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Weekly News Roundup: SBI Takes Over Investigation of Harold Easter’s Death

SBI to Take Up Investigation of Man’s Death in CMPD Custody

CMPD announced on Thursday that the State Bureau of Investigations (SBI) will take over the investigation of an incident in which a man died in police custody following requests for an independent investigation from the man’s family.

Harold Easter

According to CMPD reports, officers witnessed a suspected drug transaction near the intersection of Whisnant and Burton streets outside of Greenville Park on Jan. 23 and pulled over a suspect vehicle driven by 41-year-old Harold Easter. Easter was allegedly found to be in possession of cocaine and marijuana and taken into custody for drug and traffic charges, then transported to the Metro Division team office on Beatties Ford Road.

It was then that Easter had a medical episode, according to CMPD, and lost consciousness. MEDIC transported Easter to the hospital, where he died on Sunday, three days after the incident. On Monday, CMPD announced the names of the five officers involved in the arrest, all of whom have been placed on administrative leave. Their names are Sgt. Nicolas Vincent and officers Brentley Vinson, Michael Benfield, Michael Joseph and Shon Sheffield. Vinson was the officer who shot and killed Keith Lamont Scott in 2016, leading to the Charlotte Uprising.

At a press conference on Friday, CMPD Chief Kerr Putney emphasized that the investigation was transferred to the SBI by request of Easter’s family.

“I know in this line of work, when you make changes, people assume that you’ve done something wrong,” Putney said. “I don’t see that. I think we’re looking to exceed that legal standard and this is how it works and this is the extension of the intent of [CMPD] protocol.”

On Tuesday, members of Easter’s family joined community activists like Gemini Boyd to hold a press conference in front of the Metro Division office calling for an independent investigation. Boyd and other activists have stated that Easter was not given sufficient medical care by police, who they say did not act fast enough to call MEDIC.

“We stand here today to ask the question for our chief of police, our mayor and our city manager to be as transparent as possible with this situation,” Boyd said.

Once the SBI investigation is complete, all findings will be presented to District Attorney Spencer Merriweather’s office, which will decide if any charges will be pressed.

Brooks Sandwich House Reopens

The Brooks family is reopening Brooks’ Sandwich House this morning for the first time since the tragic murder of co-owner Scott Brooks during an apparent attempted robbery on Dec. 9. The restaurant will open at 10 a.m., and we expect to see a ton of people out there showing support for the family, who are as beloved as Scott was in the NoDa community and throughout Charlotte.

David Brooks, brother of Scott Brooks, thanks members of the community attending a candlelight service in honor of Scott in December. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

The Facebook event page, hosted by the official Brooks Sandwich House page, states, “Please be a part of our family in making our first day, the hardest day, a joyous day in Scott’s honor.”

The community appreciation day is being called Too Blessed to be Stressed Day by the family, a slogan of sorts borne of one of Scott’s favorite expressions, which was recently painted on the restaurant’s wall in tribute. J.D. Harris of Glory Days Apparel will be selling “Too Blessed to be Stressed” shirts at the restaurant throughout the day, the proceeds from which will go to Habitat for Humanity per the family’s request.

Police have still not made any arrests in the murder of Scott Brooks, and are offering $21,000 for information that leads to an arrest.

Opponents of Duke Energy Rate Hike Rally at Courthouse

Activists gathered outside of the Mecklenburg County Courthouse on Thursday evening to speak out against Duke Energy’s proposed 6% rate increase in Charlotte and much of western North Carolina prior to a North Carolina Utilities Commission public hearing held that night. Many activists then went into the hearing to speak directly to the regulators who will decide on whether to approve the increase.

Opponents of the increase say that it is without justification and would disproportionately affect low-income residents, people of color and those on fixed incomes. A press release from Thursday reads, “The proposed increase would force ratepayers to pay for cleaning up Duke’s coal ash mess and for a ‘grid improvement’ plan lacking a pathway to a clean energy transition and which the commission has previously rejected.”

Speakers at the press conference included Rev. Corine Mack, president of the NAACP Charlotte-Mecklenburg Branch; Cate DeMallie, co-chair of the Southern Piedmont Circle of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival; Terryl Nichols with the Sierra Club; and Jerome Wagner, organizer for 350 Charlotte.

“Our assessment of Duke Energy’s rate proposal is that it seeks to strip money from ratepayers for all the wrong reasons,” Wagner wrote in the release. “It wants ratepayers to suffer for reckless decisions by company executives and for expansion of fracked-gas use. Instead, Duke should be leading us into a safer, more sustainable future powered by renewable energy.”

A final public hearing for the rate increase in Raleigh is scheduled for March.

Three Charlotte Universities Announce New Coalition

Charlotte’s three biggest universities announced on Wednesday that they are banding together to support racial healing and transformation. UNC Charlotte, Johnson C. Smith University and Queens University of Charlotte will collaborate as the Charlotte Racial Justice Consortium to listen to Charlotte’s many racial truths; encourage a community that understands its history of race and racism; and develop student, university, and community leaders who work across the region toward truth, racial healing, and equity, according to a press release.

Biddle Hall at Johnson C. Smith University (Photo by James Willamor)

The consortium has been named a Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation Campus Center by the American Association of Colleges & Universities, which created the initiative “to prepare the next generation of strategic leaders to dismantle the belief in a hierarchy of human value,” according to the release.

The consortium will launch the Charlotte Racial Equity Leadership Fellows program this year. Six students from each campus will be selected to participate in a year-long reflection of Charlotte’s history of racism and its connection to each university, while exploring racial equity and developing leadership skills. The fellowship will culminate in unique, student-led projects on the three campuses designed to foster truth, racial healing and transformation.

“Our three universities, each with an impressive history and campus community, are well-positioned to provide the leadership Charlotte needs at this time,” LeAnna Rice, associate dean of students at Queens University stated in the release. With intention, we have deepened our inter-university working relationships to pave the way towards a more racially-just Charlotte.”

Father Arrested for Infant’s Murder

Quandeel Taylor

On Tuesday, police arrested and charged the father of an infant that died on Jan. 22 after suffering injuries described in CMPD reports as “abusive head trauma.” Five-month-old Peyton Taylor was admitted to Atrium Health Levine Children’s Hospital on Jan. 14. Three days later, hospital staff informed detectives that Taylor’s injuries were not survivable, and CMPD’s Homicide Unit joined the investigation. On Jan. 22, Taylor passed away.

Detectives identified Peyton’s father, 24-year-old Quandeel Taylor as a suspect, and arrested him on Jan. 28. He’s been charged with murder.

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