A son of a Rocky Mount City Council member is no longer facing a misdemeanor charge of illegally possessing marijuana that was filed against him more than 11 months ago, court records show.
The District Attorney’s Office dismissed the case against Cooper Blackwell, 24, due to insufficient evidence to justify prosecution, because he did not give police his consent to search the car he had been driving, a document in District Court in Nashville shows.
In addition to not voluntarily allowing police to search the car, the police dog did not alert to the presence of illegal drugs, the document shows.
And although a green substance was found in the car, that substance was not sent to a laboratory for testing to confirm what was found to be marijuana, the document shows.
Generally, if a law enforcement officer searches a motorist’s vehicle without permission or a reason to suspect a crime has been committed, that brings into question whether there has been a breach of the motorist’s constitutional right to be free from an unreasonable government intrusion.
Assistant District Attorney Travis Ellis dismissed the case against Blackwell without leave on Aug. 13. A dismissal without leave means the prosecution cannot amend or refile the case.
An attempt by the Telegram to obtain comment from Blackwell was unsuccessful. Police Chief George Robinson and the police contact for news media, Sgt. Scott Hale, did not respond to the Telegram’s requests for comment.
Blackwell at 12:22 a.m on Oct. 6 was on Sunset Avenue and at or near the intersection of Westview Park Drive in the northwestern part of the city, when an officer had a reasonable suspicion to believe Blackwell was unlawfully operating a motor vehicle, court records show.
The officer cited Blackwell, of the 700 block of Starling Way, for possessing less than half an ounce of marijuana.
The Telegram eventually heard about what had happened and a reporter reached Blackwell by phone in preparation for a story published on Nov. 7.
Blackwell at first said, “That case is under review right now” and advised the reporter he might need to speak to Chief Robinson.
Blackwell gave similar responses when asked whether he wanted to comment about the citation and whether he has retained a defense attorney.
“I don’t know if I’m able to speak about what has been posted,” Blackwell said.
Then, Blackwell said, “How about this? I’ll call Chief Robinson and I’ll call you back.”
And Blackwell said, “I’ll try to reach the police department myself and get them to reach out to you.”
Blackwell did not call back by press time — and police generally do not comment about cases pending before the judicial system.
Blackwell has been working at the Opportunities Industrialization Center, where his father, Reuben Blackwell, is CEO. Reuben Blackwell has served on the City Council since 2000 and is the senior member of the council.
The subject of the illegal drug-related charge against Cooper Blackwell was brought up by resident Samuel Battle during the public input phase of the Nov. 11 council meeting.
Battle, who frequently addresses the council, specifically referred to the part of the Nov. 7 Telegram story in which Blackwell advised the reporter he might need to speak to Chief Robinson.
Battle said, “If you’re going to do that, every kid in this city needs a ‘Get Out of Jail’ card, for real.”
That prompted resident Johnny Cunningham, who was in the audience, to tell then-Mayor David Combs, “Point of order, sir.”
Cunningham said of Battle, “He’s not going to talk about the young man.”
Combs said, “Excuse me for interrupting the meeting,” and directed Battle to finish up the rest of his remarks to the council.
Blackwell has spoken about what he sees as inequities and racial segregation.
And Blackwell has criticized the Telegram, local television station WHIG and the Fighting Crime News and Who’s Wanted, LoveRockyMount and Rocky Mount Concerned Citizens Facebook pages.
Blackwell represents the local NAACP on the Rocky Mount Human Relations Commission.
Blackwell also represents the Black Action Committee, which is a youth-led movement that led a peaceful protest on May 31 at the since-removed Confederate monument just south of the U.S. 64 interchange with Benvenue Road.
The gathering was held to call attention to African American George Floyd, who died on May 25 while in police custody in Minneapolis. Floyd’s death prompted protests and riots in numerous cities.
On Aug. 10, Blackwell gave a presentation to the City Council calling for a Black Lives Matter mural project downtown.