ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. (WITN) - A nationally-known civil rights attorney said the family of Andrew Brown, Jr. will be taken care of with a $3 million dollar settlement against Pasquotank County.
The family of Brown filed a $30 million civil rights lawsuit last year after the man was killed in April of 2021 by Pasquotank County sheriff’s deputies while they were serving drug-related warrants at his Elizabeth City home.
The killing captured national attention and sparked protests calling for justice. A protest was held as recently as April of this year to mark the one-year anniversary of Brown’s death.
The county’s insurance policy, which was provided by the North Carolina Counties Liability and Property Joint Risk Management Agency, will pay the limits of its policy, which is $2 million.
The remaining $1 million will be paid by a special appropriation approved by the Pasquotank County Commissioners.
“I still want to give my sincerest condolences to the Brown family,” Sheriff Tommy Wooten said during a Tuesday afternoon news conference in front of the Pasquotank County Courthouse. “Not a whole lot to say to make that much better. But it happened and we’re gonna try to stay positive and move forward from here.”
No state charges were brought against the deputies involved in the shooting, but the U.S. Justice Department has an ongoing federal investigation to see if any federal civil rights laws were violated.
Attorney Harry Daniels told reporters today that no amount of money can take the place of Brown who is survived by seven children.
“The settlement was designed to make sure Andrew Brown Jr.’s children are taken care of. It does that for years to come,” said Daniels. “You can read between the lines, as such, but they are satisfied with the settlement. Actually, they want other things to take place but at this point as far as the civil matter they are satisfied.”
Wooten said he hopes the settlement brings some closure to the events that have taken place and that a lot has happened over the past year, pointing out that his deputies are better trained now. “We have severely advanced our training to be able to do our job more efficiently,” said the sheriff.
When asked how much of the settlement money the family will receive, Daniels said that was confidential.
WASHINGTON, N.C. (WITN) - An Eastern Carolina family continues to mourn the loss of one of its members as investigators enter the 25th year of searching for her killer.
Rebecca Moses Garcia was shot in Snow Hill and although there has been a suspect since the investigation started, he’s continued to evade arrest.
The year was 1997 when Rebecca Garcia died. Her two-year-old son was at the home at the time of his mother’s death. As her family replays the hardest time of their life, they have grown impatient with the Greene County Sheriff’s Office’s investigation.
“This is the man that murdered my sister 25 years ago,” said Beverly Wilkerson as she held a mugshot.
For years, Wilkerson has been haunted by the image of Ramirez Garcia. Investigators believe he shot and killed his then estranged wife, Rebecca.
A warrant is out for him charging him with first-degree murder.
“Every day we still live with it. No answers, a lot more questions,” said Wilkerson.
The family says Rebecca Garcia was living in Beaufort County but went to the Snow Hill area to pay a ticket. She was staying with a friend in a mobile home on Highway 58.
In the early morning hours, deputies believe Ramirez Garcia attacked.
For years, no new details have been provided to the victim’s family.
“There’s been nothing, absolutely nothing done, except for my daughter making a Facebook page,” said Wilkerson. “She’s done a great job and people have reached out to us, but somebody has got to know where he is.”
The Facebook page is called Justice for Rebecca Moses and it has reached people throughout the East.
Lloyd Tippett says he used to run in the same social circles as Rebecca when they were younger. He found out about her death from the family’s posts.
“I found out who she was and how I know her and it was just so mind-blowing because I’m reading about how she’s supposedly dead and gone and I’m thinking, ‘What happened?’” said Tippett.
Not only did Rebecca’s killer take her away from Beverly, but she can’t find the strength to go near the site of her death.
When asked how she finds the strength to carry on, Wilkerson said, “That’s a good question. We ain’t got no choice. You gotta keep going, you gotta keep looking. You gotta keep remembering.”
Tippett says remembering Rebecca through her Facebook has inspired him to share other families’ stories in need of closure.
“Rebecca being gone now, she don’t have the say so,” said Tippett. “Especially for the family, it’s made it hard.”
As they keep going, they keep advocating for the woman that no longer can.
Greene County Sheriff Matt Sasser says in old cases like this one, updates to the investigation do not come often.
If anyone were to produce a lead on the whereabouts of Ramirez Garcia, he tells WITN his office is ready to pursue them.
Rebecca Garcia’s case remains open so anyone with information on her death is asked to contact deputies.
PAMLICO COUNTY, N.C. (WITN) - A former teacher of the Pamlico County Schools system addressed the school board in a public comment to allege discrimination in the workplace.
Charlon Long, who taught in Pamlico County for 15 years, says her final year created a “bitter environment” that she had to leave.
Long said in her comment to the school board that she now joins a long list of teachers of color who have resigned in the past two years.
“If you don’t believe me, just listen to the names of the minority employees that you have lost within the past two years. I know who I am, I know my worth. I love my students,” Long said.
Long added that her resignation was sparked by several incidents. She felt microaggressions from her superiors, noticing body language and tone that she identified as discriminatory.
She says she watched that dynamic translate to the students, with kids of color being treated differently than their white counterparts.
When Long gave her notice of moving on from Pamlico County Schools, she says she was given hours notice to pack up her classroom, turn in her keys and badge, and leave the school campus.
They didn’t even give me a chance to say goodbye to my students,” Long said. “They didn’t give me the opportunity because they retaliated.”
The Pamlico County School Board returned a request for comment from WITN, saying in part:
“The board was briefed in detail about the allegations made by the former teacher who spoke at the March 7 meeting and who recently resigned. The board is satisfied that the former teacher was not discriminated against, nor was she subject to any retaliation. It is an unfortunate fact that there is a relative shortage of minority teachers throughout North Carolina and the entire country. Many efforts are being undertaken to address the situation, but it will require time and a concerted and collaborative effort at various levels. The Pamlico County Schools welcomes applications from strong teacher candidates of all races.”
Long says she plans to attend the school board meeting for public comment again next month and is considering seeking help from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission if her complaint sparks no action from the board.
The next Pamlico County Board of Education meeting will be held on April 4 and can be live-streamed from the board’s YouTube page.
Family calls for excessive force investigation on Washington County Sheriff’s deputy
WASHINGTON COUNTY, N.C. (WITN) - An Eastern Carolina family is seeking an excessive force investigation, accusing a Washington County Sheriff’s deputy of harassing a man under arrest for marijuana possession.
Sheriff John Barnes wasn’t able to share the name of the accused deputy but confirms a full investigation— including the gathering of witness statements and body camera footage— is underway.
Early Wednesday morning Francis Gilliam was awoken by a call from her son, GaryThomas.
“I said this isn’t going to be no George Floyd. I kept saying that,” said Gilliam. “I repeated it.”
Thomas told his mother he was arrested by Washington County Sheriff’s deputies after being caught in possession of marijuana.
As his family watched his arrest, they say it quickly became violent.
“But I didn’t never go nowhere because I didn’t want to see my son hurt or in danger,” said Gilliam, “and as a mother, you feel for your child. I don’t care if he is grown, they are your kids.”
Thomas’ girlfriend, Caressil Goddard, was with him when he was initially arrested. She says they were in Martin County.
When she got to the Washington County courthouse to meet Thomas’ mother and aunt, she started recording the altercation.
She says she saw deputies with a knee on Thomas’ neck. His aunt then tried to intervene and was arrested during the altercation with deputies.
She says she wanted accountability.
“Now everybody can see how it goes down here,” said Goddard. “They drug him all the way back to the door and still dragged him and his head hit the building. Then, he was knocked out for a minute.”
Thomas went to Vidant Medical Center in Greenville the day after his release from jail complaining of headaches.
WITN sat down with District Attorney Seth Edwards and showed him the cell phone video for the first time.
While Edwards was not able to comment on the matter, he assured the issue would be fully investigated by his office after being provided witness testimony and other body or surveillance camera footage.
Referring to the arrest, Gilliam said, “That just messed me up to be honest with you. I couldn’t even get no sleep because you still see it.”
Washington County Sheriff John Barnes says an investigation by his office is already underway as the family called to make a complaint.
The family will next have to submit a notarized written complaint and the sheriff will provide testimony and footage to the district attorney for review.
WITN will continue to investigate this matter.
WINTERVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - A search is underway for a missing 11-year-old girl in Winterville.
Avery Ginn, 11, was reported missing Monday night. According to the Pitt County Sheriff’s Office, she was last seen around 4:30 p.m. Monday leaving a home on Branch Road.
Ginn is white and about 5′1″ tall. She was last seen wearing blue jeans, a purple Wintergreen Elementary School shirt, a black jacket and cowboy boots.
Ground crews, ATVs and drones are all being employed in the nighttime search in the vicinity of County Home Road near Branch Road.
The Pitt County Sheriff’s Office, Emergency Management, Greenville Police and Chocowinity Police are among the agencies involved.
PCSO asks that anyone with information about Avery’s location call its office at 252-830-4141. Alternately, you can call 911 or Crime Stoppers.
Stay with WITN on air and online are we learn more.
WASHINGTON COUNTY, N.C. (WITN) - Wallace “Brandon” Jones and Leroy Spruill were friends going out for a night at a bar in Washington County. That night ended in a conviction for murder and a sentence of life, plus forty years.
But after more than 25 years behind bars for the murder of Frank Swain -- a crime of which they insist they are innocent -- Jones and Spruill are free from prison.
“My momma died for this. My daddy died for this. My whole family died because they had us sitting in prison up there knowing that we hadn’t done nothing," said Jones.
The two men are still adjusting to modern-day life.
“I’ve mowed a little grass and been to the beach with a friend of mine,” Spruill said. "It’s really good to get back into this, but a lot has changed.”
Alongside the pleasures of freedom comes the trauma of decades in prison.
“I’m going through battles that normal people wouldn’t, like how to use the phone, trying to get some sleep at night," said Jones.
All along, the two men have stayed consistent in their claims of innocence.
“They wanted us to take a guilty plea,” Jones said. “And me and him wouldn’t ever plead guilty,” Spruill added.
It was a decision that led to decades in prison, but one that Jones says had to be done.
“I stuck to my guns, I told the truth," said Jones. "I could have easily lied and said he had done it. They wanted me to do that. I wouldn’t do that. I wouldn’t be able to sleep with myself, you know?”
The executive director of the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence, Chris Mumma, explained the plea deal that got the men out of prison.
“In the end, they both said, ‘No, we can’t. We can’t get up and swear that we did something that we didn’t do. That would be perjury.’”
Instead, Jones and Spruill took an Alford plea, which means they are not admitting guilt, but acknowledge the presumed convicting evidence.
Back in society, the fight for total exoneration for Jones and Spruill is not over.
“We want them to have justice in addition to freedom,” Mumma said.
One month after their release, the two men are still battling with the return to normal. They are working and relying on the kindness of their community and families.
The North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence says it will continue to fight for them, as well as the more than five hundred inmates submitting claims for their services each year.
The center became aware of Jones and Spruill’s case in 2001 and began investigating. They urge anyone with information on that December night in 1993 to come forward.
A Williamston building is demolished, but questions linger over who cleans up the mess
WILLIAMSTON, N.C. (WITN) - The demolition of a condemned property with asbestos in Williamston is complete.
The old apartment building was condemned by the town earlier this year.
Shane Scalpi, the owner of SS Custom Cycle, shared a wall with the demolition site, and he is not satisfied with the job.
Scalpi says his building has sustained damages from the demolition to the tune of over $50,000.
“They didn’t even complete the demolition,” Scalpi says. “They left me with a piece of property next to me that floods, and possibly has asbestos buried in the ground.”
Town leaders confirm that bricks and debris from the demolition were used to fill the boiler room basement level of the site, but that it was done properly by the state’s requirements for removing asbestos.
The confusion started months ago when the Town of Williamston tried to locate the owner of the property. A now-defunct nonprofit based in Belhaven was the last known owner.
The town took responsibility for the demolition due to the nuisance it caused for residents. Town Administrator Eric Pearson said that is where the town’s liability rests.
“I’m a broken record to you, but we don’t own it,” Pearson said. “So, it’s not in our hands to say what’s going to happen with it.”
Pearson said that if there was damage done to the shop, Scalpi will need to make a claim with the contractors’ insurance.
Jones and Smith Contractors of Winterville secured the job from Williamston at the cost of $125,000.
Scalpi says he has filed claims with the insurance company for the damages.
“The town led us to believe that they were going to get the building down, they were going to get the wall repaired and get us back in, and that there would be insurance to cover us for any damages. The town has abandoned us.”
Shane Scalpi, SS Custom Cycle ownerPearson disagrees with Scalpi, saying the town stands by its responsibility of removing the threat of the old building, but they cannot assume responsibility for a property they do not own.
The SS Custom Cycle team has been displaced from their shop on Main Street since late July 2021.
They say they will not be able to move back into the shop and resume business as usual until the shared wall, and the damage it causes is taken care of.
WASHINGTON, N.C. (WITN) - A duo of kayakers with the Sound Rivers organization made their way through 70 miles of the Tar-Pamlico river this week to get a first-hand look at waterway concerns that have been recently reported.
“This river that I’m charged with protecting... I feel like I should know it pretty well,” said riverkeeper Jill Howell.
Howell found the best way to learn about the water is from the water itself.
“When you’re paddling and you don’t have much else on your plate except to paddle and be there and look around and see what everything is like, that’s a really important thing and a great way to see everything.”
What Howell found most alarming were tens of thousands of dead menhaden fish.
“You can really see how something like that disrupts people wanting to get out on the river,” Howell said. “Whether it’s paddling, boating or fishing, nobody wants to be around a bunch of dead fish.”
Sound Rivers says mass fish deaths, fish kills, are caused primarily by nutrient pollution, algal blooms, and salt wedges about six feet below the surface of the water. They prevent the river from maintaining a steady mix of freshwater through the depths of the water.
Also on the list of concerns to address are waterway accessibilities for the public.
“It’s known that a lot of people out on the river, especially in the Pamlico portion, look like me,” said environmental projects coordinator Clay Barber. “And it gets to the point that the only people enjoying the water are the people that can pay to be there, which leaves out a huge group of people that have every right to use the water.”
He says the waterway is a beautiful resource, but it has its own special challenges that need addressing.
Barber plans to address what he saw in the hopes of improving state recreational opportunities along stretches of water, like the Pungo River area.
“To follow up on that, I’m really curious. I want to find any of those plans that are in existence and inquire with the state,” said Barber.
For now, the team will tackle these larger issues by starting locally. They will use waterfront property owners as their students to better educate about conservative management practices.
WASHINGTON, N.C. (WITN) - Two members of the Sound Rivers team are taking a five day journey, covering 70 miles of the Tar-Pamlico River, to survey the status of the waterway and make plans for any necessary intervention projects.
“I’ve paddled some of the creeks and smaller streams of Eden,” said Riverkeeper Jill Howell. “But I’m excited to see what it’s like on water that only gets bigger from here in a kayak and how that feels.”
Most of the river team’s scheduled events for 2020 and 2021 were canceled due to the pandemic.
Last year, the duo paddled down over 160 miles of the Tar-Pamlico River in an event they coined “Tour de Tar.”
“This fall, we again canceled a lot of our stuff and we want to keep our members engaged and let people know that we are still out here and still working,” said Howell.
After reports of several fish kills came into the Sound Rivers office this past week, the trip is very timely.
“That’s usually an indication of nutrient overload and we’ll be paddling past those places to see what the conditions are now,” said environmental projects coordinator Clay Barber.
They will keep their eyes pealed for any other red flags along the watershed.
“There are a lot of concerns around just water quality, number one,” said Barber. “We have a couple of farm operations and some mining operations and storm water runoff. All of these things contribute to nutrient and sediment pollution in the river.”
Beginning in Washington, the journey will continue with the team stopping along the river each night to camp out. They will finish the ride in Swan Quarter.
To send of the kayakers, dozens of community environmentalists gathered bright and early to contribute to a riverside clean up.
“It’s easier to pick up trash on land than to fish it out of the river, so we had a really great turnout for that,” said Barber.
Howell and Barber are excited to tour the area and come up with new ways to make the Tar-Pamlico River accessible to all.
“We have the Tar-Pamlico water trail, which this is a part of,” said Barber along the waterfront of the Tar-Pamlico. “It’s got our network of camping platforms and it highlights access points. You’ll notice ‚if you look at the map, that once you get past Washington, access points and public beaches really drop off.
He is looking forward to potential recreational development projects.
“In the future we’d like to make this easier for people to do this without having to know somebody,” said Barber.
For Riverkeeper Howell, this trip is equally work and play.
“Anytime you can spend a good amount of time out on the river, taking a look around, I think that’s helpful for understanding issues when people call and report something that’s happening over on Bath Creek or at Summer Haven,” said Howell. “Just having a context of what the river looks like and where everything is at is really useful.”
The paddlers encourage followers to join their Pamlico Paddle journey on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/soundriversnc.
GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - The United States Postal Service is making changes to its long-distance delivery services effective tomorrow. The agency claims the changes will increase consistency, reliability, and efficiency.
But Greenville resident Grant Anderson, who went a full week without USPS delivery service, wonders if that is possible.
“It’s been periodic. We’ve been missing a day of mail here and there or it will come really late.”
This week he had to wait a lot longer than just a few hours.
“By Monday, we still didn’t get any mail and I knew we were expecting a couple of checks and some fairly important correspondence,” he said.
Anderson reached out to Greenville City Hall, which instructed him to visit his local post office for further assistance.
“When I finally got to speak to someone, they said, ‘We just don’t have enough carriers. Stuff is in the back, but we can’t get to it.’ And I said, ‘Do you have any idea when mail delivery will resume?’ And he just said, ‘You’re just going to have to wait.’”
He waited until Wednesday night when a bulk of mail delivery was made. Amongst the delivery were newspapers days past their publish date.
“It is concerning to not have that reliability. What’s it going to be once we hit this official slow down which starts tomorrow?” Anderson wonders.
Rep. Greg Murphy (R-NC) shares in the public’s frustration.
“Consequences occur when certain decisions are made, and the American people are suffering because of those,” Murphy said. “It’s an unfortunate circumstance but it’s a cascade of effects that have caused to get us to the point right now.”
The USPS will be transitioning into a new long-distance delivery system beginning Oct. 1, 2021.
First-class mail and periodicals traveling long distances used to see a delivery guarantee of 1 to 3 days. Now they could take up to 5 days.
These delays are a result of transitioning long-distance deliveries via air transportation to truck transportation.
The postal service says this switch will eliminate the less reliable conditions that come with air transportation, like weather delays, flight traffic, availability constraints, competition for space, and the added hand-offs involved.
Also to see an increase will be commercial and retail package delivery rates for the holiday seasons.
Beginning Oct. 3, 2021, and ending Dec. 26, 2021, rates will increase.
The USPS says this is all part of a 10-year-plan it has coined “Delivering for America” that aims to improve service reliability, consistency, and postal network efficiency.
Every story you see here is written, filmed, edited, fronted, and day-turned by Maddie. As an MMJ with WITN, she really does it all!