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NC Senate waters down DNA collection bill

pexels Crime tape A bill that would require people convicted of domestic violence offenses to provide their DNA to the state passed out of a state Senate committee Wednesday morning.

However, the bill differs from a version of House Bill 674 that passed with near unanimity out of that chamber, which would have required DNA collection upon being charged with assault on a female, a misdemeanor charge often associated with domestic violence.

The change could unnecessarily leave perpetrators of crimes long ago unidentified in communities throughout the state, those in favor of an arrest standard for DNA collection say.

“Research has clearly shown that suspects arrested for domestic violence often cross over and commit other serious offenses, including rape,” said John Somerindyke, a former Fayetteville Police Department lieutenant who led the department’s cold-case special victims unit.

“If this bill passes, cases will slip through the cracks. Violent criminals, including rapists, will continue to prey on victims.”

The revised legislation
Sen. Danny Britt, R-Robeson, said the goal of the revised bill is to capture the DNA of those who commit domestic violence and assault on a child under age 12.

Passing a requirement to collect DNA upon arrest “could put added strain on law enforcement” to collect the DNA and pay for testing without providing the resources to do so, while absent evidence that someone who is charged but not convicted of domestic violence is more likely to commit a sex offense, Britt said.

Britt’s revision of the bill drew applause from the American Civil Liberties Union.

“We have serious privacy concerns with the expansion of mandatory government DNA collection, especially from people who have been arrested and are presumed innocent,” an ACLU spokesperson told Carolina Public Press on Wednesday.

“The amendments to limit the expanded DNA collection to individuals who have been convicted of these charges is a significant improvement; however, we urge further discussion about the privacy issues related to government DNA databases.”

Bill author Rep. Billy Richardson, R-Cumberland, said with the new version of the legislation, law enforcement can seek DNA under what’s called a nontestimonial identification order, and he expects the language of the bill to be amended to reflect this.

However, current state rules on nontestimonial DNA collection say only prosecutors can request the DNA, not law enforcement.

There are more barriers to using a noncustodial identification order, said Jason Arnold, chief assistant district attorney in Western North Carolina’s 43rd Prosecutorial District.

“I haven’t needed to do one in about 10 years,” Arnold said. “We do search warrants every day, and because there is a lot of overlap, we typically use those rather than seek noncustodial orders.”

Wouldn’t have helped in dismissed cases
When Somerindyke led the Fayetteville Police Department’s cold-case sexual assault unit, he examined the criminal histories of 28 cold-case suspects of 51 sexual assaults. Of those, 13 DNA-confirmed suspects had prior domestic violence arrests.

Among those cold cases was an assault against a woman named Linda. Nearly 30 years ago, she was taken from her job cleaning offices in Fayetteville by three men who assaulted her and left her for dead in the woods of nearby Harnett County. Her assault was known by the spray-painted phrase on the hood of her white Toyota: “3 Horsemen.”

The state found a match to the DNA in her rape kit after Roy Junior Proctor submitted to DNA collection as a condition of his probation for an unrelated conviction — however, he had been arrested earlier in 2013 for assault on a female.

Proctor wasn’t connected with Linda’s assault then because state law doesn’t require collecting DNA for the 2013 arrest. Ultimately, his charge in that case was dismissed. He currently is awaiting trial in the Cumberland Detention Center for kidnapping, first-degree rape, first-degree attempted murder and other charges related to Linda’s attack.

If the current version of the legislation now before the Senate were in place back in 2013, it’s entirely possible that a DNA match for Linda’s case would not have been detected then, either.

“I can’t believe law enforcement or prosecutors would be on board with this,” Somerindyke said. “There are already dozens of criminal offenses on the books which require DNA collection upon arrest.”

Cumberland County District Attorney Billy West said the Conference of District Attorneys favored the bill in its original form.

“We still support the bill (of collecting DNA) upon conviction,” West said, although an arrest standard is preferred.

“The victim (of domestic violence) in many cases is reluctant to go forward, and so, an assault on a female charge is going to be dismissed probably more often in other crimes of violence. Therefore, I think it’s important that (DNA should be collected) upon arrest and not just upon conviction, particularly on that charge.”

State law currently does not require DNA collection for arrest for or conviction of assault on a female, assault of a child under 12 or violating a domestic violence order of protection.

“What we’re doing is we’re moving the needle where statistically it has been shown to relate to people who are committing crimes of sexual assault,” Britt said.

Of course, not everyone who commits domestic violence will go on to commit sexual assaults, West said. “There is a correlation, in some cases and in some relationships, of an escalation of violence to include sexual assault.”

North Carolina already collects DNA upon arrest for more than a dozen other crimes, including murder, various maiming offenses, felony assaults and many other felonies. The current state law also says the state must destroy the DNA if the accused is acquitted, if the charges have been dismissed or if there’s no conviction or active prosecution.

Attorney General Josh Stein’s office said in a statement Tuesday afternoon, “The Senate’s version of the bill is an improvement to our current DNA collection laws by adding the DNA of thousands of people convicted of certain crimes to our database.

“That said, we’d like to continue working to strengthen protections against sexual assault even further by supporting proposals to collect DNA upon arrest for these crimes. Doing so will make our communities safer.”

Deanne Gerdes, executive director for Rape Crisis Volunteers of Cumberland County, was far blunter.

“If, in fact, it passes with these changes, legislators totally missed the point on why this is needed and once again have told women in our state they just are not very important,” Gerdes said.

“North Carolina had a chance to change all of this. Instead, they continue to let rapists roam among us.”

Britt said the state Senate could vote on the amended bill as early as Thursday. If it passes, the bill would have to return to the state House for a concurrence vote.

Fayetteville city manager, attorney given raises after job performance evaluations

fayetteville nc logo Fayetteville’s city manager and city attorney will get pay raises after job performance evaluations by the City Council.

After evaluations discussed in closed session on Wednesday night, the council retained City Manager Doug Hewett and City Attorney Karen McDonald.
The closed session followed a meeting that included an agenda briefing for Monday’s regular council meeting at City Hall.
Hewett received a 2% pay increase while McDonald got a 3% increase, according to a city official.

“I appreciate council's feedback on our efforts and their continued support in moving Fayetteville forward,” Hewett said in an email.

“The coming months will prove significant for our city’s progress as several key projects will be completed,” he said. “And we will be moving forward the proposed $97 million bond referendum. I am excited about the direction in which we are collectively headed as a city and the impact that will have for our residents.”

During the agenda briefing, the council heard presentations on three zoning requests by Gerald Newton, director of development services, and Craig Harmon, a senior planner for the city.

Presentations on these three requests will be given again Monday evening. Monday’s meeting will begin at 7 p.m.

A public hearing is scheduled on each request.

The first request is for rezoning 16½ acres for a grocery store and outparcels in the Gates Four community.

The second is for 5 acres and infrastructure on property between Kings Grant and Liberty Hills, according to Newton. Currently, that property is designated for stormwater management.

The third annexation request is for about 84 acres that would go from residential to a heavy industrial zoning.

That property is on North Plymouth Street where the old Soffe textile plant was in an area zoned for industry.

“They want to turn the area into an industrial park,” said Newton.

Also Monday, code enforcement supervisor Dereke Planter will discuss four properties that the city wants to demolish because the properties have been neglected. The properties are at 862 W. Orange St., 912 Ramsey St., 837 Varsity Drive and 308 Preston Ave.

Hewett said another significant item on Monday’s agenda is a referendum on bond packages that would authorize $60 million for public safety improvement; $25 million for street, sidewalk and connectivity improvements; and $12 million for housing projects.

Fayetteville PWC considering new rate options to boost conservation, growth

PWC logo Fayetteville’s public utility is considering changes to its rate structure to encourage conservation of electricity as well as economic development.

The Fayetteville Public Works Commission met Wednesday to discuss proposed electric rate options that would take effect after 2024.

“We conduct biennial reviews of our electric and our water system,” said Elaina Ball, the utility’s CEO and general manager, who presented staff recommendations on electric rates to the commission.

Over the past several months, Ball said, the utility’s staff has been reviewing electricity costs. On Wednesday, she presented the recommendations of that review to the commission, which include no change in electric rates at this time.

No action was taken by the board after the presentation, but a public hearing on the proposed new electric rates was set for July 13.
Ball said the proposed rate changes will be discussed further at upcoming PWC meetings.

“The changes that we’re recommending – the new additions and updates to our tariffs – are really in support of three of our key areas in our strategic plan,” she said. “No. 1 is conservation. You’ve heard me talk and the team talk – probably exhaustively – about the single-largest tool in our tool bag to help control electric costs. … So we have some changes specifically aligned to conservation and the ability to control demand.”

One proposed initiative would be a rate tied to economic development designed to attract new businesses and help existing ones expand. The rate would be offered beginning this September.

Other updated rates would address periods of higher and periods when PWC pays the highest amount for electricity from Duke Energy.
A solar buyback rate would be applicable to customers who install rooftop solar panels. This structure, which has required two meters in the past, would require only one in the future.

The solar panels could power a customer’s home or business, said Carolyn Justice-Hinson, spokeswoman for PWC.

“The provision in this rate is that customers can do this but the credits they receive can never exceed their basic facility charge,” Justice-Hinson said. “It does allow them to have a model that’s more popular for those who want solar and how they get credit for rooftop solar.”

The staff also is proposing a whole-home rate option intended to help customers who charge electric vehicles at home.

“There’s a concern that electric vehicles can have an impact on the electric grid,” Justice-Hinson explained. “If they charge (vehicles) during off hours, it will help.

The basic facility charge would be about $10 higher than the regular electric customer’s.”
Customers paying the whole-home rate would use electricity mostly during what PWC is calling a super off-peak period – between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m.

During those hours, Justice-Hinson said, the cost is a little over 4 cents per kilowatt hour. The cost during peak hours is about 13.2 cents and during off-peak hours, 8.4 cents.
The whole-home rate would go into effect in February 2023.

CEO Ball said PWC customers have requested many of the changes.

“We’re really trying to make our tariffs more friendly and listen to our customers and make the changes accordingly,” she said.
Other proposed changes to the PWC rate structure include fee reductions for connections, reconnections and meter testing and provisions on cross connections and water shortages.

As recommended, the initial connection fee would drop from $22 to $20; the initial connection fee after hours would decrease from $65 to $20; the disconnection attempt fee would drop from $22 to $20; the meter testing fee for electricity would go from $50 to $25; and the meter testing fee for water would fall from $85 to $40.

Cumberland commissioners get update on new health advisory for GenX

Cumberlan Co logo While the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners was being briefed by county staff on the latest U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's health advisory for GenX, the company responsible for discharging the chemical pollutant disputes the findings.

The EPA last week dramatically changed the minimum levels of GenX in drinking water from 140 parts per trillion (ppt) to 10 parts per trillion. The new minimum replaces the state’s provisional safe drinking water goal for GenX established in 2018.

Assistant County Manager Sally Shutt presented the latest EPA findings to the board during Monday night’s regularly scheduled meeting. Only four of the seven members attended: Chairman Glenn Adams, Vice Chairwoman Toni Stewart and Commissioners Jeannette Council and Charles Evans.
GenX is one of the chemicals used at the Chemours Fayetteville Works plant that has leached into groundwater and the Cape Fear River and contaminated private drinking water wells, especially in the Gray’s Creek community in Cumberland County. The Chemours plant is located on the Cumberland and Bladen County line.

The board has established providing safe drinking water for the community as one of its stated priorities in the recently adopted fiscal 2023 budget.
Shutt told the commissioners the EPA final health advisory for GenX affects a current consent order that requires Chemours to provide whole house filtration or connection to public water for any private drinking well that tests above the new health advisory.

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality already directed Chemours to revise its drinking water compliance requirements by taking into account the 10 ppt for GenX. According to the state, the newly released health advisory for GenX levels will make about 1,700 more private wells eligible for whole house filtration systems.

Contacted Monday for a response to the new requirements, Cassie Olszewski, the Chemours media relations and financial communications manager, referred to a Chemours statement released within hours of the EPA announcement.

“At Chemours, we support government regulation based on the best available science. While the EPA claims it followed the best available science in its nationwide health advisory on HFPO-Dimer Acid (“HFPO-DA"), that is not the case,” the release states.

It further states, “Nationally recognized toxicologists and other leading scientific experts across a range of disciplines have evaluated the EPA’s underlying analysis and concluded that it is fundamentally flawed.”

GenX is the trade name for HFPO-DA and is used, along with its ammonium salt, as a polymerization aid in the manufacturing of “high-performance fluoropolymers” used in a variety of products, from cooking pan coatings to electrical wire insulation. DuPont previously marketed the fluoropolymers as Teflon.
According to the release, Chemours currently uses what it calls state-of-the-art technologies at its sites to abate emissions and remediate previous pollutant releases.

“We are evaluating our next steps, including potential legal action, to address the EPA’s scientifically unsound action,” the release states.

The concern of GenX contamination of private water wells in area communities is prevalent among county leaders and staff. Well water contamination ranged 10 miles south and 25 miles north of the plant, according to Shutt.

“It’s deplorable,” said Adams.

“In 2017 it was 140 (ppt), now it's down to 10. We need to look at the entire county,” Adams said.

“We have PFAS in PWC water at higher concentrations,” he said.

The EPA also listed interim health advisory levels for several other PFAS chemicals: PFOA at .004 ppt and PFOS at .02 ppt. A third chemical, PFBS, did not have significant concentrations in samples taken to date in North Carolina.

During two rezoning cases involving small lot properties near Gray's Creek, Evans voted against the rezoning because those properties were not connected to water lines and instead relied on well water. Asked why he voted against the rezoning requests, he replied, “GenX.”
The state DEQ plans to hold community information meetings in July. The date has not been determined. Both the DEQ website and the Cumberland County government website will announce the dates for the information session.

Sheriff’s Office: Man faces trafficking charges after drugs found in stolen vehicle

pexels Crime tape A Fayetteville man faces trafficking charges after drugs were found in a stolen vehicle in his possession, the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office said.

On June 16, the Sheriff’s Office Property Crimes Unit responded to the 2600 block of Belhaven Road for a stolen motor vehicle, a release said. Deputies found 29-year-old J’Qwan Devon Robinson inside the vehicle, the release said.

Robinson was processed on outstanding warrants from the Hope Mills Police Department and the Sheriff’s Office, the release said.

Sheriff’s detectives charged Robinson with larceny of a motor vehicle and possession of stolen goods. He was held at the Cumberland County Detention Center on a $10,000 secure bond, the release said.

Two plastic bags containing 37.33 grams of a substance that later tested positive for methamphetamine and two digital scales were found in the stolen vehicle, the Sheriff’s Office said.

On June 17, narcotic agents charged Robinson with trafficking methamphetamine by possession, trafficking in methamphetamine by manufacture and maintaining a vehicle, the release said.

Robinson received a $100,000 secure bond. His first appearance was at the Cumberland County Detention Center on Monday.

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