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Attorneys vie for open seat on District Court

Two attorneys are competing for a District Court judgeship that is opening for the first time in nearly a quarter of a century.

William Solomon, 42, whose practice is based in Rocky Mount, and Sharon Sprinkle, 57, whose practice is based in Tarboro, are seeking to succeed Judge John Britt.

Britt, a Tarboro native, first successfully campaigned in 1996 for the position when he was 32, but he has opted not to continue serving.

The winner of Tuesday’s general election will serve in what is called Seat 3 for Edgecombe and Nash counties as well as Wilson County.

Elections from 2002 forward for candidates for district court judgeships in North Carolina had been nonpartisan, but the General Assembly moved to return to having the political affiliations of those candidates listed on the ballots, effective in 2018.

Solomon is a Democrat and Sprinkle is a Republican.

Solomon said he believes there is neither a Democratic nor a Republican way to put on a judicial robe, have a gavel, direct the attorneys to do what they need to do and tell the bailiffs what they need to do.

“There are people with Donald Trump signs in their front yard beside my sign,” he said. “There are people with Joe Biden signs in their front yard beside my sign across this district.”

Sprinkle, when asked about why she is affiliated with the GOP, said, “Well, I’ve always been a Republican.

“I was in College Republicans when I went to Carolina, which is amazing, considering it was Carolina,” Sprinkle said, a reference to UNC-Chapel Hill being long seen by many as a campus that predominantly is politically Democratic.

Additionally, Sprinkle said, “District courts are not big-issue courts, but I can tell you that as a Republican that I do support the rule of law and the Constitution, as we are required to do.”

Sprinkle also said she believes one can count on the Republicans in the judiciary supporting the more conservative view of the law, such as being for gun rights. She said Republicans favor the least government involvement in a person’s life and support law enforcement officers.

“And I could not see myself being a Democrat and basically what they stand for these days. So I’m glad for the opportunity to run as a Republican versus the unaffiliated races,” Sprinkle said.

Both Solomon and Sprinkle have extensive resumes.

Solomon in 2000 earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from N.C. A&T State University and in 2003 earned a law degree from Campbell University’s law school. After his first year at Campbell, Solomon interned for then-attorney Lamont Wiggins, who also at the time was a Rocky Mount city councilman and who went on to become a Superior Court judge in 2018.

Solomon worked another summer for Wiggins and after earning his law degree he worked for Wiggins before opening his own office in 2007.

Sprinkle in 1985 earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from UNC-Chapel Hill and went to the officer candidate school for the U.S. Marines, but suffered a broken bone in one of her feet. Sprinkle decided to enroll in Campbell University’s law school and earned her law degree in 1989.

Sprinkle subsequently practiced law in Rocky Mount with attorneys Walter Early and Bob Chandler and for a time stayed at home with her daughters but did mediation.

From 2001 to 2015 Sprinkle worked on the prosecuting side as an assistant district attorney. Sprinkle returned to private practice and for about a year was an attorney with attorney Jessica Creech Williams in Rocky Mount.

Sprinkle was managing partner at S&P Law in Rocky Mount from 2016 until going solo in June 2019.

Presently, Sprinkle’s practice includes handling the domestic violence cases for Nash County via My Sister’s House, which is the program providing outreach and shelter services for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.

This is Sprinkle’s second try to win election to a position on a district court bench, with the other time having been in 2016.

District courts in North Carolina hear cases involving civil, criminal, juvenile and magistrate matters.

Both Solomon and Sprinkle spoke about why voters should choose them.

Solomon said he believes one of the more detailed parts of the work of district courts is in dealing with juvenile cases. He said his office presently is representing the Guardian ad Litem program in Edgecombe, Nash and Wilson counties.

In North Carolina, the Guardian ad Litem program, which was established in 1983, equips community volunteers to serve abused and neglected children by advocating for their best interests in court.

When a petition alleging abuse or neglect of a juvenile is filed in district court, the judge appoints a Guardian ad Litem advocate and an attorney advocate to represent the child in court.

“That’s been a part of my practice now for the last 3½ years,” Solomon said.

Solomon said he does not believe there is any other attorney in the three-county district who has such experience in juvenile court.

“I think everything is important that comes through the courts, but I tend to think that those are the most important cases that we deal with, because if you get something wrong there, you’re messing around with how soon a child can live in a permanent situation,” Solomon said.

Sprinkle, in stating why she believes voters should choose her, said district courts handle many different areas of the law. She said she believes she has enough experience in all the areas the district court handles “to be a good and fair judge for that seat.”

Sprinkle said she believes she is the more experienced of the two candidates for this position and also said she has lived in Tarboro 29 years.

“And it is a Tarboro seat. So I hope to keep it as a Tarboro seat and (have) it go to the person who lives in Tarboro and Edgecombe County,” Sprinkle said.

In other judicial contests, for Seat 4, Judge Tony Brown, a Democrat, is being challenged by Mike Eatmon, a Republican.

Seat 5 is held by Judge Ed Brown, a Democrat whom Gov. Roy Cooper appointed in August 2019 to fill a vacancy resulting from the death of Judge John Covolo.

Brown is unopposed this year, as are Chief District Judge William Farris, a Democrat who holds Seat 6, and Judge Beth Freshwater-Smith, a Republican who holds Seat 7.

Pandemic alters Halloween activities

NASHVILLE — Halloween likely will look a little bit different this year with the very real specter of COVID-19 in the air.

Nash County offered an alternative to traditional trick-or-treating on Tuesday as the Nash County Parks and Recreation Department, Nash County Senior Services and the Town of Nashville collaborated in offering the first annual “Trick or Treat Trail” event.

Other local businesses, including Nashville Auto Mart, Providence Bank, Zaxby’s of Nashville and Wendy’s of Nashville contributed to the success of the event.

“Previously, we held a ‘Halloween Spooktacular’ at Nash Community College, but due to COVID-19 concerns, we moved our event outside and changed the format,” Nash County Communications Manager Jonathan Edwards said in an interview.

The event was family-centered rather than just focusing on passing out treats to local school children. Nash County has an annual tradition where employees dress up and pass out treats to students from Nashville Elementary School. That event usually happens on the last business day before Halloween but will not be taking place this year due to COVID concerns.

Last year, the county also sponsored the family-centric “Halloween Spooktacular” event at Nash Community College, but because of COVID concerns, the event was moved outside and the format was changed to a walk-through or drive-through event where masks and social distancing were encouraged.

“With this being our first time hosting a drive-through/walk-through event, I think overall it was a success,” Nash County Parks and Recreation Director Thomas Gillespie said. “We had around 900 participants walk or drive through the Trick or Treat Trail. My staff and I appreciate the big support from the community that made this event special and a memorable moment for a lot of families. I can envision this event being a part of Nash County and the community for years to come.”

The event was held Tuesday rather than on Saturday for practical reasons, Edwards said.

“We held the event on Tuesday because last year’s Halloween Spooktacular was held the Tuesday before Halloween. We wanted consistency so people will have a feel for when our Halloween event will happen each year,” Edwards said. “This also gave us the opportunity to have a rain date, in case the weather didn’t work out on Tuesday.”

The City of Rocky Mount, in conjunction with the state Department of Health and Human Services, is recommending alternative events such as this instead of traditional trick-or-treating this year.

“Halloween is not a government-recognized holiday, however the City of Rocky Mount encourages residents to follow COVID-19 practices including the wearing of masks, maintaining six feet of social distancing and handwashing,” a city spokesman said in a press release.

The state DHHS recommends that residents participate in low-risk activities this year, the statement said. Low-risk Halloween activities include carving or decorating pumpkins, holding virtual Halloween costume contests or holding a Halloween movie night with members of your household.

Moderate-risk Halloween events include no or low-touch trick-or-treating, distributing individually wrapped goodie bags at the end of the driveway or yard for trick-or-treaters or attending a costume party held outdoors where protective masks are used and people remain more than six feet apart.

However, some traditional Halloween events are considered high-risk this year, according to the statement from the City of Rocky Mount. These high-risk activities include attending crowded costume parties held indoors; participating in traditional trick-or-treat activities where treats are handed to children who go door-to-door or children take candy from a shared bucket; or participating in trunk-or-treat events where treats are handed out from trunks of cars lined up in large parking lots.

Anyone who has COVID-19 or who is experiencing COVID symptoms are advised to remain at home on Halloween this year, the statement said.

City manager provides update about search for next police chief

The subject of the search for Rocky Mount’s next top cop came up briefly during this week’s City Council meeting.

City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney gave an update after Councilman Reuben Blackwell asked her about her efforts to find a successor to Chief George Robinson, who will be retiring effective Dec. 1.

The city has posted on its website a want ad for the position set to expire at 11:59 p.m. Nov. 8.

During Monday’s council meeting, Small-Toney said she herself will review the submitted applications without prior screening by the city’s Human Resources staff.

“I’m old-fashioned,” Small-Toney said. “I like to just read what comes in — and then I will narrow that down to a group of individuals that I can make contact with.”

Small-Toney said that, given the coronavirus pandemic, most likely the first contact she will make will be via computer.

“And then from that I’ll screen it down even further,” Small-Toney said.

Small-Toney said the next step will be to invite each candidate in for a face-to-face interview.

Small-Toney also said she plans to check the candidates’ backgrounds and the communities they are policing and conduct further investigations.

Small-Toney also said she would then hopefully come up with a finalist she would want to appoint.

Small-Toney told the council that while the council before now has not been involved in such a search, having the current panel’s input in terms of goals and values certainly is worth going over again.

“I think I have a pretty good understanding of that, but it’s always good to make sure that I’m on the right track. I think I understand what you would like to see, as well as what the community would like to see,” Small-Toney said.

Small-Toney, during her update, did not give a more specific timeline or state whether there will be an interim police chief if no hire of the future chief is in place after Robinson steps aside.

The subject of the search for the future police chief came up Monday after council members began discussing crime amid Rocky Mount having recently become the scene of shootings, particularly into occupied automobiles, buildings and residences.

Blackwell moments earlier in the discussion about crime referred to the upcoming sunsetting of Robinson’s tenure.

Blackwell said he believes Mayor Sandy Roberson, the council and the community collectively need to think about “those shared values that we do have in keeping our community safe — and not just livable, but wonderful to live in.”

“Every neighborhood should be a wonderful place to live in,” Blackwell said. “So hopefully we can equip our manager with some ideals and goals that we have for you.”

Blackwell said he and the rest of the council knows the manager hires the police chief.

At the same time, Blackwell said, “we also want whoever that individual will be to come into an environment where we’re clear about what that person’s worldview is related to community safety and public safety — and what role we can play as leaders in our respective communities and across the city, so that we do create an environment for public safety.”

Blackwell made clear he believes such an environment should not be one of “just running down kids — or overlooking people who are not doing what they need to do.”

Monday’s discussion also started after Councilman Lige Daughtridge early during the council meeting had an item added to the agenda requiring Small-Toney provide the mayor and the council with computer-based reports and heat maps of crime in the city.

As a compromise, Daughtridge got an amended action approved after Councilman Andre Knight, who as mayor pro tem chairs work sessions, called for having Robinson and future police chiefs provide such information beforehand at work sessions so panel members can directly be able to ask questions.

Daughtridge, who was sworn into office in December and has emphasized having transparency in city government, on Oct. 6 posted a video on YouTube that included a request to see crime statistics in the city, specifically in a report format.

In the video, Daughtridge also said that the Nash County Sheriff’s Office provides Nash County’s top officials with a daily crime report and that he believes the mayor and the council should receive a similar report about crime in the city.

Daughtridge found out, independently, that the police department eventually posted updated crime statistics on the department’s website.

Daughtridge on Oct. 21 reposted the statistics on his Ward 5 Facebook page.

The statistics are for 2015 to 2019 and up to the third quarter of this year — and the statistics also are now on the Telegram’s website.

Deputies charge two men with heroin trafficking

Two men from Massachusetts face heroin trafficking charges after a traffic stop initiated Monday by members of the Nash County Sheriff’s Office.

The traffic stop took place about 2:39 p.m. Monday, according to a press release from the Nash County Sheriff’s Office. Members of the Nash County Sheriff’s Office Joint Criminal Apprehension Team arrested Richard Francisco Gonzalez of Boston and Jaylyn London Jackson of Foxboro, Mass., during a traffic stop on I-95 southbound near the 129.5 mile-marker.

According to the press release, deputies noticed Gonzalez, the driver, demonstrating criminal deception as the investigation progressed on the roadside. K-9 Pinka was utilized, which resulted in a probable cause search of the vehicle. During that search, 202 grams of raw heroin and 14 grams of cocaine were recovered from concealed areas in the vehicle.

Both Gonzalez and his passenger, Jackson, were arrested at the scene without incident.

Probable cause was found to charge Gonzalez, 22, and Jackson, 23, with Level III trafficking in heroin, maintaining a vehicle as a place for a controlled substance and possession with intent to sell and deliver a Schedule II controlled substance.

Gonzalez and Jackson were jailed under $275,000 secured bonds in the Nash County Detention Center. They had their first appearance Monday in the District Court in Nashville and remain in the detention center.