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Local developer arrested at City Hall

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New security measures at City Hall resulted in the arrest Wednesday of a local property developer.

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BY LINDELL JOHN KAY
Staff Writer

Friday, May 24, 2019

A prominent local property developer learned firsthand about serious new security measures at City Hall on Wednesday when police arrested him for trespassing.

Troy Davis, 31, is charged by the Rocky Mount Police Department with second-degree trespassing and resisting a police officer. He's accused of attempting to access off-limits parts of City Hall.

Davis said he was at City Hall to see City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney to complain about slow police response time to a neighborhood fracas.

Davis said he called 911 around 1 p.m. Wednesday to tell authorities about a juvenile melee on Beverly Road, but it took police 30 minutes to arrive.

“This is the second time in three weeks I've called police and they've taken 30 minutes to respond,” Davis said. “If this were Candlewood, the police would be right there. There was a girl with blood pouring out of her face and the police didn't do anything.”

Rocky Mount police Capt. M.A. Whitley said the response time was 8 minutes and 12 seconds. He said officers didn't find any signs of injury and no one wanted to seek warrants for assault.

Both Davis and police told the Telegram that Davis had a pistol in his waistband. Davis secured the handgun in his vehicle and told police he was going to City Hall.

Davis said a police officer followed him. Whitley said Officer Brandon Thomas was in the police department sally port and responded to the lobby officer's call for assistance.

Davis was told he could wait in the first floor atrium for Small-Toney to return from lunch.

"I'm going upstairs," Davis said as he went to the elevator, pressed the button and stepped inside.

Davis said Thomas tackled him; Whitley said Thomas grabbed Davis and when Davis broke the hold a struggle ensued.

Thomas' body camera recorded the incident. The Telegram has made a request for the footage — but under state law, a Superior Court judge has to approve its release.

Davis said that as police escorted him away in handcuffs, Assistant City Manager Chris Beschler passed him, turned his head and looked down.

Davis said he is in the process of hiring an attorney. He said he feels the city — that he has poured his heart and soul into — has stabbed him in the back.

"I feel like taking my money and going somewhere else," Davis said. "I feel without me, the city will go to shit."

Councilman Andre Knight said if Davis ignored a police officer telling him not to go upstairs at City Hall then Davis' arrest is justified. Knight said tightened security is necessary due to mounting hostility and what he called a “lynch-mob mentality” among a growing crowd opposed to City Council.

During the May 13 council meeting, resident Sam Battle told Knight "if you have something to say to me, we can go outdoors."

During the second half of the Committee of the Whole meeting held after the regular meeting, Knight said he felt threatened. He asked City Attorney Jep Rose what could be done when the audience is out of order and the mayor won't do anything about it. Rose said council members can call a point of order and disruptive people can be removed from chambers.

Knight demanded better security at City Hall, which was already in the works, resulting on Monday in a police officer being posted in the first floor lobby and restrictions placed on citizen movement in the building.

The city issued a press release Thursday afternoon explaining the implementation of the new security procedures at City Hall. Visitors will have to sign in with the lobby security office and undergo metal detector screening. Visits to the city manager's office have to be scheduled in advance.

"I've been saying it for the last two years and something has to be done," Knight said. "This is serious. Who wants to be in a body bag for serving their community?"

Knight's critics, who have verbally clashed with him during meetings before, lately have become more vocal.

Battle is a good friend and supporter of Ward 1 candidate Tarrick Pittman, who is running against Knight in this year's municipal election. Battle and Ward 3 candidate Johnny Cunningham are among Knight's most outspoken political critics.

Battle and Cunningham have made no secret of their criminal pasts but say they're now reformed. Cunningham recently helped raise money to take impoverished kids to the beach, and Battle is involved in helping feed school-aged children during summer months.

But their rancor toward Knight remains intact.

Former City Manager Charles Penny tried to ban Cunningham from City Hall a couple years ago, and Battle recently has made stiff comments to local blogger Curmilus Dancy, a Knight confidante.

Cunningham said the threats were imaginary. He said Knight is the one trying to silence him with false accusations and intimidation.

"He's the one that told me, 'It's better for you to put a stone around your neck, jump in the ocean and die than to offend a child of God.'"

Knight made the statement during a 2017 City Council meeting after Cunningham blamed the city's leadership for failing impoverished neighborhoods.

Battle didn't return a detailed message left seeking comment.

As of late, Davis has been on a rollercoaster ride with Knight and City Hall. Projects in which Davis is involved have benefited from housing grants provided by the city. Then earlier this year, Davis floated the notion he would run against Knight for his Ward 1 seat. Switching directions again, Davis squashed that idea in a March 10 social media statement also texted to a Telegram reporter.

"I have thought long and hard about seeking an elected position for Ward 1 of the City of Rocky Mount City Council," Davis said. "At this time, I will continue to focus on my efforts to improve the city through the work of The Davis Property Group. I will also work alongside Andre Knight and council to make my mark on this great city. I appreciate all of the support that I have received thus far and I believe that we are better served when we work together."

Another reversal occurred after Davis made his $1,000 bail Wednesday afternoon. He called for the termination of Small-Toney and Police Chief George Robinson and posted the following to Facebook: "A little civil disobedience is needed when government fails us!"

Davis attended a Thursday afternoon city budget meeting without incident.

At the May 13 Community of the Whole meeting, Councilman Reuben Blackwell said the security issue is largely about race driven by a trashy local morning television talk show undergirded by unsubstantiated posts on social media.

"People are rabid," Blackwell said. "And it is racist. I don't care if folks don't want to be called that. Stop acting racist. If you don't want to be called racist, don't act racist. Don't say things that are racist."

Blackwell and Knight are black. And while Davis, Battle and Cunningham also are black, an overwhelming majority of the people publicly politically opposed to Knight and Blackwell are white.

Recent posts on locally-run social media pages claim Rocky Mount was better when white people — or “caucasians” as stated in the posts — were in charge of City Hall. A white woman complained about the city's new marketing jingle, saying it will attract more "jitterbugs," which are described by urbandictionary.com as "An African American who cannot hold a steady job. He or she is constantly moving around looking for money."

Complicating matters, a white woman recently did exactly what Davis is accused of, but she wasn't arrested. City officials said the new security policy wasn’t in effect at that time.

On May 7, Rocky Mount expatriate and social media provocateur Adrian Wood was escorted out of the office suite of Small-Toney, who is black.

Small-Toney told the City Council at a May 13 workshop meeting that Wood was very aggressive. Small-Toney said she felt threatened by Wood.

Wood explained herself at the May 13 City Council meeting. She said she felt justified being in Small-Toney's office suite and taking photos with her cellphone since City Hall is a public building.

Wood said Small-Toney is an imposing woman. Wood also later called Battle "an imposing man of color."

Wood's behavior often exemplifies what a member of the local black community identified as white privilege, which is defined in the dictionary as the societal advantage of white people over non-white people — particularly if they are otherwise under the same social, political and economic circumstances.

"I'm 44 — graduated from Chapel Hill, Meredith, N.C. State. I've never had the police called on me. I'm white, but should that matter when I care about my town or leaders? I don't align myself with people that look like me. I want people that give a crap about what's going on here. That's all. That's all I want," Wood said during public comments at the May 13 City Council meeting.

Wood, who lives in Edenton, told the Telegram on Thursday that she pointed out her skin color because Dancy called her a “Special C” online.

“I have advocated quite a bit for public schools and children with special needs and never had my advocacy misconstrued as anything but honorable,” Wood said. “I believed and still believe that one should be able to be an advocate no matter their color — hence my quote above.”

Wood said she didn't know the details of Davis' visit but she thinks a citizen who is calm and rational should be allowed to access public space.

“I was critical and asked questions and when I refused to give my address and phone number, RST became irate,” Wood said in an email response to questions. “She shook her finger in my face and told me I had no business taking pictures in her private office. I did not set a toe in her office. I took a photo from outside her door and she told the police she wanted me to delete it. I asked them if it was a public space and they said it was. I asked them if I was required by law to delete it and they said I was not.”

Davis didn't receive the same treatment. He said his arresting officer took his phone and tossed it down, causing it damage.

While it's been on a slow burn for years, the current conflagration at City Hall was sparked in late January with a series of articles in the Telegram about Small-Toney's spending and hiring practices. However, a summary of an independent audit commissioned by the City Council presented at the May 13 council meeting found low morale among middle management but no malfeasance on Small-Toney's part.

While ultimately approved by the council as part of overall improvements to City Hall, the council was unaware of the specifics involved in renovations to the fifth floor city manager suite until questions were raised by the Telegram.

It was those $80,000 in renovations, which included premium carpet, that attracted Wood's attention, she said, prompting her visit and picture taking.

Not made public until now is Small-Toney's willingness to wait on work in her office until other needed repairs were completed elsewhere in the Frederick E. Turnage Municipal Building.

"My concern is going to be for the funding for the improvements that are necessary for the second floor, the first floor and the complex center. Ken (Hunter, the city's budget manager) will need to prepare and review with me a financial plan for these projects. When we set the funds aside for the (city manager's office) and annex, I was not aware of the deplorable conditions on the second floor or at the complex center. I can forego the nearly 50K to get these done in a timely way," Small-Toney told Michael Baughn, the city's property manager, in a mid-November email obtained last week by the Telegram via a public records request.

It remains unclear why city officials didn't release this information earlier the year instead of claiming that the work was necessitated by a mold problem in the city manager's office.

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