After an apparently stray bullet killed a Forsyth County teen in a Raleigh hotel room last week, North Carolina gun control advocates are renewing their calls for firearms reforms.
According to ABC News, Nathan Andrew Clark, 13, of Lewisville, died after a bullet discharged in a neighboring hotel room. Police said the bullet passed through the wall and struck Clark in the head.
The gun's owner, 42-year-old Randall Louis Vater, was reportedly charged with involuntary manslaughter and possession of a firearm by a felon. State records show Vater has a lengthy criminal record, including convictions for felony breaking and entering, larceny, drug possession and assault on a female.
This week, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America called on lawmakers to close the loopholes that allow felons to obtain guns without a background check.
"While we don’t know all the details, we do know that shootings like this cannot become the new normal for parents here in North Carolina and around the country," said Kaaren Haldeman, a volunteer for the North Carolina chapter of the group. "While the gun lobby continues to fight against legislation that would keep guns out of dangerous hands and to weaken gun laws around the country, Moms will fight for safer gun laws to help stem the tide of gun violence that too often takes the lives of innocent children.”
The group, which has become one of the country's leading advocates for gun reforms, started after the Newtown, Conn., school shooting in December 2012. The group received an Indy Citizen's Award this year.
Six months after North Carolina inmate Michael Anthony Kerr died during a transfer to Raleigh’s Central Prison, federal officials have opened a criminal investigation.
Indy Week obtained copies Friday of two grand jury subpoenas requesting prison documents from Steve Harrison, the transfer coordinator at Central Prison, and Chris Crawford, administrative services manager at Alexander Correctional Institution in Taylorsville.
Kerr was held in solitary confinement at Alexander Correctional for roughly a month before his March 12 death. The subpoenas indicated federal officials were investigating a suspected felony.
An autopsy report released last week blamed Kerr’s death on dehydration. The report also noted that Kerr, who had been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, was not being treated for his mental illness. Kerr family members have blamed the prison for his death.
Since the Indy reported his death in April, the prison has dismissed nine workers. Two more workers resigned and another 20 to 30 were disciplined or reassigned. On Thursday, the N.C. Department of Public Safety reported that it had also placed a new administrator—the top staff position—at Alexander Correctional.
Meanwhile, the department, the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation and the nonprofit Disability Rights N.C. conducted investigations into Kerr’s death. Disability Rights announced its findings last week, concluding that there were “severe deficiencies” in the prison’s care for Kerr.
“The tragedy of Michael Kerr’s death and what we have learned from it cause us to re-emphasize our commitment to the most professional and humane treatment of all those in our care and control,” said DPS Secretary Frank Perry in a statement.
DPS said Thursday that it is rolling out a series of reforms for inmates with mental illnesses, including offering specialized crisis training for custody staff and medical and mental health employees across the state. Four facilities in the state, not including Alexander Correctional, were already using the training.
According to Pam Walker, DPS spokeswoman, the department will also:
1. Conduct multidisciplinary team meetings with facility management at Alexander Correctional Institution.
2. Hold a mental health review for all infractions committed by mental health inmates before placing them in isolation.
3. Conduct mission reviews of all facilities to “better serve the inmate population and reduce the number of facilities with multiple missions.”
4. Relocate a residential mental health unit from Alexander Correctional to Maury Correctional Institution in Greene County.
5. Create a new Therapeutic Control Unit at Maury Correctional Institution and other facilities with specific mental health missions.
6. Per a recommendation from Disability Rights, DPS will contract with consultants to review mental health operations at Alexander Correctional Institution and prisons statewide.
7. Establish a task force to develop policies for the housing of inmates with mental illness statewide.
More on this as it develops.
After five months of waiting, an autopsy report released Thursday blamed deceased N.C. inmate Michael Anthony Kerr's death on dehydration. However, the report says it's unclear whether Kerr was dehydrated because prison workers did not provide water or because he refused water, leaving his official manner of death "undetermined."
Kerr's sister Brenda Liles, said the report only strengthens her belief that the prison is to blame. "When you’ve got a man isolated, how can he get the water and the food if you don’t give it to him?" said Liles.
As reported in the Indy in April, Kerr—who had spent a month in solitary confinement—died March 12 while en route from a Taylorsville prison facility to Raleigh's Central Prison. Sources said Kerr, who had been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, had been left untreated and covered in his own feces for days in Taylorsville.
The autopsy indicated Kerr was not being treated for his schizoaffective disorder, a disorder that combines the psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia with a mood disorder. Family members, who have blamed the prison for his death, said Kerr was depressed. When he died, Kerr was being transported to Central Prison because it is the state prison system's primary medical and mental health facility for male inmates.
The report also noted a contusion on the right side of Kerr's forehead. After viewing his body, family members said it appeared Kerr had been beaten before his death.
Since the Indy's report, seven prison workers have been fired and another 20 disciplined. Meanwhile, the Department of Public Safety, the State Bureau of Investigation and Disability Rights N.C. have all opened ongoing investigations into Kerr's death. No criminal charges have been filed yet against prison workers, although officials have not ruled out the possibility.
DPS Secretary Frank Perry told the Indy in May that there is a "preponderance" of evidence that prison workers acted inappropriately with Kerr.
Prison workers nationwide have been under scrutiny for their use of solitary confinement—which leaves an inmate isolated for 23 hours out of the day—on prisoners with mental illness, with many mental health experts arguing that the isolation may only exacerbate inmates' condition.
More on this as it develops.
As expected, fast-track fracking legislation, Senate Bill 76, passed the House Commerce and Job Development Committee Wednesday morning, although with several notable departures from the version passed by Senate leaders in February.
Those differences, according to fracking opponent and Environment N.C. Director Elizabeth Ouzts, include stripping the legislation of language allowing the injection of fracking waste underground. The House version also removes a provision booting environmental and geological experts from the regulatory Mining and Energy Commission, the panel tasked with preparing the state's regulatory structure for drilling.
The bill's key point—authorizing the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources to issue fracking permits in March 2015—remains, although with the addendum that permits will require another legislative vote for them to take effect, Ouzts said.
"It is much better than the Senate version," Ouzts said. "But it is still bad for water quality, and it breaks the promise that the legislature made last year that they would allow the Mining and Energy Commission to develop rules before setting a date for permits to be issued."
Senate Bill 76 now heads for the House Environment Committee. The legislation is sponsored by Senate Republicans Buck Newton, Bob Rucho and Andrew Brock. All three senators received substantial campaign contributions from energy companies in recent years.
For the liberals out there: Rachel Maddow—the oh-so-sharp host of MSNBC's "Rachel Maddow Show"—has heard your cries.
On Thursday's show, Maddow panned the ominously-numbered Senate Bill 666, a measure that—for all intents and purposes—appears geared to curb North Carolina's college vote. In case you don't remember, college students made up a key demographic in North Carolina's Democratic election victories of 2008.
The Maddow gem from Thursday's broadcast?
"Do yourself a favor and go set your Google news alert to North Carolina Republicans. They have completely unchecked power right now, and their ideas about how to use that power are, as the political scientists say, rather amazeballs."
For people who don't know what "amazeballs" means, it's a trendy way of saying something is amazing.
The legislation, filed last week by eastern North Carolina Republican Bill Cook, strips tax deductions from parents of college students who choose to vote where they go to school. The measure also requires voters to register in the same county where their vehicles are registered, another shot at college students who retain vehicle registration in their home counties.
Watch Maddow's comments here:
Some of the most inflammatory entries on N.C. Mining and Energy Commission Chairman Jim Womack's blog—in which right-wingers posing as long-dead founding fathers take shots at their political enemies—are, as of this writing, down. The posts were among those cited in this week's story, in which Womack was outed as an author.
Those posts included sharp attacks on former Lee County blogger Keith Clark, a Womack enemy, that labeled him a "psychopathic liar," a "pitiful and desperate person," "fat," and a "freak." One post, apparently written by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Jay, includes unproven allegations that Clark faked a mental illness in order to receive disability checks.
Don't worry, you can't see them there, but you can still see them below.
In the meantime, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, the lawmaker who appointed Womack to the pivotal Mining and Energy Commission, has yet to comment.
Generally speaking, vice presidential candidates are thought of as the presidential ticket's attack dog.
GOP Congressman Paul Ryan, controversial architect of deficit-reducing federal budget plans, was just that when he made a campaign stop in Raleigh Wednesday, taking shots at President Obama on the economy, healthcare and Medicare. His stop comes days after presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney tapped the Ayn Rand devotee as his running mate.
"The president inherited a difficult situation when he came into office," Ryan told a crowd of several thousand fired-up conservatives—mostly white, mostly graying—at the Raleigh facility of sheet-metal fabrication company SMT. "Here's the problem, he's made things much worse."
Ryan used the afternoon stop in the Tar Heel state, one of many key swing states in the upcoming presidential election, to highlight the differences between the Romney and Obama camps, touting Romney as a business-savvy, bipartisan leader and the president as a bitterly partisan, irresponsible spender.
Most North Carolina polls, aside from the left-leaning Public Policy Polling, show the GOP nominee holding an ever-so-slim lead on Obama prior to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte next month.
Catch the full story of Wednesday's Ryan rally in next week's Indy.
To frack or not to frack, this is the question for N.C. Gov. Bev Perdue. The lame-duck governor could ultimately be the one who decides the state's fracking future.
Not surprisingly, the N.C. House of Representatives gave its approval of fracking Thursday, although drilling opponents are likely to see opportunity in the 66-43 vote, which largely fell on party lines. Republicans will need at least six more votes to override a gubernatorial veto should Perdue use that power in the next 10 days.
Supporters say the natural gas drilling would be a boon for a lagging economy, bringing hundreds of jobs and cash. Opponents point to numerous reports of fracking spills and environmental headaches in other states.
The unpopular governor, who announced in January that she would not be seeking a second term in 2012, has been difficult to pin down on this issue.
Perdue prompted some environmental angst in March when she said fracking can be done safely after an industry-guided tour of a drilling operation in Pennsylvania.
It remains to be seen, however, if she would side with state Republicans on Senate Bill 820, the measure that opens the door to legalizing the drilling in a few years after state officials build a regulatory structure.
The governor's office had little to say on the subject Friday. "She will review the bill when it gets to her desk," said Mark Johnson, deputy communications director for the governor's office. "That's our only statement at this time."
Many state Democrats have blasted GOP-steered fracking legislation as ushering in drilling too quickly, and leaving broad powers to a regulatory mining commission where the majority have a direct stake in the industry or have drilling experience.
Critics are also quick to note that, based on low natural gas prices and the state's very modest supply of the resource, drilling isn't likely to happen in North Carolina in the next decade regardless of whether lawmakers legalize the controversial technique.
"Unfortunately, the legislature seems committed to moving forward with fracking without getting essential questions answered about the potential impact on our water resources," said Molly Diggins, state director of the N.C. Sierra Club, in a statement Friday. "There's too much at stake to make a risky bet like this. The public deserves better."
The House version of the fracking bill that passed Thursday includes some divergence from the Senate bill, including the addition of two local government officials to the mining commission and additional consumer protections. It seems likely that Senate and House conservatives will manage to reconcile the differences in a matter of days.
Meanwhile, environmentalists are asking fracking opponents to contact the governor and urge her to veto the legislation.
Activists with Occupy Raleigh are planning a protest at the governor's mansion at 6 p.m. Monday to call for a veto.
An N.C. State University professor who wants to start a new charter school in Raleigh was arrested earlier this month for failing to appear in court on earlier charges.
Kenan Gundogdu, 34, has applied to start the Triangle Math and Science Academy, which would be a spinoff of the Triad Math and Science Academy in Greensboro. The physics professor serves on the Greensboro school's board.
According to court records, a Raleigh police officer cited Gundogdu on Dec. 3, 2011, for driving without insurance and for driving with a canceled, revoked or suspended tag. Raleigh police later arrested Gundogdu, who lives in Cary, for failing to appear in court, a misdemeanor. He was released from the Wake County jail on $500 bail, a spokeswoman said.
Gundogdu is scheduled to appear in court March 19, according to court records.
Gundogdu has been the lead applicant in three attempts to start the science-and-math-focused charter school in Raleigh. His two previous applications were not approved during the time when the state had a cap on the number of charter schools.
Once the state lifted the cap on charters last year, Gundogdu applied again under the "fast-track" process. The State Board of Education is scheduled to approve a list of "fast-track" applications on Feb. 29 and March 1. If approved, the schools could open in fall 2012.
Applicants have told state officials that they're eying the former Exploris Middle School in downtown Raleigh as a possible site for the K-6 school with 270 students the first year.
Gundogdu couldn't be immediately reached for comment.
Erskine Bowles announced today that he won’t run for governor.
The former UNC-system president who served as chief of staff in the Clinton Administration and twice ran for U.S. Senate and said there are other ways besides serving in Raleigh to make a difference.
Bowles’s name recognition and status as a successful investment banker and co-chairman of a President Obama’s bipartisan budget deficit commission made him an obvious choice for the position once Gov. Bev Perdue made her announcement last week that she won’t seek a second term.
In a poll released earlier this week, Public Policy Polling found Bowles as the most likely Democrat to defeat Republican hopeful Pat McCrory, a former Charlotte mayor who Perdue beat in 2008.
N.C. House Rep. Bill Faison, D-Caswell, Orange, and Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton are the only two candidates to jump in the raise so far, though a gaggle of contenders were waiting to see what Bowles would do before making their intentions known.
Dalton released a statement offering his respect and admiration for Bowles.
“We’ve worked together throughout the years on many issues and he’s a true public servant,” it reads. “I feel confident he will remain an influential voice in state and national policy.”