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Candidates vie in rematch of state House race

Three candidates are running in the state House District 25 election this year and two of them are pastors.

State Rep. James Gailliard, D-Nash, holds that seat and is hoping to continue to represent the district for the next two years.

“I am running for re-election to continue the work that I started in the previous legislative session. Specifically, there is work regarding job creation, health care reform and access, affordable housing, systemic inequity, public school funding, rural infrastructure investment, public safety, environmental justice and the constitutional rights of women that are important to the community and state to move forward,” Gailliard said in a recent interview.

Gailliard is being challenged by Republican John Check, who ran against him in the 2018 election. Check said he is running because he feels he better represents the ideals of the community.

“I am running because I believe that my values reflect the values of the average person in the district and to push back on the socialism of the left. Every time the government ‘gives’ us anything, we give up more and more of our liberty,” Check said. “I am a pro-life conservative and will defend our constitution.”

Libertarian candidate Nick Taylor also is running for the seat in this election as he did in 2018. However, he did not respond to a request for information for this article.

In the 2018 election, Taylor garnered roughly 3.4 percent of the vote, Check earned 45.1 percent and Gailliard claimed victory with 51.5 percent of the votes cast in that non-presidential election year.

Check and Gailliard both are family men. Check, 67, has been married to his wife Sheryl for 42 years. The couple has one daughter who is a pediatrician in New Bern. Gailliard, 55, is married and has four living biological children, he said.

They also share a common calling.

Gailliard is the well-known pastor of Word Tabernacle Church, a Rocky Mount-based megachurch that serves thousands of people in the Twin Counties and beyond. Gailliard originally hails from North Philadelphia but moved to Rocky Mount in 2004 for the purpose of planting the church, he said.

“For the past 15 years I have lived, worked and worshipped here. I lived in South Rocky Mount for several years and now in the Oak Level area of Nash County. I am additionally connected to House District 25 through the various organizations and boards I have served on including the United Way, Chamber of Commerce, Tar River Mission Clinic, Kiwanis Club and the Eastern North Carolina Ministerial Alliance, to name a few,” Gailliard said.

Check is a retired minister with 33 years of ministry experience. He currently serves a small church in Robersonville. He also has business experience, having operated a small business and worked for an IBM reseller in the past, he said.

But he has strong roots in the community, he said.

“I have lived in eastern North Carolina for most of my life. I was raised in Tarboro and served churches in Wilson and Rocky Mount as well as other cities throughout eastern North Carolina. I purchased a home in Rocky Mount in 2006 because Rocky Mount is home for me,” he said.

Despite what they have in common, the two responding candidates see quite differently on a number of issues of importance to the district, including the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Given the proven seriousness of this virus, I support how Governor Cooper has managed to lead with both courage and compassion during what is a very difficult time for all of us,” Gailliard said. “As we move forward, it is important that we consider the economy, public education and public health as not being irreconcilable extremes to one another but to factor each in so that the institutions and businesses valuable to all of us remain operational.”

Check maintains that Cooper has taken too high-handed an approach that favors some groups over others.

“It is my understanding that our governor has met with the Council of State less than eight hours in the 7½ months since the shutdown was mandated. If elected, I would press our governor to meet with his duly elected Council of State and quit acting without their consent. I will ask respectfully that a more reasoned approach be taken moving forward. Allowing big box stores to remain open and forcing smaller locally owned businesses to close makes no sense. Allowing protests and rioting to go mostly unchecked while forcing churches to close is incongruent,” Check said.

The two also differ in the way to approach economic growth for the district. Gailliard wants to focus more on developing small businesses while Check favors a more regional approach.

“I currently serve on the Small Business Task Force of the N.C. Rural Center addressing this very issue. If small business struggles then our local economy will underperform. Especially as a result of COVID, the small business climate is declining. The economic future of the Twin Counties will largely be determined by our ability to level the playing field and remove the red tape so there is opportunity for everyone … while ensuring the infrastructure and workforce to attract and retain larger corporations,” Gailliard said.

Check said the district must work together as a region.

“What is good for the tri-counties is good for District 25. I would recommend tax credits for new jobs created and continue to push low taxes and less regulation. I would work to promote that our district is strategically located along the I-95 corridor with rapid access to Norfolk, Wilmington and Morehead City. With CSX and trucking, District 25 is a great location for business,” Check said.

The two responding candidates also have differing views on what is most needed in the district.

Check sees law and order and education as two big priorities.

“Neighborhood safety and whether or not law enforcement needs to be ‘reimagined’ thus being defunded. I am very concerned about the national and statewide movement to reimagine law enforcement. Taking funds from law enforcement and hiring social workers will result in defunding law enforcement,” Check said. “As a pro-school choice candidate, I will also work to create the very best educational opportunities for all of our students.”

But he also sees the need to restore faith in local government.

“Citizens need to be assured that their local governments are being properly run. I will introduce legislation that provides the guidelines for making sure that best practices are in place to restore confidence in our local leadership. The challenges we face in District 25 are challenges being faced throughout our state,” he said.

Gailliard sees the situation differently.

“Although the economy, health care and public education are always at the top of every election, nothing is more important than maintaining the health of our democracy. We must resist any efforts by any candidate to undermine civic trust, sow seeds of racial or social discord and division, manipulate or dilute the meaning of law and order and cause any conflicts with our representative democracy. It is fine for us to disagree on the best policy approaches, but we should all agree to affirm human dignity and advance justice for all people,” Gailliard said.

Early voting already has started in the Twin Counties. Election Day is Nov. 3.

Warrant reveals more details in Walmart shooting

Court documents provide more information about the shooting late in the afternoon of Oct. 9 at the Walmart Supercenter in the Cobb Corners shopping center.

According to a search warrant on file in Nash County District Court, Rocky Mount police officers received the call at 4:53 p.m. about the shooting and found Willie Ray inside the store, near the delicatessen section and with a gunshot wound to his torso.

According to the warrant, Ray told police he had been in the self-checkout line when he was pushed by four males and a fight ensued.

Ray told police he punched one of the males and the other suspects pulled him away from the one he had punched, the warrant states. Ray told police one of the suspects pulled a gun and he began to run away.

That is when the shots were fired and Ray was struck, the warrant states.

Jaylen Knight, 21, and Darrius Williams, 19, both are charged with assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury to Ray, 34.

A juvenile, whom police consider the third suspect, was released on a juvenile petition to his parents.

The fourth suspect, Akavius Knight, 20, remains at large.

Nash County District Court records also show how police were able to track down Jaylen Knight and Williams.

According to the search warrant, police reviewed video footage after the shooting and an officer identified the suspects, due to the officer having had dealings with them a couple of weeks earlier.

Officers also found out the suspects had spent the night of Oct. 8 at a residence in the 600 block of Piedmont Avenue, the warrant states.

About 10:16 p.m. on Oct. 9, officers went to that address along Piedmont, located Jaylen Knight and Williams and detained them, the warrant states.

Officers spoke to the person in charge of the property and officers requested and received permission to complete a protective sweep of the residence, the warrant states. Police saw marijuana-related paraphernalia on the coffee table in the living room and smelled burnt marijuana inside the residence.

Police also asked the person in charge of the property to give consent to officers to search for a hooded sweatshirt and the person gave that consent, the warrant states. Police found a blue Everlast hooded sweatshirt on the floor beside the front door and the sweatshirt was recognized as the one worn by Jaylen Knight at the time of the assault.

Williams remains jailed under a $50,000 secured bond at the Nash County Detention Center.

There is not a record of Jaylen Knight at the detention center. Jaylen Knight’s bond had been set at $75,000, unsecured.

The search warrant, as part of the Nash County District Court record, states that arrest warrants were obtained for all of the suspects except Quashawn Cherry, due to his being 17 years old.

North Carolina law makes clear that one can view and obtain a photocopy of a District Court or Superior Court criminal case document on file at a local courthouse or judicial center, unless a judge has ordered that document to be sealed.

Additionally, the Telegram decided to publish the name of the juvenile in this case for this story because what happened on Oct. 9 involved gunfire and subsequent injury to a person at one of the most well-known stores in the city.

Nash County District Court records show the court has appointed attorney John Wells to represent Jaylen Knight and attorney Rakesh Sehgal to represent Williams.

State Public Safety records show Jaylen Knight was convicted in March 2019 in Nash County for larceny and in 2017 in Edgecombe County, also for larceny.

Ray remains in stable condition at a hospital, a city spokesman said.

Anyone with any information about the shooting is asked to contact police at 252-972-1411 or Crime Stoppers at 252-977-1111 or crimestoppers@rockymountnc.gov.

Tips also can be texted to police at 274637 by beginning messages with RMPOL and typing up to 155 characters about the information.

City launches search for new police chief

The City of Rocky Mount has posted an advertisement specifying what the municipality is seeking in a future top cop.

The ad is online because Chief George Robinson will be retiring effective at the start of December.

Robinson presently is being paid $140,000 a year. The ad said the salary for the future chief could be anywhere between $108,253 and $162,380.

According to the ad, the future chief will lead a department comprised of about 165 sworn and 41 non-sworn employees and manage a yearly budget of roughly $16.9 million.

Additionally, the ad said that due to retirements, there will be increasing opportunities for promotions and building a new command staff.

The ad also makes clear the crucial challenges that the future chief will be faced with include violent crime due to activity by gangs, a high volume of calls to the operators and challenges in recruiting personnel.

At the same time, the ad emphasized that the future chief will face these challenges with the resources of City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney, the City Council and the community.

The ad also said the future chief must play a vital role in working across the community to engage in problem solving, collaboration and creating partnerships.

The ad includes outlining the qualifications the city is seeking from applicants. They include having, at a minimum, a bachelor’s degree or knowledge or a competency level commonly associated with completing a baccalaureate degree in a related field.

The ad also said an appropriate advanced degree is highly preferred, along with executive training in law enforcement, with one example including training by the FBI National Academy at Quantico, Va.

The ad also said there is a preference for candidates with at least 15 years of experience in law enforcement and five to seven years of cross-functional and progressively responsible experience, including at an administrative and command level.

The ad said that although state law neither recognizes nor has a mutual relationship with law enforcement certification at the federal level, state law does recognize and give partial credit for having served as a military police officer.

The ad goes on to provide a long list of job requirements and knowledge, skills and abilities requirements and to provide a description of the Rocky Mount area.

The ad is set to expire at 11:59 p.m. on Nov. 8 and is posted on the city’s website.

The police chief reports to Small-Toney, who is the municipal government’s chief day-to-day operations executive. The city has a council-manager form of government, with the council comprised of seven members.

The city administration, in a news release on Oct. 7, announced Robinson, 50, would be bidding farewell.

Robinson was named chief in March 2019 by Small-Toney after Robinson had been serving as interim chief since January of that same year.

Prior to being named interim chief, Robinson had been a captain in the police department’s criminal investigation division.

Robinson began his career in 1992 with the Rocky Mount police force as an officer and was promoted to corporal in 2000, sergeant in 2003, lieutenant in 2010 and captain in 2015.

Robinson became interim chief following the departure of interim Chief Willie Williams, who had been serving because James Moore in 2017 announced his retirement as chief.

Moore’s departure in particular came after the Telegram had reported that the police department, under Moore’s leadership, appeared to have in place a quite unusual method of classifying crimes.

That method in turn seemed to result in downplaying the nature of certain criminal activity in Rocky Mount.

The Telegram, after reviewing numerous police incident reports, found that instances of shots fired into residences with people in them had been classified as misdemeanor property damage, instead of felony shooting into an occupied dwelling.

Moore had been chief since 2012.

Twin Counties set record highs for COVID cases

Nash and Edgecombe counties set new records for confirmed cases of COVID-19 this week with 525 new cases emerging across the Twin Counties.

Nash County reported a record 322 new cases this week, bringing the cumulative total of cases to 3,092. Of that number, 1,717 people are considered recovered and 29 are hospitalized, bringing that number down from a reported high of 37 earlier this week.

However, 1,287 people are isolated at home with active cases of COVID-19. That number represents about 1.35 percent of Nash County’s total population. That means roughly 1 out of every 74 Nash County residents currently has COVID-19.

The Nash County Health Department on Thursday reported 68 new cases. Nash County Health Director Bill Hill said Friday that 40 of those cases were from congregate living facilities in the county.

“About 27 of those cases came from Rocky Mount Rehabilitation Center, about 12 from Autumn Care in Nashville and another one from the Carrolton,” Hill said. “These facilities are doing the best they can. It is just almost like setting a wildfire when COVID enters these facilities.”

Another 69 cases were reported on Friday.

The numbers are so alarming that Nash County was invited to a telephone conference with state Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen. Nash is one of the top 25 counties in the state in terms of COVID-19 numbers, which was the reason for the inclusion in the call.

It is not clear if Edgecombe County also was a part of that call.

“Secretary Cohen basically wanted to discuss strategies for encouraging people to follow the three W’s,” Hill said Friday. “She also reminded us that local governments can create stricter ordinances than the state has, if the situation demands it.”

Hill said he is not certain if Nash County will take any steps in that direction.

Nash County also reported two new deaths since Wednesday for a total of seven deaths in the past week.

A woman in her early 70s died Wednesday from complications associated with COVID-19. Another woman in her early 80s died Friday. She was a resident of a local congregate living facility at the time of her death, Hill said. Both had underlying health conditions.

The Edgecombe County Health Department has not reported any new deaths this week. However, a record 203 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in the past eight days, based on when Edgecombe County health department officials report data.

On Friday morning, the Edgecombe County Health Department reported a total of 1,730 cumulative positive cases of COVID-19. Of that number, 1,462 people are considered recovered by health department officials and 59 have died.

As of Friday, 4,822 Twin Counties residents have tested positive for COVID-19 and 118 have died.

The increase in cases in the Twin Counties reflects a state trend. On Friday, the state Department of Health and Human Resources reported 2,684 new cases of COVID-19 and more than 2,500 new cases were reported Thursday, setting new one-day peak numbers since the pandemic began.

Gov. Roy Cooper addressed the concern at a news conference Thursday held just days after he loosened restrictions in the state.

“Our numbers are higher than we want them to be right now. There’s not one geographical area or industry to blame. I know we’re all tired of this. It’s frustrating to feel confined and to do the things we need to do to slow the spread of the virus,” Cooper said Thursday. “But we can’t let weariness and frustration win out. We’ve brought our numbers down before, and we need to do it again.”

Cooper’s current executive order ends Oct. 23. The recent data may affect his decisions moving forward, state health officials hinted Thursday.

Council receives update about computer security

The city’s new chief information technology officer recently told the City Council he believes training and long-term investment will be needed to ensure the city’s computer network is secure in the aftermath of a cyberattack of that network.

Gregory Cotten reported for work more than a month after the disruption to the network began in August. Hackers demanded a ransom payment from the city in return for a tool to decode computer files for the city to regain access to them and for any data possibly taken from the network.

Cotten outlined a list of his recommendations for greater future network security during a council work session on Oct. 12. On that list, Cotten said, is having a business systems analyst.

Generally, a business systems analyst works with the computer technology required at a business or an entity and decides what upgrades and installations will improve efficiency in the workplace.

On that list of recommendations, Cotton also said, is having an emphasis on preparation to keep the city’s computer network fabric of connections intact and to keep the network from intrusions.

Cotten said this includes making sure the city is able to educate city employees using the computers about intrusions to help them identify what they look like.

“And I recommend that we have ongoing cybersecurity training for all employees on a quarterly basis with tests,” this to be certified to use the city’s network, Cotten said.

“That is something that I’m big on,” Cotten said.

Cotten also said he recommends following guidelines used by the federal government to help keep a cyberattack from occurring again.

During his remarks to the council, Cotten also said he recommends the city have policies for users of the city’s computers to create special characters when changing passwords so hackers cannot gain entry.

Cotten said he recommends changing passwords every 90 days.

Overall, Cotten said, “Of course with any of this, funding will be a challenge, because there are specific agents and devices that I would need to put on the network that is not going to be too cheap, but it’s in order to keep us in the same vein.”

Generally, an agent is a program designed to perform continuously and separately on behalf of a person or an organization, with an example being the archiving of files.

“We have to really strongly recommend a funding stream for this, whether it’s capital or operational,” Cotten said.

Councilman Lige Daughtridge told Cotten the city does have some challenges “and I know funding is one of those.”

Daughtridge asked Cotten, “Have you explored any initial expenses that are facing the city with what you’d like to do or is it too early to answer that?”

Cotten told Daughtridge at this time, “I’ve created a rough order of magnitude” and that will be something he will present to City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney.

“And that’s the best that I can tell you at this particular time. But yes, I have explored that,” Cotten told Daughtridge.

Daughtridge told Cotten he has benefitted from using a password generator and added he thinks this would be a good investment for the city.

A password generator is a device that can automatically generate a password based on guidelines one sets to create strong and unpredictable passwords for each of one’s accounts.

Councilman Richard Joyner asked Cotten whether he has had any chance to look at how the city’s computer network compares to those in surrounding cities.

Cotten said he has looked at some of the agents Durham has on that city’s network and understands what Durham has.

Cotton said he and his team will mimic that and expand on what he believes will keep Rocky Mount’s network going in the right direction.

Cotten said he has not yet spoken with Durham’s chief technology official but plans to do so.

Cotton also said he believes that since Rocky Mount is close to Research Triangle Park, the city needs to capitalize on some of the expertise there, as well as from where he came from.

Cotten has 20 years of experience in delivering technology, including after most recently serving as general manager for Standard Office Solutions.

Councilwoman Chris Miller, who participates in council work sessions and meetings via teleconferencing, told Cotten that as he spoke, he used a lot of jargon and lingo familiar to those working in the computer industry.

“It would be helpful if you would provide a brief glossary of the terms that you are using so that we all understand the meanings,” Miller said.

Cotten acknowledged Miller’s request and Miller said she would welcome the response to her request in an email later.

The city administration said the network disruption first was detected on Aug. 14.

The Telegram, for a story published on Aug. 19, reported that police were having to fill out incident and offense reports by hand and that the city’s system to enable a customer to pay his or her bill online was not functioning.

The city’s Facebook page said customers could use the drive-up service at the Business Services and Collections location along South Franklin Street and pay bills with cash, check or money order.

The city on Sept. 2 held a news conference led by Small-Toney, City Finance Director Amy Staton and Mayor Sandy Roberson.

The public found out a person or persons hacked the city’s computer network by using Conti ransomware — and the municipality, based on recommendations from authorities, refused to pay a ransom.

Conti is a reference to a family of ransomware and can be used to target corporate networks.

The public learned the demand was for a payment with Bitcoin digital currency.

Cotten began working for the city on Sept. 21 after the city administration had been unsuccessful in filling what was a newly created position to highlight and expand the city’s technology.