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Nash sheriff refutes statements by Combs, Lamb

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Nash County Sheriff Keith Stone

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BY LINDELL JOHN KAY
Staff Writer

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Nash County Sheriff Keith Stone on Tuesday poked holes in recent statements made by the county manager about the local jail and Rocky Mount's mayor about supposed shenanigans at City Hall.

Stone said he wanted to set the record straight about recent comments by Nash County Manager Zee Lamb about conditions at the Nash County Jail.

A Feb. 3 article in the Telegram highlighted problems at the jail that include peeling paint, mildew in the showers, inoperable toilets and more.

Lamb — during the Feb. 4 county commissioners meeting — said mildew in the jail showers and other maintenance issues should have already been addressed. Lamb said county employees were standing ready with supplies and labor if need be to clean the jail.

Lamb said the Sheriff's Office didn't use the same software as the other county departments to report maintenance issues.

“I use email,” Stone said. “I do what most people do, I send an email. Send me an email and I respond.”

Lamb said Stone hasn't requested a new jail during previous budget sessions.

“What has come up in the last month or two is new to county staff,” Lamb said.

Stone said he's not seeking a new jail, he wants the one he's got brought up to standards.

Lamb said the sheriff unilaterally decided to take in federal inmates, which could be a liability.

A county jail can't count on federal funding from housing federal inmates to pay for facilities because the inmates could be taken away by the federal authorities at anytime, said Lamb, who has been involved either as a county commissioner or administrator in the building of four jails in northeast North Carolina.

Stone said it was an opportunity he had to pursue because with the exception of food and water, federal inmates don't cost the county anything, but do bring in federal dollars.

“I'm looking at it,” Stone said. “I'm seeing if it's worthwhile.”

Stone also commented on a statement made by Rocky Mount Mayor David Combs during Monday's City Council meeting. In reference to recent issues at City Hall, Combs said he asked Stone whether a probe is warranted by the State Bureau of Investigation. Combs said the sheriff told him no.

Stone said his answer was a little longer. He said that while the apparent mismanagement at City Hall doesn't look to have reached a level of criminality thus requiring the SBI, he said there are other agencies — especially State Auditor Beth Wood — who could look into city matters.

“The Nash County Sheriff's Office isn't equipped to do an in-depth investigation of that magnitude involving grant funding,” Stone said. “There are federal agencies that could be involved in that.”

As far as real estate dealings involving Councilman Andre Knight or the alleged serving of alcohol at the establishment at 116 Tarboro St., Stone said those properties are in Edgecombe County.

Edgecombe County Sheriff Clee Atkinson said he was aware of the situation at 116 Tarboro St., but state Alcohol Law Enforcement would be handling any investigation.

Councilman Reuben Blackwell, linked to 116 Tarboro St. via his son Cooper who posted ads for a cash bar at the location, didn't address the situation during Monday's City Council meeting.

Blackwell did address an alleged department head hit list, with his statements reiterated in a press release issued Tuesday by the city.

“During Monday night’s Rocky Mount City Council meeting, members refuted claims in a recent Rocky Mount Telegram article that says a council member confirmed the existence of a list of employees administrators are expected to remove from City Hall,” according to the press release.

The release quotes Blackwell telling department heads, some of who were in the meeting, saying, “I have never targeted you, never will, never have.”

During Blackwell's statement at the council meeting, he referred to the 1898 race riot in Wilmington where whites killed duly elected black officials. The reference drew some “amens,” slight applause and a collective moan from the mixed audience.

In public comment at the meeting, resident Sam Battle asked the council to do something about the city's crime rate and several homicides since the beginning of the year.

“I don't see myself as black; I don't see myself as white,” Battle said. “I see myself as a human being.”

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