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News Roundup

The Greensboro News & Record reports that jury trials resumed this week in Guilford County after a nearly eight-month suspension due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.  The News & Record story discusses the difficult balance Guilford and other jurisdictions across the state are trying to strike as they grapple with a backlogged trial calendars amid increasing virus infection rates.  Keep reading for more news. 

Winston.  An encounter between Winston-Salem police officers and several juveniles the officers had stopped and detained after responding to a report of people attempting to gain entry to a vacant house was in the news this week because of bystander video that shows one officer forcefully tackling a teenage girl in the course of the investigation.  Peggie Dull used her cellphone to film the encounter taking place outside of her home.  Dull’s video shows a heated exchange between the teens, who denied involvement in any attempted break-in, and investigating officers that culminated in one girl walking away before being chased and tackled by an officer.  Dull, another neighbor, and one of the teen’s father criticized the way the situation was handled, saying that officers should have tried to de-escalate the situation given the age of the teens and the nature of the investigation.  The police department’s professional standards division is reviewing the incident.

Market House Pleas.  Earlier this year the News Roundup noted that a fire had been set at the Market House building in downtown Fayetteville following a protest arising from the killing of George Floyd. The Fayetteville Observer reports that two men, Charles Anthony Pittman and Andrew Sullivan Garcia-Smith, recently pleaded guilty to federal malicious burning charges for their involvement in the incident.  Investigators were able to identify the men because video showed Pittman waving to a crowd outside the building while pouring gasoline on the floor and showed Garcia-Smith throwing a bottle of flammable liquid inside.

Separately, the Observer reports that the Fayetteville City Council voted this week to organize community meetings to discuss the future of the Market House building.  The building is controversial because it was the site of slave auctions in the 1800s.

Durham Gun Violence.  The Durham Herald-Sun reports that gun violence in the city is up significantly this year, with a reported increase of 72% compared to 2019.  The Herald-Sun says that 274 people have been shot this year, with 24 of those incidents being fatal.  At a press conference, Durham Mayor Steve Schewel said that increasing officer visibility, monitoring social media for gang activity, and centralizing the police investigative unit responsible for shootings has improved the city’s ability to respond to gun violence but that more is required.  Schewel said that one of the major obstacles to reducing gun violence is the ready availability of firearms in our country.

Election Crimes Resignation.  The director of the Election Crimes Branch of the U.S. Justice Department, Richard Pilger, stepped down from that role this week in response to a memo from Attorney General William Barr authorizing federal prosecutors to investigate “substantial allegations” of voting irregularities in the 2020 election.  Barr’s memo said that investigations “may be conducted if there are clear and apparently credible allegations of irregularities that, if true, could potentially impact the outcome of a federal election in an individual State.”  The memo is seen as a change of the Justice Department’s policy of not conducting such investigations until after the outcome of the election allegedly affected is certified. 

Epstein Plea.  According to the Associated Press, a report by the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility criticizes former Labor Secretary Alex Acosta’s handling of a federal criminal investigation of Jeffrey Epstein when Acosta was the top federal prosecutor in Florida.  Though the report does not find that Acosta committed professional misconduct, it says that his decision to resolve the investigation of Epstein with a non-prosecution agreement in exchange for Epstein pleading guilty to state prostitution charges constituted “poor judgment” and did not satisfy the federal interest motivating the investigation.  Acosta resigned as Labor Secretary last year because of widespread disapproval of his handling of the Epstein investigation, which many saw as an example of lenient treatment of a wealthy and powerful person.

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