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Local
Lawsuits accusing Wilkes County landlord of sexual harassment should be consolidated, motion states

An attorney is seeking to consolidate two federal lawsuits that allege a Wilkes County man sexually harassed women who were trying to rent or buy homes from him over a 13-year period.

Two separate lawsuits, including one filed by the U.S. Department of Justice, accuse Robert Neal Hatfield of making unwelcome sexual comments, inappropriately touching women and using his position to coerce women into doing sexual favors in exchange for reducing rent, loan or down payments as well as overlooking late payments. The Justice Department filed its lawsuit last July in U.S. District Court in the Western District of North Carolina. Hatfield was 88 when the lawsuit was filed. He has denied the allegations.

Craig Hensel, an attorney representing two women in a second lawsuit against Hatfield, filed a motion Monday in U.S. District Court asking a judge to consolidate the two lawsuits. In court papers, Hensel argued that both lawsuits make similar allegations against Hatfield and accuse Hatfield of violating the Fair Housing act. He said both cases “focus on the factual issue of whether Mr. Hatfield sexually extorted and harassed tenants, buyers and prospective buyers of his properties.”

A spokesperson for the U.S. Justice Department did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment Thursday, but Hensel said in court papers that the Justice Department was not opposed to consolidating the lawsuits.

Attorneys for Hatfield are opposed, Hensel said in court papers. Ryan Bolick, one of Hatfield’s attorneys, could not be reached for comment Friday.

Hensel said Thursday that Hatfield’s attorneys will have to file a written response to his motion, and a judge will make a decision at a later time.

Hatfield’s real estate business involved the sale and renting of residential properties in Wilkes County. He sold or rented at least 50 homes since 2001, the Justice Department’s lawsuit said. Hatfield’s business also made loans to people who were trying to buy homes, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges Hatfield violated the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.

Hensel’s lawsuit alleges that Hatfield sexually harassed more than 15 women. One of the women in Hensel’s lawsuit was a prospective tenant and accused Hatfield of attempting to grab her breast and groping her stomach in late January 2015 when she and Hatfield toured a property. The woman was pregnant at the time. Hatfield, according to the lawsuit, told the woman she had a “wonderful body.”

When the woman tried to leave the property, Hatfield threatened to call the social services department and have the department remove the woman’s children from her custody, the lawsuit said.

The second woman, who was a tenant, alleged Hatfield commented on her breasts when she called him to fix her dishwasher. Later, when Hatfield came over with a handyman, he hugged her while the handyman was out of the room and again commented on her breasts, the lawsuit said.

No trial date has been set in either lawsuit.


Local
Median on Lewisville-Clemmons Road? Council tells NCDOT it won't support it

CLEMMONS — Acting on an issue that dominated the recent election, the Clemmons Council passed a resolution last week clarifying its position on a N.C. Department of Transportation proposal to build a median on Lewisville-Clemmons Road.

The resolution lets transportation officials know that it will not support a plan to build a median on Lewisville-Clemmons Road from Interstate 40 to U.S. 158.

It also encourages the state to consider other solutions to the traffic problems and appearance of the five-lane road that runs through the business district of Clemmons.

The state owns Lewisville-Clemmons Road and has a final say on all projects.

However, Pat Ivey, the regional engineer for the transportation department, has said that the state will not build a median on the road if the project does not have the support of the community.

The resolution will have no bearing on a study that the state plans to present to the council on May 14.

That study is looking at traffic volume, crash data and future traffic trends and will include recommendations based on that information, Ivey said.

The previous council passed a resolution in September 2016 that cleared the way for the study, which many in the community saw as support for a median on the road.

Those council members argued that the village could always withdraw its support from the project, which is part of a 10-year cycle of projects. Construction of a median would not begin until 2025.

An anti-median sentiment soon emerged, resulting in the election of three new council members and a mayor, all of whom said that a median would hurt businesses.

The resolution voted on last week includes a section that says, contrary to the September 2016 resolution, the current council does not believe that an unbroken median will have the support of Clemmons residents.

Councilman Mike Combest, who voted to include a proposed median on the list of state transportation projects in 2016, objected to that portion of the resolution, saying it could be interpreted by some as “vindictive ... an indictment of the work of previous councils, and that’s unnecessary and rather than creating an opportunity to get as many people on the boat as possible, it will continue to antagonize one portion of the population.”

Mayor John Wait, who helped write the resolution, said it was meant to be factual.

“If someone takes offense, I really do apologize,” Wait said. “It’s not intended to be that way.”

The council passed the resolution 4-1, with Combest voting against it. The council instructed Clemmons Manager Scott Buffkin to forward the resolution to transportation officials.

Though the resolution clarifies the village’s position on a possible median, the transportation department is moving forward with its work on the project.

The village won’t be able to officially withdraw its support for a median until September, when the Transportation Advisory Committee meets to prioritize transportation projects. The committee is made up of representatives from area municipalities. Wait is the village’s representative on the committee, and he campaigned against the median.


Local
Disabled North Davidson grad heading to Chinese orphanages to instill hope

Kevan Chandler spent a lifetime in a wheelchair dreaming of far off places before he decided to break the mold.

After venturing across Europe, Chandler has become a living example that life is full of possibility and hope — a message he hopes to spread as he jets off to visit Chinese orphanages in the fall.

“A lot of these kids have never seen an adult with a similar disability,” said Chandler, who has spinal muscular atrophy. “I hope our time with them and with their caregivers will be an encouragement that, hey, there is a future, there is hope.”

Chandler, who spent most of his life in Winston-Salem, inadvertently became an advocate for people with disabilities when he traveled across Europe in a handmade backpack in lieu of his wheelchair.

In September, Chandler will embark on a trip to China where he and friends will stay at local orphanages in the capital city Beijing and share their story.

Chinese authorities have estimated that a large percentage of abandoned children there have disabilities.

“Whether it’s ‘Oh, look he’s traveling the world’ or ‘Look how his friends help him,’ I hope the kids and caretakers will see they’re not bound by their disabilities,” said Chandler, a North Davidson High School graduate.

Chandler will be joined by four friends who will take turns carrying him. He will also have a translator, a guide and two video crew members.

The video crew will document the journey, much like they did during Chandler’s trip to Europe two years ago.

In 2016, Chandler left his wheelchair behind at the airport to venture through Ireland, England and France with his friends.

It was a leap of faith considering he had never been out of his wheelchair for more than a couple of hours at a time, he said.

While he broke his nose in an almost-car accident, it was the greatest adventure of his life, fraught with visits to historic wonders, he said.

“I thought Europe was it, so it’s kind of cool to see this continue to grow,” Chandler said.

“I’m sure there will be hiccups and challenges on our trip to China, but it’ll just add to the story.”

It’s a lofty goal for most people to traverse the Great Wall of China or climb 600-plus rocky stairs to see a sixth-century monastery in Europe, but Chandler has never let anything hold him back.

A few years ago, he created a backpack that he can fit inside and allows his friends to carry him on their backs.

Traveling in a backpack, as opposed to a wheelchair, has allowed Chandler to visit many places that were not as accessible to him, he said.

“It’s not so much about my dream and what I want to do but giving back and being part of projects that can change lives,” he said.

“We all have limitations, but through creativity, courage and community, we can move beyond those limitations and embrace our full potential.”

Chandler created a documentary on his Europe journey and has written a book on the experience.

At the request of people around the world, they’re working to build a professionally-made backpack that would be adjustable for different disabilities, Chandler said, not just for big adventures but for daily life as well.

They will give backpacks to some of the kids they meet in China.

“Our culture developed this idea we need to be independent and do everything ourselves with ramps and elevators,” Chandler said.

“I don’t think it’s as much about independence as it is about cooperation.”

While the bulk of their journey will be dedicated to interacting with people at the orphanages, Chandler and his friends will take some day trips to see the Shaolin Temple, the Forbidden City and the Great Wall in their mission to see the world.

They launched a Go Fund Me page in late January to help fund the trip.

“With all our travels, we don’t just want to be spectators of the world,” Chandler said. “We want to be part of changing the world.”


Local
Parkland High senior wins statewide monologue competition, will compete in New York City

Growing up, Aniah Brown had thought she wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer or something along those lines.

But by middle school, after she had discovered a love for acting, she decided she’d rather portray those types of roles instead.

 

The Parkland High School senior’s young acting career recently hit a milestone when Brown won first place in the North Carolina August Wilson Monologue Competition in Greensboro on Feb. 10.

She and the second-place winner — Jack Greenberg from Greensboro — will travel to New York City in May to compete in the National August Wilson Monologue Competition against students from 11 other cities and will get to attend a Broadway musical, as well, according to Triad Stage officials.

“I’m actually ecstatic of going and actually winning because I doubt myself a lot, so it’s amazing,” Brown said.

“I just feel like, the experience itself is my trophy, is my win, you know what I mean?” she said. “Even if I don’t win in New York, it’s OK because I feel like I’ve already won. This experience and everything, is amazing, and if I do win, it’s great. I mean, that’s great, but I’m just saying that this whole experience is my prize.”

Her earliest experiences in acting came during elementary school, but she never played the lead role. As a self-described quiet student, she often played the background roles.

But during middle school, Brown discovered that acting was for her.

Brown said she considers herself a better actress and performer when it comes to comedy, but her performance in the competition was far from that.

She picked a monologue from Wilson’s play “Jitney,” where her character is frustrated at her boyfriend for purchasing a house without her knowing.

“So, he bought me a house and he used our food money to do so and I wasn’t very happy about it,” she said, describing the scene as if she was in it, rather than just playing the part. “I was sort of surprised, but as you see in the end of the monologue I tell him that he did the right thing but he just didn’t do it right, you know? He did it the wrong way.”

Hilda Willis, director of education and the teen theater ensemble with the North Carolina Black Repertory Company, where Brown is involved in the teen program, said winning this competition — and getting a chance to compete in New York and be around others with the same passions, talents and aspirations — is a huge opportunity for Brown.

“She has a lot of potential,” Willis said.

Winning this statewide competition was something Brown did not expect to do, she said. In fact, she almost backed out at the last second.

But knowing Willis would be disappointed if she didn’t follow through, Brown pushed through and competed.

“So I said, you know what, I’m going to do it and see where it takes me and look at where I am now?” Brown said. “I was this close to being like, ‘I’m not ready, these kids are probably super great, I don’t want to do it.’”

“It really taught me, you’ve just got to keep going,” she added. “You’ve got to keep doing it, because you just never know.”

Leading up to the statewide monologue competition, Jeffrey Griffin, an instructor at Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools’ Career Center, helped Brown prepare for it. Seeing Brown win the competition was not surprising and this is just the start for her, he said.

“We’re pushing her across the plain to the bottom of the mountain ... just so she can climb,” he said.

Brown said she hopes to attend a university where she can keep learning about theater and build her resume. Her top choice is the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, with UNC-Greensboro and Elon University as her other choices.

“I want to learn more because I just really want to learn more about theater in itself and acting, and that’s what I want to do in college,” she said.