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Weekly News Roundup: Plaintiffs Reach Settlement Over Wrongful Raleigh Police Raid

...and four more stories from May 28-June 3, 2023

Kenya Walton (L) and Yolanda Irving sued the City of Raleigh after a police raid on their homes. (Photo by Cornell Watson, courtesy of Emancipate NC)

City of Raleigh Settles Over Wrongful Police Raid

Kenya Walton and Yolanda Irving have reached a settlement in their federal lawsuit with the City of Raleigh for $350,000 — pending approval by the Raleigh City Council, the city’s excess insurance carrier, and the federal district court — stemming from a SWAT-style raid on their homes by the Raleigh Police Department in May 2020.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs — two Black mothers who worked as Wake County school bus drivers and their children — insisted they were entirely innocent of any crime when Raleigh police officers, armed with assault rifles and wearing body armor, executed the raid, which was connected to the still-unfolding Raleigh informant scandal.

Throughout the course of the litigation, which commenced in February 2022, the plaintiffs pushed for transparency and policy changes from the City of Raleigh and RPD. In response, the department revised multiple policies and procedures, including prohibiting the use of “no-knock” warrants and creating and enforcing more stringent protections concerning the use of confidential informants in drug operations, according to a release from Emancipate NC, which represented the plaintiffs alongside attorneys from Tin Fulton Walker & Owen.

Also during the course of the litigation, former detective Omar Abdullah was criminally indicted for felony obstruction of justice and substantial changes were made to the staffing and operation of RPD’s Drugs and Vice Unit to which Abdullah and the other defendant officers belonged.

“It’s been a very long and stressful journey,” Irving stated in the release. “We are still dealing with the trauma caused by this horrible situation, but after a long three years, justice was finally served.”

“The Raleigh informant scandal disrupted the lives of many innocent people and caused unnecessary trauma to our clients and others who were subjected to frightening police raids and arrests through no fault of their own,” said Ian Mance, senior counsel at Emancipate NC. “This could not have occurred if not for the indifference of multiple police officers to the civil rights of those they were sworn to protect.”

Tin Fulton Walker & Owen, which has offices in Charlotte, Raleigh, Chapel Hill and Asheville, has now reached settlements on behalf of 28 people related to misconduct by Abdullah and the RPD Vice Unit, according to the release.

Republicans File Voter Suppression Bill

Republicans filed a new voter suppression bill on Thursday that aims to further their disproportionate hold on power in the North Carolina General Assembly. Senate Bill 747 would do away with the current three-day grace period for mail-in ballots, tossing out any ballots that don’t come in by Election Day, while adding more restrictions to mail-in voting and banning individual counties from receiving grants to fund elections.

The bill would also change the rules for same-day registration, make absentee voting more difficult, and make it easier to file allegations of voter fraud.

The bill was reportedly written up with the help of President Donald Trump’s attorney and 2020 election denier Cleta Mitchell, known for her presence on the infamous 2021 call in which Trump demanded that Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger “find” around 12,000 votes so that he could win the state.

Mitchell was recently recorded telling a private group of Republicans in North Carolina that such laws needed to be passed “because I promise you Stacey Abrams has been in North Carolina and we need to make sure that money is not flowing into Mecklenburg, Durham and Wake counties.”

NCGA Passes Health Insurance Bill Pushed by Blue Cross

The NC Senate passed House Bill 346 through a floor vote of 41–5 on Tuesday, sending the bill to the governor’s desk. The bill will give Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina the leeway to create a nonprofit holding company that would become a parent to the 90-year-old insurance company and to any of Blue Cross NC’s current and future subsidiaries, as reported by Rose Hoban of NC Health News in April.

If signed by Gov. Roy Cooper, the bill will allow Blue Cross NC to move some of its $4.6-billion surplus into the new holding company, which could then use that money to buy health care companies and other kinds of subsidiaries, as well as make investments that are subject to far less regulatory oversight than the insurer receives now, Hoban reported.

The NC Justice Center on Tuesday pointed out that, despite Blue Cross NC’s claims that it needs to restructure in order to “level the playing field,” in 2022, the company reported over $10 billion in revenue; and the previous year it controlled 80% of the market for individual and group health insurance plans in North Carolina.

“These figures do not depict an insurance company struggling to compete; nor are they baseless attacks from an iconoclastic progressive organization,” the NC Justice Center wrote in a statement. “They are data that Blue Cross itself reported in year-end financials and submitted to the N.C. Department of Insurance … The lack of transparency in which House Bill 346 was quietly rushed through the legislature proves the power of corporate lobbyists to influence legislation in our state.”

City Marks Gun Violence Awareness Day

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Chief Johnny Jennings held a press conference on Friday alongside a slew of other city government officials, law enforcement, prosecutors and first responders to acknowledge the need to develop and implement shared community-based solutions to curb gun violence.

According to CMPD, there have been 2,359 victims of firearm-related violent crime in Charlotte, including 27 firearm-related homicides, as have been tracked by Queen City Nerve in the map below (black dots mark shooting deaths).

“There is no one who is unaffected by the public health crisis that is gun violence,” said Jennings. “Victims result from every pull of the trigger in our city. We need community involvement from every corner and from every walk of life, for the good of Charlotte.”

Ryan Elliot was identified this week as the 27th victim of gun-related homicide in Charlotte in 2023. Police responded to a shooting call on West 3rd Street near Truist Field at around 1:30 p.m. on May 27 and found 26-year-old Elliot suffering from a gunshot wound. He was pronounced dead at the scene. Police identified a suspect and attempted to arrest him in Gastonia the following day. The suspect, also a 26-year-old man, allegedly shot at a CMPD vehicle before leading police on a car chase that ended at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport. The suspect was arrested and charged locally with first-degree murder and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Gastonia Police have also charged the suspect with attempted murder of a law enforcement officer and felony flee to elude.

The newly formed Mecklenburg County Office of Violence Prevention announced an awareness and education campaign focusing on gun violence on Friday, including a Wear Orange Rally scheduled for today at 10 a.m. by Moms Demand Action and the distribution of gun locks at a Father’s Day event hosted by Alternatives to Violence on the Beatties Ford Road corridor on June 17.

A report released in May evaluating the effectiveness of the Alternatives to Violence pilot program on Beatties Ford Road during its first year of operation showed promising initial results, outlining ATV’s strengths based on collected data and offering several recommendations for sustained violence prevention. ATV programs will soon be rolled out in the West Boulevard/Clanton Park and Nations Ford/Arrowood areas.

Four People Killed in Traffic-Related Incidents

The city saw four traffic-related deaths in separate incidents over a four-day span between May 26-29, bringing the total number of deaths due to traffic-related incidents this year to 31.

The incidents included a pedestrian who was struck while walking along East Independence Boulevard near Sardis Road on Friday, May 26, and two single-vehicle wrecks in which drivers believed to be going well over the speed limit lost control of their cars on Carmel and Tyvola roads, respectively, and were killed in the resulting wrecks. More details about the incidents can be found in the map below.

On May 31, Charlotte DOT announced it will be decreasing the speed limits on six major thoroughfares in Charlotte as part of its Vision Zero plan to bring down the number of traffic-related deaths on city streets. The updates will be made on East Boulevard as well as Donald Ross/Clanton, Tuckaseegee, Beatties Ford, Remount, and Rozzelles Ferry roads.

“We know, and data shows, that driving at higher speeds increases the severity of injuries if there is a crash. That’s why we’re reducing speed limits on six streets along the High Injury Network,” read a statement from CDOT.

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