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5 Things To Know: Guards Started COVID-19 Outbreak in Mecklenburg County Jail

…and four more stories from Nov. 29-Dec. 5, 2020

Mecklenburg County COVID-19
Gemini Boyd calls for the release of Mecklenburg County inmates in light of the COVID-19 pandemic in March. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Guards at Fault for COVID-19 Outbreak in Mecklenburg County Jail

Unknowingly contagious guards at the Mecklenburg County Detention Center-Central (MCDCC) in Uptown are responsible for an outbreak that has led to confirmed cases for at least 77 incarcerated people and 13 staff members in the jail, according to the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO). The department released a statement on Thursday putting the total at 65, then updated that number to 77 on Friday afternoon. The totals are an exponential increase over 11 days, as the detention center reported just three cases among incarcerated people on Nov. 23. 

According to the statement, contact tracing and analysis suggests “the current outbreak was triggered by MCSO detention staff who worked shifts not knowing that they themselves were contagious with the virus.” It goes on to state that all employees are screened for fever and other symptoms as well as for potential exposures before working, though it’s not clear exactly how that is carried out. There are currently 13 detention center staff members quarantining at home after testing positive for COVID-19. There have been 58 confirmed cases among staff since the pandemic started. 

According to the MCSO statement, only two of the confirmed cases among incarcerated people have required infirmary care, but not hospitalization. Another 255 incarcerated people have been placed in isolation or quarantine due to potential exposure. The department claims the “vast majority” of those people are asymptomatic, though “a few” are showing mild symptoms. 

Mecklenburg County COVID-19
A total of 148 people incarcerated in Mecklenburg County Detention Center have tested positive for COVID-19 this year. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

The MCSO had previously peaked at 48 positive cases among incarcerated people on July 27, 2020, but had gone back down to three by early August and remained at that number or lower for three months. There has been a total of 148 confirmed cases among incarcerated people.

“While we are, not surprisingly, seeing a surge in positive residents as the pandemic continues to spread through the community outside MCDCC,” the statement reads, referring to people in custody, “MCSO — our staff and our contract medical providers — remain confident in our collective abilities to manage the pandemic even should the current number of active-positive residents in custody continue to climb.” 

As soon as the pandemic started, a group called Decarcerate Meck began calling on MCSO and other local officials to release people being held on bond or nearing the end of their sentences, and for police to halt arrests for misdemeanors so as to lessen the potential for COVID-19 outbreaks inside the detention center.

Local Test Positivity Rate Rises Past 10%

Mecklenburg County resumed releasing local COVID-19 data on Tuesday after a weeklong break for Thanksgiving. In the time between that break, which went from Nov. 24 to Dec. 1, the county saw 2,311 new cases among residents and 20 more deaths. According to the most recent data, released Friday morning, there had been 45,068 total cases and 468 deaths due to the virus as of that point. 

Mecklenburg County COVID-19
(COVID-19 graph courtesy of Mecklenburg County Public Health)

According to in-depth data from cases that occurred through Wednesday, the number of hospitalizations due to COVID-19 and the average test-positivity rate continue to climb. The average number of tests returning positive is at 10.9%, according to Mecklenburg County Public Health, marking the first time that number has surpassed 10% locally since late July. The average number of people hospitalized due to the virus on any given day is at 226, an increase over the previous 14 days. According to mobility tracking data from the county, social distancing declined then slightly increased in Mecklenburg County over the last two weeks.

Task Force Recommends New Sales Tax to Fund Transit Network

The Charlotte Moves Task Force recommended this week that the city place a “One Cent Mobility Tax” on the ballot next November in order to help fund the city’s planned “transformational mobility network,” (TFM) which includes the new CATS Silver Line as well as hundreds of miles of rapid transit bus lanes, greenways, cycling networks and new roads. 

The projected Silver Line path. (Photo courtesy of CATS)

The tax would be expected to raise $6.6 billion in 30 years, which would help with the overall cost of the TFM, estimated at $12 billion over a span of decades. If approved by voters in 2021, the tax would need approval from the North Carolina General Assembly. 

While the TFM does include the 26-mile, east-to-west-running Silver Line, it also includes the following as part of preliminary plans: 

  • 140 miles of bus rapid transit
  • 115 miles of greenway 
  • 75 miles of bicycle network
  • Connecting everyone to within a half-mile of the overall network with pedestrian infrastructure
  • 60 miles of new roadways

You can read more about Thursday’s recommendation from the Charlotte Moves Task Force in this article from Ely Portillo at the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute. 

New Details Emerge in Assault Case Against Sonic Automotive CEO

Charlotte Ledger’s Tony Mecia reported Friday on new details involving allegations that Sonic Automotive CEO David Smith assaulted a woman in October, apparently choking her, knocking her down and hitting her to the point where she bled. Mecia obtained a 911 call from the night of the alleged assault in which the 22-year-old victim, who calls herself Smith’s former fiancé, says, “he just hit me, and I’m bleeding, and he was really violent and screaming and knocked me to the ground.”

The woman, who called from her own apartment after leaving Smith’s home, said she did not need police or medical attention, but feared that Smith may come to her apartment and asked that someone go to his house and convince him not to. 

Smith has been charged with felony assault by strangulation and misdemeanor counts of assault on a female, false imprisonment and interfering with emergency communications. 

Smith has maintained his innocence and the Sonic Automotive Board of Directors has stood behind him in those claims. The Charlotte-based company is No. 301 on the Fortune 500 list and is the fifth biggest auto retailer in the country. Smith was previously charged with assault and battery and damage to property in 2001. 

Charlotte Surpasses 2019 Homicide Total

Two murders occurred this week, bringing the total number of homicides in Charlotte this year to 109, the highest amount since 1993. 

Just before midnight on Sunday, police responded to a shooting call on Bustlehead Court in University City and found 48-year-old Richard Clarke dead of a gunshot wound. On Monday, CMPD and the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office found and arrested 21-year-old Ricky Alexander in Alamance County and charged him with Clarke’s murder. 


Shortly before 9 p.m. on Monday, police responded to a shooting call on Electra Lane in southeast Charlotte and found 46-year-old Ricardo Perez suffering from a gunshot wound. MEDIC transported Perez to the hospital, where he died later that night. During the investigation, detectives identified a vehicle believed to be involved in the murder and issued a notice for all patrol vehicles to be on the lookout for the car.

On Wednesday, a patrol unit spotted the vehicle and tried to stop it, resulting in a chase. After the chase, police took 18-year-old Azaevon Singleton into custody. Further investigation led them to a home on Palm Breeze Lane in northwest Charlotte, where they arrested Sedrick Sanders and Keon McMillan, both 18. After interviewing all three suspects, all were charged with murder, robbery with a dangerous weapon and conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon.

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