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News Roundup

This week several North Carolina news outlets jointly reported that a nurse at Caswell Correctional Center, Barbara Anne Stewart, died earlier this month after testing positive for the coronavirus.  Stewart, who fell ill in late March, had worked for the Department of Public Safety for more than 25 years according to the report.  The North Carolina Department of Labor now is investigating her death, including examining whether any violations of health and safety standards contributed to her illness.  Keep reading for more news.

Testing.  Barbara Stewart’s death has caused some to raise questions about the availability of coronavirus testing for North Carolina prison staff.  The news report says that Caswell County Health Director Jennifer Eastwood, working in conjunction with Caswell Correctional Center Warden Doris Daye, had offered to conduct on-site testing for prison staff in mid-April.  Within a week, testing was approved by DPS officials but it was to be conducted off-site.  On the Monday following Stewart’s death, May 8, voluntary on-site testing for staff at Caswell Correctional was made available.  Late last week, DPS announced that Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice employees now are eligible for free coronavirus testing at certain FastMed Urgent Care locations throughout the state.

Chemours.  The Fayetteville Observer reports that the U.S. government has closed an investigation into the Chemours Company, a chemical company headquartered in Delaware that operates a plant in Fayetteville, and will not pursue criminal charges against the company.  Chemours came under scrutiny in 2017 when it was discovered that it had been releasing a compound called GenX into the air and water near the Fayetteville plant.  GenX, which is used in non-stick coatings, paints, cleaners, food packages, and other products, was found in the Cape Fear River and in private wells.

Arbery.  There were several developments this week in the investigation into the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia in late February.  As the News Roundup previously noted, Arbery was killed in a confrontation with a father and son, Travis and Greg McMichael, who claim that they were making a citizen’s arrest because they suspected him of burglary.  The Associated Press reports that a Georgia judge from outside the community where the shooting took place has been appointed to preside over the criminal cases against the McMichaels, who eventually were charged with murder after video of the incident surfaced.  Greg McMichael previously worked as an investigator for the local district attorney’s office and all of the judges in the local jurisdiction recused themselves from the cases.

In addition, late yesterday afternoon reports emerged that the man who filmed the encounter between the McMichaels and Arbery, William “Roddie” Bryan, Jr., also has been arrested in connection with the case.  Details about the arrest were not available at the time of writing but CNN reported earlier in the week that Arbery’s family was calling for Bryan’s arrest.

Restaurants.  As this press release from the Governor’s office explains, at 5pm this afternoon North Carolina will move to a “Safer at Home Phase 2” of the state’s gradual reopening plan.  As part of that transition, restaurants will be permitted to open at 50% dine-in capacity.  A few news reports from around the state indicate that some restaurants went ahead and opened for dine-in this week in violation of the Governor’s stay-at-home order.

WBTV reports that Mitchem’s Kitchen in Vale, which is owned by Lincoln County Board of Commissioners Chairman Carrol Mitchem, was cited by the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office on Monday for opening its dining room to customers.  Despite the citation, the restaurant opened again on Tuesday and Mitchem said he intended to be open all week.  Lincoln County Sheriff Bill Beam said that regardless of whether he personally approves of the Governor’s emergency orders, he has a statutory obligation to enforce the orders.

Over in Graham County, Sheriff Joseph W. Jones announced this week that he would not enforce the Governor’s orders regarding limitations on dine-in restaurant operations.  The Asheville Citizen-Times reports that Jones made the decision in an effort “get back to some degree of normalcy and support local businesses.”  Jones noted that restaurant employees and customers should engage in safe practices, such as wearing appropriate PPE, washing hands, and cleaning surfaces.

Cohen.  With another week comes another notable release from federal prison to home confinement due to coronavirus concerns.  As NPR reports, Michael Cohen, who had been scheduled to be released in November 2021, returned to his apartment in New York yesterday to serve the remainder of his sentence.  Cohen is serving a three year sentence for campaign finance violations, tax evasion, and lying to Congress.

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