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.