow things to get voted on.”

State Rep. Ted Davis, R-New Hanover, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, told The Insider, an online media publication, on Monday that “we’re winding down and I don’t know that there will be an opportunity for us to hear any of those bills this session.

“I also don’t know what the Senate’s appetite is.”

Bill D’Elia, the spokesman for N.C. Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said the senator “is always willing to listen to proposed solutions on any topic.”

“He is concerned about whether some of the ideas being discussed by Democrats at press conferences following the shootings would have stopped the recent tragedies,” D’Elia said.

No one from the office of House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, has responded to questions about his position on the petitions.

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who is running for the Republican nomination for governor, said Aug. 9 that "while solutions to address the problem of mass murders in our country are way past due, I have yet to see a red flag bill that adequately protects the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans."

"Instead, what we get are overly broad, undefined plans that could lead to government gun confiscation."

Forest then cited Republican talking points about potential "root causes that are driving people to violence — the breakdown of the family, mental illness, social isolation and the refusal to recognize the dignity of human life."

"This is hard, much harder than scoring political points. But this kind of approach will be the most effective in solving a defining issue of our generation."

Petitions a last resort

HB454 was submitted in reaction to the February 2018 high school massacre in Parkland, Fla., that killed 17 students and staff members and injured 17 others.

Of the 17 blue- and purple-leaning states with red-flag laws, 12 have been passed since the Parkland shooting, including in Florida. The only Republican-leaning state to pass a red-flag law is Indiana, in 2005.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, said Tuesday that he supports red-flag legislation that the Republican-controlled legislature has declined to take up in the past.

A bill similar to HB86 has been submitted each legislative session after the 2012 massacre of 20 children and six adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Bill co-sponsors acknowledge they face long odds in getting the petitions approved.

Harrison said the petitions are a “last resort within legislative rules and the only avenue we have right now.”

Harrison said Davis’ reasoning about not taking up the bills late in the current session is flawed since tje House GOP leadership has been willing to have the chamber convene 15 consecutive times without voting on a potential override of Cooper’s veto of the state budget compromise.

“We are doing nearly nothing in recent House sessions, some of them lasting less than 20 minutes,” Harrison said, citing the estimated $42,000 cost to operate the legislature on a daily basis.

In the time since Cooper vetoed the Republican-drafted state budget on June 28, the legislature has had 22 House sessions, with some Thursdays declared as nonvoting sessions.

“There is ample time while we’re in the sessions to have a forthright debate on these bills while we’re waiting on the House leadership to decide when they want to vote on the override,” Harrison said.

“These bills are something that everyone should be interested in protecting everyone’s safety. It is No. 1 in our mindsets right now.”

‘N.C. deserves a discussion’

During Monday’s House session, state Rep. Joe John, D-Wake, spoke about the arrest of a man who was caught by legislative police trying to enter the Legislative Building on Wednesday with a loaded handgun and two loaded magazines.

Legislative police enhanced their security-checkpoint steps over the past 12 months after years of limited inspection of visitors’ belongings.

The man’s attorney has said he didn’t realize he was carrying the gun.

John said the man had an appointment to see him about an N.C. Transportation Department contract dispute.

John said that “North Carolina deserves a discussion” on the bills. ... To hold (these bills) hostage in committee and not have any debate on gun safety is wrong.”

State Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth, said she would support red-flag laws “that offer an avenue to identify potential killers and protect the public. In almost every case of serial killers, there were signs and red flags of potential violence.” .

Krawiec said that “it’s important that laws be drafted properly to protect individual liberty. If drafted improperly, this could grant the state power to deprive some citizens of a fundamental constitutional right.”

State Sen. Paul Lowe, D-Forsyth, said the N.C. General Assembly is not likely to move forward with red-flag laws until the U.S. Senate passes “common-sense gun safety laws.”

“Congress cannot wait for another tragedy to spur action,” Lowe said. “Lawmakers at the national and state levels must work together to prevent a future tragedy.”

Bipartisan overtures could work

“I suspect that if,” said Mitch Kokai, senior policy analyst with the John Locke Foundation, a conservative-leaning research group based in Raleigh, “Cooper and the Democratic legislators play the blame game or criticize Republican legislative leaders, their ideas will go nowhere.

“But if they make realistic bipartisan overtures to their GOP counterparts, President Trump’s comments might carry weight with some members of his party,” Kokai said.

“It would not surprise me to hear legislative leaders say that August is not the time to launch into a thorough discussion of such a complicated and contentious issue,” he said.

Momentum for red-flag laws is clearly building in blue and purple states, said John Dinan, a political science professor at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, and a national expert on state legislatures.

“A fair number of states passed such laws this year, and with more states expected to pass such laws ... in coming years,” Dinan said.


Z-no-digital
Shooting outside restaurant leaves one dead

Granato

A man was shot and killed Tuesday outside BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse at Hanes Mall.

The shooting took place in the restaurant’s parking lot, Winston-Salem police Capt. Steven Tollie said. Officers received a report of the shooting at 3:41 p.m.

Julius Randolph Sampson, 32, of Oake Point Drive died at the scene, police said. Robert Anthony Granato has been charged with murder and carrying a concealed gun in connection with Sampson’s death, police said. No address or age were given for Granato.

Police said Sampson and Granato were involved in a disburbance in the restaurant. The two men went outside where they continued to argue.

At some point, police said, Granato drew a weapon and fired, striking Sampson.

Police interviewed several people who were involved in the argument, Tollie said.

“There is no reason for the surrounding community to be alarmed that anyone is on the loose related to this incident,” Tollie said.

Police officers searched a burgundy Honda in the parking lot of BJ’s, and a group of detectives entered the restaurant shortly before 5 p.m. The restaurant was closed after the shooting, Tollie said.

Granato was being held last night in the Forsyth County Jail with no bond allowed. Sampson’s death was the 15th homicide in the city this year.

A family member of Sampson’s declined to comment when reached by phone.

Angelo Terry was a friend of Sampson’s.

Terry said he was devastated.

“The impact of this loss will be felt for a very long time,” Terry said. “He was very important to the community.”

Sampson, who was married and had three children, worked as a barber in the Supreme Legacy Barbershop in Hanes Mall, Terry said.

Terry said he and Sampson had spoken earlier Tuesday about the mass shootings over the weekend in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.

It was eerie that Sampson was killed in gun violence as well, Terry said.

Sampson’s Facebook page was flooded Tuesday with pictures and posts about the popular barber.

People shopping at the mall were shaken by the shooting, which police said early-on was an isolated incident.

Monique Mumford of Winston-Salem was going to the U.S. Post Office in the mall when she saw police cars arrive at the restaurant.

“It’s not safe anywhere,” Mumford said. “Gun violence has gotten out of hand.”

Theresa Harris of High Point said she felt for the victim’s family. “You think about the person who lost his life,” Harris said. “I decided to get out the house and go to the mall and this happens.”

Jakeel Cooper of Winston-Salem called the shooting a tragedy. “I’m just praying for (his) family,” Cooper said. “All of the violence has got to stop.”


Andrew Dye/Journal  

A woman holds her head in her hands as officers with the Winston-Salem Police Department investigate a shooting at BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse at Hanes Mall.


Allison Lee Isley/Journal  

Winston-Salem police officers search a burgundy Honda after Tuesday’s shooting at Hanes Mall.


Local
School teams face limits in assessing, handling threats

Schools throughout the U.S. have been setting up teams to assess potential threats posed by students who display signs of violence like the former student who compiled a “hit list” years ago in high school and went on to fatally shoot nine people Sunday in Dayton, Ohio.

Despite consensus on the approach’s benefits, school officials say they are limited in what they can do by privacy concerns, a lack of resources and limits on what they can communicate once a student leaves school.

The gunman, Connor Betts, 24, was suspended for compiling a “hit list” and a “rape list” during his junior year at Bellbrook High School, former classmates told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity out of concern they might face harassment. Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Schools wouldn’t comment and refused to release information about Betts, citing legal protections for student records.

The goal of screening programs at a growing number of schools is to not only flag and deal with threats raised by students, but also to track and manage any risk the student might pose to themselves and others. Under protocols endorsed by the Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Education, school districts are encouraged to set up a threat-assessment team including at least a school administrator, a mental-health professional such as a school psychologist, and a school resource officer or another law-enforcement representative.

The teams consider concerns raised by other students, school-community members and even people commenting anonymously through tip lines in some cases.

Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools has had a threat-assessment protocol in place for more than 19 years.

Corliss Thompson-Drew, the director of psychological services for the school system, said that when a student makes a threat of violence toward someone or something, the protocol is for that threat to be reported to school administration.

Any staff member, student or others in a school can report a possible threat to a school principal.

That threat, for example, might be verbal, physical, or come in the form of drawings or a person with a weapon.

“Then at the school level, the school team will then meet and they will look at whatever the incident or the situation was, what was the threat that was made and explore that in light of the context,” Thompson-Drew said.

She explained that the context of the threat is important because people sometimes say, “I’m going to kill you,” but have no intent behind their statement.

“What we try to determine is what is the motivation, what is the intent,” she said. “To do that you have to look at the context of what has been said, what has happened. We look at the child’s background, history, all those kinds of things.”

She said it might be determined that a threat was made, perhaps in anger or frustration, but there was no intent to harm.

“It might rise to the level of some disciplinary action but not something that would rise, perhaps, to the level of something that is much more substantial,” she said.

For a substantial threat, where there is perhaps motivation, intent or means to harm someone, a two-person team from the school system’s student-services department, including a school psychologist, does a thorough threat assessment, Thompson-Drew said. The threat assessment includes gathering data from multiple sources, such as talking to teachers, the child’s parents and other individuals connected to the student.

“There is a lot of data that is gathered,” Thompson-Drew said.

In addition, instruments are administered to look at a child’s risk for violence along with coping skills.

The goal of this in-depth threat assessment, Thompson-Drew said, is to get a child off a path of violence and put supports in place for that child.

“Obviously, the child is acting in that way for some reason,” she said. “So it would be determining what that situation is, what that context is, making those changes so that the necessary support is in place, therefore, moving that child away from the trajectory of violence.”

She said that the school system continually assesses its protocol to keep it up to date in terms of such things as best practices and research.

She said that the school system tries to make sure that recommendations from assessment reports are followed. She added that school counselors have good relationships with their students and do a good job of following up where they can.

But, Thompson-Drew said, “we always need to look for improvement, particularly in how we are monitoring, whether or not recommendations and interventions were put into place and what was the outcome.”

For the 2019-2020 school year, the school system will work on putting in place a better tracking system.

“We see that as a need,” Thompson-Drew said. “How can we better track kids that have been referred for threat assessments?”

Schools are coming under pressure to have threat-assessment systems in place because of new state laws and court rulings that have held school systems liable, according to Stephen Brock, a professor at the School Psychology program at California State University, Sacramento.

Students who engage in threatening behaviors need to face consequences, but any disciplinary response must also be accompanied by intervention to deal with the root causes, Brock said.

Success stories cannot be discussed because of student confidentiality, he said, but he said interventions have prevented far more tragedies than those that have occurred.

Still, it remains unclear how widely the protocols have been implemented in communities around the country.

Security is a top priority everywhere, but cash-strapped schools need significant resources and commitment to set up effective prevention teams, said Joshua Starr, a former school superintendent and the current chief executive of PDK International, a professional organization for educators.

“Whether or not a school board or principal actually follows through, I don’t think anybody knows,” he said.


Crime
Two Winston-Salem men indicted for second-degree murder in separate fatal car crashes, one involving alcohol use and the other involving racing

Two Winston-Salem men were indicted on murder charges Monday in separate fatal car crashes. One of the car crashes involved alcohol and the other is alleged to have resulted from car racing.

Brandon Darrell Fields, 29, of the 900 block of West Patterson Avenue, is facing second-degree murder and other charges based on allegations that he was driving drunk and crossed the center line on North Liberty Street, killing one woman and seriously injuring three other people who were all passengers in his car.

Ravon Walser Rousseau, 27, of Wakeman Drive, was indicted for second-degree murder on allegations that he was racing another car when he crashed into a taxi cab, killing the driver.

The indictments mean that the criminal cases move from Forsyth District Court to Forsyth Superior Court, where either a trial date will be set or a plea arrangement is made.

The charges against Fields arose out of a crash that happened on Dec. 15, 2018, in the 2800 block of North Liberty Street. The indictments allege that Fields was driving a 2006 Mercury Grand Marquis on North Liberty Street. According to the indictments, Fields was driving drunk when his car crossed the center line and hit an oncoming pickup on North Liberty Street.

Renee Dawn Dix, 46, who lived at Fields’ house and was sitting in the front-passenger seat, was killed. Three other passengers — Gilbert Rossi, Daniella Litzinger and Martha Snowden — all suffered blunt force trauma injuries. Litzinger and Snowden also had fractured ribs, the indictments said.

Officer C.A. McRae said in an affidavit for a search warrant for Fields’ blood that Fields was belligerent with police officers and medical staff at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center to the point where he had to be physically restrained. McRae also said Fields had red, glassy eyes.

According to a report from NMS Labs, Fields had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.21 percent. The legal limit in North Carolina is 0.08 percent.

The report also noted that Fields had methamphetamine, lorazepam and traces of marijuana in his system.

Rousseau is accused of causing the death of Olivia Darlene Florez on Nov. 14, 2018. She worked for Universal Taxi Cab Co. of Winston-Salem and was driving a taxi when the crash occurred.

Florez was turning south onto the 2800 block of New Walkertown Road from a shopping center when the 2008 black Infiniti that Rousseau was driving hit her, Winston-Salem police said. Rousseau is also accused of driving while his license was suspended and reckless driving to endanger. Other criminal charges also include speed competition, which alleges that Rousseau was speeding with another driver, who is unnamed.

Indictments allege that he ran from the scene before police arrived.

Carolyn Gordon Poe, 35, who was a passenger in his car, was indicted Monday on charges that she ran away from the scene.

Forsyth County prosecutors dropped attempted murder charges against Rousseau in 2016. He had been accused of firing his gun at two police officers. Further investigation by police determined that he was firing his gun at targets.

According to the website for the Forsyth County Jail, Rousseau, who has other pending charges, has a bond of $380,500. Fields has a bond of $150,000. It was not immediately clear when the men will make their first appearance in Forsyth Superior Court.