This is how NC is punishing a psych center where kids say they were abused

State officials have shut down admissions to a south Charlotte psychiatric hospital where children say they were sexually and physically abused, according to newly released documents. Investigators determined conditions at Strategic Behavioral Center put patients in “immediate jeopardy,” says a letter to Strategic from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. That means the state is recommending Strategic not receive money from Medicaid, a joint state and federal health insurance program for the needy that covers the cost for most of Strategic’s patients. Strategic is one of 37 licensed psychiatric residential treatment facilities in North Carolina where patients get round-the-clock care for severe mental and behavioral conditions. The 60-bed facility located on Sharon Road West near South Boulevard cannot accept new patients until problems are fixed, DHHS said. DHHS spokesman Cobey Culton said in an email that officials visited the hospital as recently as last week and more sanctions could be imposed, including a possible financial penalty. The moves come after the Observer made inquiries about accusations of mistreatment and a New Year’s Day incident in which 10 patients – as young as age 12 – shattered a window and escaped the hospital. On Monday, the chief executive officer for Strategic’s Charlotte hospital said in a written statement that the hospital is working with the state on an improvement plan and retraining staff. “Our highest priority is to provide safe, high-quality care to our residents,” Orvin Fillman said. “It is important to note that the DHHS recommendation on ending participation in Medicare and Medicaid would not go into effect if we submit a satisfactory improvement plan, which we fully intend to do.” Articles published Friday detailed allegations from patients, including a girl who says she had sex with a staff member. In another case, a teen said a hospital worker Continue Reading

Good dog! Puppy rescued from NC is voted MVP of Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl

A puppy permanently locked outside his owner’s home in rural North Carolina was voted Most Valuable Pup by viewers of Animal Planet’s 14th annual Puppy Bowl on Sunday. Bear, a 16-week-old rescue puppy from rural North Carolina, was named MVP of Animal Planet’s annual Puppy Bowl on Sunday. Virginia Beach SPCA Bear was rescued at 7 weeks and cared for by the SPCA in Virginia Beach, Va., which nominated him and five other dogs for the competition. Bear and two others from the local SPCA were chosen to compete against 87 other dogs from the United States and Mexico. SPCA officials have not said where exactly in North Carolina Bear was rescued. “Their path to stardom wasn’t exactly paved in treats,” the Virginia Beach SPCA said on its website. “Luckily, these puppies were all rescued and found their way to the Virginia Beach SPCA.” Dogs at the Puppy Bowl drag as many toys over the goal line as possible to score touchdowns, according to The Virginian-Pilot. The Puppy Bowl is broadcast each year the afternoon of the Super Bowl, as a pre-game event. Bear, now 16 weeks old, was a starter on Team Fluff and scored two touchdowns in the first half, the newspaper reported. For the second year in a row, Team Fluff won the Lombarky Trophy over Team Ruff by a score of 52-47. Bear is a mix of American Staffordshire terrier, American foxhound, cocker spaniel, Chihuahua and chow chow, The Virginian-Pilot reported. The Puppy Bowl “helps get that message out there that you can get puppies at a shelter, you can get great, great pets at a shelter,” Mike Lawson of the Virginia Beach SPCA told WTKR, the CBS-TV affiliate in Norfolk, Va. “We’re always trying to get the word out there it’s important to adopt, not shop.” Bear was adopted before his Puppy Bowl fame by a family in Chesapeake, Va., who weren’t quite sure they were ready for another pet after the loss of their dog, WTKR reported. Continue Reading

Could these top football recruits sign with UNC, NC State or Duke?

College football’s National Signing Day, the second version, is Wednesday, and even though there was an early signing period in December for the first time ever, schools didn’t completely fill out their 2018 classes. With the more traditional signing day coming up, more players will be signing with schools. Here is a list of unsigned players who have Duke, North Carolina or N.C. State in their final five. Rick Sandidge, 6-5, 288, Concord The Concord defensive tackle is a four-star recruit and one of two top-20 prospects in the state who didn’t commit or sign in December. Sandidge is the No. 6-ranked player in the state and the No. 14 defensive tackle, according to 247Sports. Sandidge’s top five includes UNC, Duke, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama. Dax Hollifield, 6-2, 236, Shelby Hollifield, an inside linebacker, is the other top 20 prospect in the Tar Heel state who didn’t make a commitment in December. Hollifield, the No. 7 prospect in North Carolina, according to 247Sports, has been getting a strong push from UNC, but Stanford appears to be the leader. Virginia Tech, South Carolina and Florida State are also in the race. Taiyon Palmer, 6-0, 178, Lawrenceville, Ga. Palmer, a cornerback, might be the steal of the Triangle. He originally committed to Duke, but decommitted in November, instantly picking up an offer from N.C. State. On Jan. 28, the No. 31-ranked player in Georgia announced his top three, which included N.C. State, Tennessee and Nebraska. Mychale Salahuddin, 5-10, 193, Washington, D.C. Salahuddin, the No. 1 player in D.C. and No. 5 all-purpose back, according to 247Sports, originally committed to USC, but decommited in December. His top three include UNC, Pittsburgh and Syracuse. Either way, Salahuddin will end up in the ACC. Jamarcus Chatman, 6-2, 258, Rome, Ga. Chatman, a defensive tackle, is the No. 35 best player at his position. He’ll definitely be in the ACC next season, the only question is which school Continue Reading

Judge reinstates primaries for NC Supreme and Appeals court races

North Carolina election officials must reinstate primary elections for judicial candidates seeking statewide office this year, including the one open seat on the state Supreme Court. U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles issued an order on Wednesday that, in part, grants a request by Democratic Party officials who sued state lawmakers for canceling primary elections for all judicial races in 2018 — from the district courts to the state’s highest court. At a hearing last week, attorneys for the Democrats argued that the Republican-led General Assembly violated the party’s free speech and equal protection rights by doing away with the election that would have allowed the winnowing of candidates for the general election. Without primaries, ballots in judicial races could have many names on them. A candidate with just 30 percent of the vote could become a judge, according to changes in the law adopted in October. That, Democrats contended in a lawsuit filed late last year, makes it difficult for the party to put forward its best candidate. “A cluttered ballot threatens the freedom of political parties to join together to further common beliefs,” Eagles said in an order granting the Democrats’ request for emergency relief from the law in statewide races. “Without a primary or some other mechanism to narrow the field of candidates on the general election partisan ballot, the ability of political parties like the plaintiffs to provide support for their chosen candidate and to leverage that support in other races is restricted and the possibility of confusion and deception arises.” Eagles did not, however, apply her order to the district court and superior court rulings, noting that lawmakers were considering redistricting plans for those races. “We applaud the court for stopping Republicans’ attempts to rig our judicial elections,” North Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin said in a statement. Continue Reading

Prison attacks have been killing officers. Now NC is taking action to protect them.

North Carolina prison leaders on Thursday announced changes to make prisons safer, saying they will spend millions on equipment to protect employees from attacks and devices to detect smuggled cellphones. Their presentation to a panel of lawmakers follows a tumultuous year for the state’s prisons. In May, The Charlotte Observer published “Wrong Side of the Bars,” a five-part investigation showing that much of the corruption in the state’s prisons is fueled by the very officers who are paid to prevent it. Also last year, five prison employees were fatally wounded on the job, allegedly at the hands of inmates wielding scissors, hammers and a fire extinguisher. “We owe it to the public and to our employees to keep state prisons secure, and we owe it to our fallen employees and their families to do all we can to prevent a similar tragedy from ever happening again,” Department of Public Safety Secretary Erik Hooks told members of the Justice and Public Safety Oversight Committee. DPS Secretary Erik Hooks N.C. DPS To improve prison safety and security, department leaders said they plan to: ▪ Spend $3.6 million on stab-resistant undershirts for certified staff members. Hundreds of times each year, North Carolina inmates are disciplined for attacking officers. Sometimes, they use prison-issued tools or use weapons made from sharpened metal or hardened plastic. ▪ Spend $12.5 million on personal body alarms for officers and visitors. The body alarms – and technological upgrades that will accompany them – would help staff and visitors notify others if an inmate attacks. On Oct. 12, it took first responders about 20 minutes to arrive after two employees at Pasquotank Correctional Institution were fatally wounded during an escape attempt, records show. Ultimately, four employees at the Eastern North Carolina prison died from their wounds. ▪ Spend $1.5 million on new surveillance Continue Reading

Supreme Court stops quick redraw of NC congressional districts ruled partisan gerrymanders

North Carolina lawmakers will not have to draw new congressional election districts by next week, and voters across the state could go to the polls in the coming year to elect its 13 members of Congress from districts that three judges have found to be unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court issued an emergency stay of a partisan gerrymandering ruling that was the first of its kind for congressional districts. The order, released on Thursday night, is two paragraphs long announcing the court’s agreement to halt a three-judge panel’s ruling from last week in which North Carolina’s 13 congressional districts were ruled unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders that violated free speech and equal protection rights provided in the U.S. Constitution. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor said they would not have granted lawmakers’ request. The court did not indicate whether the case would be resolved by the 2018 elections. Candidate filing for the elections in the coming year opens on Feb. 12. Republicans who led the redistricting process in 2016 cheered the ruling. Democrats and voters who challenged the maps released swift criticism. “We are grateful that a bipartisan U.S. Supreme Court has overwhelmingly halted the lower court’s 11th hour attempt to intervene in election outcomes, restored certainty to voters, and ensured that, in the coming days, candidates for office can file in the least gerrymandered and most compact Congressional districts in modern state history,” redistricting leaders Rep. David Lewis, a Harnett County Republican, and Sen. Ralph Hise, a Mitchell County Republican, said in a statement. Ambiguity over 2018 elections “Voters and even most elected officials agree that partisan gerrymandering is violating the constitutional rights of Americans all over the country,” said Allison Riggs, senior voting rights attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and counsel for the Continue Reading

Don’t ‘reward gamesmanship and obstinacy,’ NC gerrymander challengers say

Attorneys representing voters who successfully challenged North Carolina’s congressional districts as unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders are protesting lawmakers’ attempt to use the election maps again this year. U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts gave attorneys until noon Wednesday to offer response to a request last week from Republican legislative leaders for the country’s high court to get involved in another gerrymandering case in North Carolina. “In the 2016 election, Republican congressional candidates received slightly more than 50 percent of the statewide vote in North Carolina,” attorneys for the League of Women Voters wrote in opposition to lawmakers’ request for an emergency stay that would put a lower court’s ruling on hold. “With this slim majority, they won ten of North Carolina’s congressional seats. The resulting partisan asymmetry was the largest in the country in the 2016 election, and the fourth-largest, on net, of all congressional plans nationwide since 1972.” Attorneys for Common Cause, which also challenged the congressional districts, added the organization’s opposition and suggested that if the Supreme Court takes up the North Carolina case, it should expedite it so voters in North Carolina won’t go through a fourth election cycle this decade with maps ruled unconstitutional by the courts. “Not only is there a strong public interest in constitutionally drawn legislative districts, but moreover, a stay would tend to legitimize the flagrant partisan abuses of the North Carolina legislature – abuses that have continued now for almost a decade – and would invite legislatures across the Nation to follow suit,” the Common Cause attorneys stated. “The Court should not signal that it will reward gamesmanship and obstinacy, especially when fundamental constitutional rights are at stake.” Decade of maps Members of the Joint Continue Reading

NC maps ruled unconstitutional gerrymanders – GOP lawyer wants them used again in 2018

Republican lawmakers are appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court to block the ruling this week that struck down North Carolina’s congressional districts – at least temporarily – and they want an answer by Jan. 22. Phil Strach, the Raleigh-based attorney representing Republican lawmakers in the partisan gerrymandering case, stated in his 22-page request for an emergency stay on the order issued Tuesday that a three-judge panel “has used an entirely novel legal theory to hopelessly disrupt North Carolina’s upcoming congressional elections.” On Tuesday, a panel of three federal judges ruled that in 2016, the Republican-led General Assembly in North Carolina unconstitutionally gerrymandered the state’s 13 congressional districts to ensure their party’s “domination of the state’s congressional delegation.” The judges – James A. Wynn, a Barack Obama appointee to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and U.S. District Judges W. Earl Britt. a Jimmy Carter appointee, and William L. Osteen Jr., a George W. Bush appointee – gave the lawmakers until Jan. 24 to adopt new maps, which are to be turned in to the court with a record of any hearings by Jan. 29. The filing period for candidates in the 2018 elections in North Carolina is set to open Feb. 12. “Prohibiting the state from using the duly enacted districting map that governed its last election cycle is not just practically disruptive, but represents a grave and irreparable sovereign injury,” Strach stated in the request for intervention. Wisconsin, Maryland and NC arguments Additionally, Strach contended, blocking the effects of the order by the three judges would be in keeping what the high court had done in a Wisconsin case that tests the breadth to which lawmakers can redistrict for partisan gain. That case points to the “efficiency gap,” a theory that gerrymanders force the disadvantaged party to “waste” Continue Reading

White supremacists took over a city – now NC is doing more to remember the deadly attack

The North Carolina government is officially recognizing what historians call the only successful coup d’etat in American history, when white supremacists overthrew the Reconstruction-era government in Wilmington in 1898. The state’s Highway Historical Marker Committee has approved a new plaque to be installed in Wilmington in 2018 near a busy intersection, which will tell people about the racist attack that left dozens dead and heralded the start of the Jim Crow era here. This isn’t the first time North Carolina has officially acknowledged the coup – which went completely unpunished. The state commissioned a report released in 2006 about the violence. But a public marker in a busy area is more likely to be seen by the public than that 464-page report. In 1898 Wilmington was North Carolina’s biggest city, and many of its city government leaders and prominent businessmen were black. In the three decades since the end of the Civil War, black people had gained more freedom and financial stability – but they would lose many of those advancements starting at the turn of the 20th century and continuing for decades more. A former Confederate officer and U.S. congressman named Alfred Waddell led the attack, with a band of armed rioters that eventually grew to about 2,000 men. They burned down local black-owned businesses, killed dozens of black people and forced many more to leave town and abandon their homes. They then took over city government, forcing out the white mayor and the mixed-race town council, and installing Waddell as the new mayor without a legitimate election. The new marker will read: “Wilmington coup. Armed Crowd met, Nov. 10, 1898, at armory here, marched 6 blocks S.E., and burned office of Daily Record, black-owned newspaper edited by Alex Manly. Violence left up to 60 blacks dead. Led to overthrow of city government and the installation of coup leader Alfred Moore Waddell as mayor. ‘Race riot’ was Continue Reading

NC reins in local governments, transgender rule

A bill to keep local governments from banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation became law Wednesday night with the signature of Gov. Pat McCrory.The bill easily passed the Republican-controlled General Assembly earlier Wednesday during a one-day special session called in response to a Charlotte ordinance that would have taken effect April 1. The move dealt a blow to the LGBT movement after success with protections in cities across the country.An Asheville-based group pushing for LGBT rights said it is considering a legal challenge to the law and said it will stage a protest downtown Thursday afternoon. The new law prohibits a push by the Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, to pass a county ordinance against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.Charlotte City Council last month approved a broad anti-discrimination measure. Critics focused on language in the ordinance that allowed transgender people to use the restroom aligned with their gender identity.McCrory, who was the mayor of Charlotte for 14 years and had criticized the local ordinance, signed the legislation Wednesday night that he said was “passed by a bipartisan majority to stop this breach of basic privacy and etiquette.”McCrory said other issues in the legislation should have been taken up later, but adding the other provisions "does not change existing rights under state or federal law." (His complete statement appears below.)Although 12 House Democrats joined all Republicans present in voting for the bill in the afternoon, later all Senate Democrats in attendance walked off their chamber floor during the debate in protest. Remaining Senate Republicans gave the legislation unanimous approval.“We choose not to participate in this farce,” Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue of Raleigh said after he left the chamber.Senate leader Phil Berger of Eden said the Democrats’ decision to leave was a “serious breach of their Continue Reading