Public Safety

Group Argues Against Gun Ban at NC State Fair

RALEIGH—A gun group said it will file for a temporary restraining order Thursday to prevent the NC State Fair from restricting fair goers from carrying concealed weapons.

Grass Roots North Carolina said it is at an impasse with state agricultural commissioner Steve Troxler.

The General Assembly passed gun legislation last year, allowing legal concealed carrys on public properties. But Troxler said he would not allow guns on the fairgrounds.

Only privately-owned properties can restrict lawful conceal carries.

State Fair Won’t Change Weapons Policy Despite Change in Gun Laws

RALEIGH — With the state fair less than a month away, Commissioner Steve Troxler wants to make one thing clear: their ‘no weapons allowed’ policy isn’t changing.

“We think there’s a gray area in the law and for that reason we’re erring on the side of public safety, common sense and the welfare of the state fair,” said NC Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler.

The law being referenced allows people to carry guns in public recreation areas. It passed last year and applies to the state fair. But Troxler, a gun owner himself, says guns won’t be allowed at the state fair. It’s a decision being criticized by some supporters of the Second Amendment.

“We know what the law says and we’re going to fight for the letter of the law,” said Josette Chmiel with Grass Roots NC.

The gun rights group Grass Roots North Carolina plans to challenge the policy in court. They’re seeking a temporary restraining order after meeting with the commissioner this week.

Troxler says the weapons policy is to keep fair goers safe, while others feel it goes against the new state law.

“We do believe that concealed carry permit holders are law abiding citizens, and we’re not concerned with a law abiding citizen coming on the fairgrounds and doing intentional harm, but we are concerned about accidental discharges,” said Troxler.

“We want the ability to exercise our constitutional right, our state rights, and we’re not the ones that need to be targeted,” said Chmiel.

Commissioner Troxler says the only way the no weapons policy will change is if a judge orders them to change it. Time will tell whether a ruling will come down by the time the fair starts on Oct. 16.

– Andy Mattison

Bill Could Protect Prosecutors’, Officers’ Information

RALEIGH- Rep. Chris Malone is proposing a bill the would protect the personal and home information of prosecutors and officers.

His proposal comes after several men were charged with kidnapping, and almost killing the father of a Wake County assistant district attorney back in April. They took him to Atlanta where they held him hostage. Authorities believe the attorney was the intended target.

“Lots and lots of DAs called me, after the case, and said we have threats all the time,” said Ned Mangum, interim Wake County district attorney. He says the bill is a great idea.

“They’ve had people come to their house. They’ve had run-ins with them. They’ve had threats and, of course, this is something nobody wants to see happen,” said Malone.

But not everyone is on board. Opponents say the bill wouldn’t do much, and elected officials should have their information public.

“They’re going to find out if they want to find out. They’re going to get you,” said Sam Currin, district attorney for the 9th district. He calls the bill a “knee-jerk reaction.”

Malone says the details are still being worked out and would have to go through a few more lawmakers before going to the House and Senate for a full vote.

– Chris Williams

Motivation Behind Proposal to move SBI Questioned

RALEIGH – One of the biggest losers in the senate’s budget proposal is the Department of Justice, under Attorney General Roy Cooper.

Senate Republicans want to move the State Bureau of Investigation and the State Crime Lab from DOJ to the Department of Public Safety.

“What they’re doing is robbing from one area and giving to another,” Cooper said.

Cooper is head of the DOJ, which currently oversees the SBI and the State Crime Lab. As an elected official, he doesn’t have to answer to the governor or state lawmakers, which he says makes SBI investigations into politicians independent and unbiased.

“For over 75 years, the SBI has rooted out corruption in both the executive and legislative branches, including the last three governors’ administrations, a number of legislators, a number of executive branch agencies,” Cooper said. “There’ve been over 500 public officials that have been investigated by the SBI over the last 10 years.”

But under the Republicans’ Senate budget proposal, the SBI and crime lab would be moved from the DOJ to the Department of Public Safety, under the direction of a state secretary appointed by the governor.

“By making this move, legislators can been seen as shielding themselves or the governor from investigation and they’re also ignoring law enforcement across the state of North Carolina, who say this is a bad move,” Cooper said.

Cooper is also widely seen as the leading Democratic candidate for governor in 2016; a fact that some people say provides political motivation to cut Cooper’s department.

“Having Roy Cooper being an expected candidate for governor in 2016 and being very critical of the decisions made by the General Assembly, it does seem like politics are involved,” said David McLennan, a political scientist at William Peace University. “We’ve had Republican administrations before; Jim Martin, Jim Holshouser, they didn’t try to move those units out of DOJ into [the Department of] Public Safety. So you say if other Republican governors didn’t want it moved and when Republicans controlled the House back in the 1990s, then why now?”

But Republicans say the move isn’t political.

“We think it takes the political side out of it,” said Sen. Harry Brown, a Republican representing Onslow and Jones Counties. “We just think it makes sense on the reorganization we’ve done in public safety.”

“Wherever you put the SBI, there could be potential conflicts of interest,” Gov. Pat McCrory said. “It’s under an elected official either way. I think the goal is to keep politics out of all investigations.

“What I’m looking for is what’s most efficient and effective and that’s where I’m studying the plans right now.”

This is the second year in a row Republicans have proposed moving the SBI and crime lab out of the DOJ.

Cooper says the SBI is currently conducting investigations involving lawmakers and the Department of Public Safety, which the proposed budget puts in control of the investigating agency.

– Heather Moore

Puppy mill bill looking for life in short session

It’s the issue that lawmakers are being dogged about.

A bill to enforce stricter rules on large commercial dog breeders — also known as puppy mills — is looking for life again in the short session. Last year, HB 930 passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan support. But it stalled in the Senate.

Even with Gov. Pat McCrory pushing the legislation on behalf of his wife, Ann, who is taking it up as a personal cause, the Senate doesn’t seem poised to take it up.

“It’s not so much what’s in the bill that’s problematical to any of the senators. It’s there [are] concerns that once we sort of start down this road, are we going to end up somewhere else,” Rep. Chuck McGrady, (R) Henderson County, one of the champions of the bill, told attendees at a luncheon sponsored by the Humane Society of the US Thursday.

The puppy mill bill is more about enforcing existing rules on the books than writing new law.

But what Rep. McGrady said is telling. Some senators are worried the puppy mill bill, if passed, would open the state’s livestock farmers and meat producers up to litigation from animal rights groups.

The NC Farm Bureau said in a statement:

“We’ve seen the summary of the Governor’s proposed budget that was recently released and are aware that it contains a proposal to transfer the Animal Welfare Division from the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to the Department of Public Safety. We look forward to seeing the details as the state’s budget process continues.”

Sen. Bill Rabon, (R) Brunswick County, a veterinarian, had some choice words about the bill and the McCrorys’ support for it at a constituent meeting earlier this year. His comments were less than flattering and supposed to be off-the-record. He later apologized.

Still, McCrory remains unfazed and determined to get the legislation through. It’s a legislative priority for the short session. He even said he wants to move enforcement of these rules from the Department of Agriculture to the Department of Public Safety — a move endorsed by Ag Commissioner Steve Troxler.

It may not be enough, however, for the Senate. But for the bill sponsors, they say it’s a no-brainer.

“If you poll it, again, it’s not a partisan issue, it’s something that 80+ percent of North Carolinians want to deal with and for the other couple of percent, they just don’t know about it,” said Rep. Jason Saine, (R) Lincoln County, one of the bill’s primary sponsors.

It remains to be seen if the General Assembly is going to the dogs during the short session.

– Ben McNeely

NC court must weigh who decides on execution drugs

RALEIGH–North Carolina’s Court of Appeals wants a fact-finding lower court to consider whether an appointed state official or a state rulemaking commission should decide how the state executes convicted killers.

The appeals court said Tuesday it wants a trial court to consider the facts around October’s decision by Public Safety Secretary Frank Perry to decide on the procedures for lethal injections. The General Assembly changed state law in June to give Gov. Pat McCrory’s appointed public safety agency head the power to establish execution procedures.

North Carolina has not carried out any executions since 2006.

The appeals court says facts have changed several times since four killers facing death sentences argued in 2007 that the state’s lethal combination of three drugs was unconstitutionally cruel and unusual.

Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Lawmakers work to prevent cyberbullying

WASHINGTON — A teenage girl’s tragic story was among the first to draw attention to the need for cyberbullying laws.

The story of Megan Meier, 13, made national headlines. The girl thought she befriended a teenage boy online, before he abruptly turned on her and sent hostile messages such as: “The world would be a better place without you.”

“Megan was upset. Twenty minutes later, I went upstairs to check on her and unfortunately found that Megan had taken her own life,” said Tina Meier, Executive Director of the Megan Meier Foundation.

The victim’s mother, Tina Meier, said her grief soon turned to outrage when it was discovered that ‘Josh’ was actually a fictitious account created by a mother named Lori Drew, who lived four houses down the street.

But since no bullying laws existed, Drew never served jail time.

In the following years, the General Assembly passed a law that made bullying punishable as a misdemeanor. That goes for students who bully other students and adults who harass minors, whether face-to-face or online.

However, there is no law that directly addresses bullying at the federal level. There is a bill, but it is currently stuck in the Senate. A group of 43 Senators co-sponsored that bullying legislation.

It’s called the Safe Schools Improvement Act.

“What this bill does it says, ‘OK states, develop a code of conduct if you want to receive federal funds.’ And that means at the school and also online,” said Sen. Kay Hagan, a NC Democrat.

Meanwhile, federal agencies have created a uniform definition of bullying so it can be studied and stopped.

“There is a level of awareness and conversation in the federal government. But ultimately I believe it is a local issue, a community issue, a neighborhood issue, a school system issue. An issue in the home,” said Joseph Wright, Senior Vice President, Children’s National Medical Center

Tina Meier now shares her daughter’s story with school children across the country.

Geoff Bennett

NC Attorney General unveils app to track sex offenders

CHARLOTTE – After years of success and more than 40,000 iPhone downloads, the North Carolina Sex Offender Registry app is now available for Android devices.

Attorney General Roy Cooper made the announcement Wednesday in Charlotte. The free app allows users to search for registered sex offenders within a one, three, or five-mile radius.

“It may be your home, it may be your child’s school, it may be your child’s daycare center. You want to know what sex offenders live in that area and what they did to be convicted of their crime,” said Cooper.

Users can also sign up for email alerts if an offender moves into a designated area.

There are more than 20,000 registered sex offenders in North Carolina, 980 live in Mecklenburg County. During the month of October, the sheriff’s office targeted 700 of them to verify their information was up to date as part of Operation Watch Dog.

“There are 45 existing warrants on folks who are out of compliance, and we are diligently looking for those people,” said Sheriff Chipp Bailey.

It is an annual push, but this year, Bailey said 185 offenders approached his office personally to make sure they were following the rules.

“We’re sending a message that if you’re moving, you need to be doing this because we will check in,” said Bailey.

Cooper says parents still need to do their part and educate their children on the dangers these often repeat offenders can present.

“Families can’t be content to know that these are the only sex offenders that may be in their neighborhood,” Cooper said.

The app does not include details on out-of-state crimes. Offenders are required to check in with their sheriff’s office every six months to verify their information.

– Becky Bereiter

Ride operator arrested in State Fair ride incident

Timothy Dwayne Tutterrow

RALEIGH — Wake County authorities have arrested the ride operator who ran the Vortex ride at the N.C. State Fair.

Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison said Timothy Dwayne Tutterrow, 46, of Quitman, Ga, has been charged with three felony counts of assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious bodily injury.

Five people were injured Thursday night when the Vortex ride started up again while it was being off-loaded of riders.

Two people were released from the hospital Thursday evening. Three remain hospitalized. Fair officials identified them as Anthony Gorham, 29; Kisha Gorham, 39; and a 14-year-old juvenile.

Harrison said after inspecting the ride, investigators determined it had been tampered with and critical safety devices were compromised.

The Vortex ride is owned and operated by an independent ride company from Georgia. That company is a subcontractor with Powers Great American Midways.

At a press conference Saturday night, Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler expressed anger at the findings.

“It makes me mad to think that anybody would put people’s safety in danger like they have. I’m not mad I’m furious,” he said. “People will have their time in court and they’re going to be convicted or not, but just the thought that someone would do something like this, I can’t hardly stand it.”

The investigation is ongoing, Harrison said, and additional arrests could be made.

Witnesses speak out after State Fair ride incident injures 5

RALEIGH—Despite Thursday night’s accident that injured five people, the fair and rides are open on Friday and there is a big crowd.

The commissioner of the Department of Labor who inspects the rides says they are safe.

Still, those who witnessed last night’s mishap remain on edge.

“When something is slamming around the way that ride does to make it exciting, that’s a recipe for disaster,” said fair attendee Ken Vrana.

Less than an hour before the mishap where authorities say the ride stopped and then re-started, Ken Vrana was taking pictures of the ride that turns, twists and flips passengers upside down.

He noticed an operator could not get one of the ride’s safety restraints to close.

“One of the guys just took the thing and just slammed it down. Now whether he thought that that made it lock, who knows, but they started the ride up again. They kept running that ride knowing there was a problem,” said Vrana.

Not long after, Joel Gillie was waiting for his girlfriend to get off another ride when he heard a loud noise coming from The Vortex.

“[I] heard, you know, things hitting that floor hard. There was a couple different noises and things like that, and I looked and people were running and screaming. And at that point, I saw someone laying there, not moving, you know, that kind of deal. And I said there’s something wrong here,” said Gillie.

Gillie called his friend, a firefighter on duty, and within a minute his buddy was the first responder on the scene.

Gillie saw the five injured people, an operator and four passengers, getting loaded onto stretchers.

“You have leftover ride tickets, and you’re like, ‘I think I’m going to pass on the rides,’” said Gillie.

As Vrana snapped photos of paramedics rushing to the scene, he is relieved his daughter decided against riding on The Vortex less than 10 minutes before the accident.

“I live for my daughter, so every time I hear that, I keep going, you know, [to] text her back, make sure she’s fine. My wife goes, ‘She’s fine, she’s fine,’” said Vrana.

The Department of Agriculture officials say they did not receive any reports that they are aware of saying The Vortex was malfunctioning.

Three people remain hospitalized from the accident and two were released.

The Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison says they have all asked for their privacy at this time, so authorities are not releasing their names.

The Department of Agriculture says this is the first year The Vortex ride was at the State Fair. The last ride-related accident at the fair was in 2002.

– Julie Fertig