Officials: DA interest probed
By John Stevenson, The Herald-Sun
September 28, 2006 8:17 pm
DURHAM -- Durham Judge David Q. LaBarre and Durham Assistant District Attorney Tracey Cline said Thursday that political activists approached them about accepting a possible gubernatorial appointment as Durham's chief prosecutor.
Both said they weren't interested.
The person Cline said approached her with the offer, lawyer Jerry Clayton, denies he did so. LaBarre would not identify the people he said approached him.
The top prosecutor's job would be open to appointment if County Commissioner Lewis Cheek, the only candidate on the ballot besides District Attorney Mike Nifong, won the Nov. 7 election.
Cheek got enough petition signatures to put his name on the ballot. But after weighing the situation for weeks, he finally declared he would not serve if he won -- which would force Gov. Mike Easley to select someone in his place. Despite Cheek's decision not to serve, his name remains on the ballot as an unaffiliated candidate.
A third district attorney candidate, local Republican Party Chairman Steve Monks, is running on an unaffiliated, write-in basis.
Dissatisfaction with Nifong's handling of the controversial Duke University lacrosse rape case has fueled much of the campaign rhetoric so far, with some voters mounting an "anybody-but-Nifong" initiative.
Cline said Thursday that Clayton asked her about accepting a gubernatorial appointment as district attorney if Cheek won. According to Cline, Clayton suggested that retired Sheriff Roland Leary and state employee and former City Councilman Ed Pope were behind his overture.
Cline said she spurned the idea.
"I am not involved in the political game here," she said. "I am not involved in any political maneuvering whatsoever. The voters should determine who is the next DA of Durham County. I have always supported Mike Nifong as DA and I continue to do so."
Clayton denied he discussed the situation with Cline.
"All I can do is deny it because I don't know anything about it," he said Thursday. "I'm not in any camp, working for anybody or doing anything in regards to the election."
But in the past, Clayton has been deeply involved in district attorney politics. He provided heavy support for two unsuccessful candidates: Pat Evans in the 1990s and Freda Black in a Democratic primary four months ago. Black now works for Clayton.
Like Clayton, Leary and Pope denied any maneuvering in the November election.
"I know nothing of what you speak," Leary said Thursday. "Of course, rumors are abounding. But Roland Leary has done nothing in that direction. That's just not right. I deny that."
Even if he wanted to manipulate a possible gubernatorial appointment, he didn't have the influence to do so, Leary insisted.
"I find the governor to be an independent person who makes his own decisions," he said. "I don't know who influences him. I certainly can't influence him. ? I know the governor, but I've never spoken to him about appointments to any office at all."
Pope said it "would be silly" to make empty promises about an appointment that would be entirely in the governor's hands.
Cheek also said he was not involved in discussions about the situation.
"I have no idea who is having that conversation with anybody," he said. "I'm not involved in anything like that at all. I don't know anybody who is. But I can't say it surprises me. I expect there are a whole lot of things going on behind the scenes. That's the nature of politics."
LaBarre, a retired Superior Court judge who now presides two days a week on the District Court bench, declined Thursday to say who approached him.
He said only that "several different individuals from several different political camps inquired about my interest in the DA's Office."
LaBarre said he turned them away.
"In my judgment, a judge should not be involved in the DA election," he added. "I do not intend to be even indirectly involved. The voters have several choices in the DA's race. I would not want my name injected into it as any sort of inducement to vote or not vote for any particular candidate."
Nifong said Thursday it was his understanding that inducements had, in fact, been made.
"I was told Roland [Leary] and Ed [Pope] were making claims or promises or whatever to members of the African-American community that if they would vote for Lewis Cheek, then Tracey Cline would be the next DA," said Nifong.
"I also heard they made representations to the white community that if they voted for Lewis Cheek, then Dave LaBarre would be the next DA," Nifong added.
Cline is black; Cheek is white.
"People have accused me of dividing the community with the lacrosse case," the district attorney said. "It seems to me the lacrosse case has merely revealed divisions that already existed. This ongoing campaign by Roland Leary and Ed Pope is the most divisive thing I've ever seen."
Meanwhile, Nifong confirmed Thursday that Pope had asked him to intercede on behalf of a Durham man named Christopher Andrew Best who is imprisoned for armed robbery.
"Ed came to me and asked if I would do something to reduce his sentence," Nifong said. "I told him I had no authority to do that and no one else in the court system did either."
Pope acknowledged he asked Nifong about Best, saying he did so because he was acquainted with the convicted man's family.
"It wasn't an influence thing or anything like that," he said. "I was just asking him for a little help. I didn't know what he could or could not do as district attorney. It had nothing to do with the election."
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Site near school bus stop used for prostitution, drugs
By BriAnne Dopart, The Herald-Sun
September 28, 2006 11:13 pm
DURHAM -- A blaze that engulfed a vacant house frequented by drug users and prostitutes capped a week of violence on an East Durham street corner where children wait for the school bus every weekday morning.
Durham Fire Department officials said flames raged for only five minutes before firefighters were able to get a handle on the Thursday blaze at 2116 Ashe St., which investigators called "suspicious."
Although the house was not occupied at the time of the fire, Battalion Chief G.W. Reams said it is a known haunt of drug users.
"When you have an empty house in a drug-infested neighborhood area like that, people will use it to conduct their business," he said.
Police spokeswoman Kammie Michael said officers have been out to the house 14 times since the beginning of the year. Police made four prostitution arrests at the address last year, she said, adding that investigators have staged several prostitution stings in the area more recently.
Darrell Phillips, 14, reported that he had been threatened with a handgun Wednesday at the Neal Middle School bus stop located outside the house, just six days after a 16-year-old girl was brutally assaulted with a razor less than five hundred feet away.
Parents and the Rev. Melvin Whitley plan to be outside the charred house early today, in a show of support for the children Whitley said must contend with prostitutes and drug dealers every morning on their way to school.
Darrell, who moved to Durham with his mother and two sisters four months ago, said he was waiting for the bus when, he alleges, another teenager began taunting him.
The other teen walked away from the bus stop in the direction of the nearby M&M Mini Mart, and returned holding a pistol, Darrell alleged.
"He came back and said, 'What you got to say now?' I didn't say anything, I was trying not to look at the gun. Then he pulled a red bandanna up around his neck [and acted like] he wanted to fight."
The conflict between the other teen and Darrell, according to Darrell's mom, A.J. St. John, began Monday when the boys had a physical altercation. A relative of the other teen spat in Darrell's face, St. John said. Later, her son responded by punching the relative in the face, St. John said.
Sheriff's deputies interviewed both teens Monday, according to Sheriff's Capt. Paul Martin. Martin said the deputies could not tell who had caused the conflict and told St. John to speak with a magistrate to see if she had cause to swear out a warrant for the other teen's arrest.
St. John said she did swear out that warrant but even after the alleged handgun incident, she said, the other teen was a spectator when firefighters responded to the Ashe Street fire.
Meanwhile, District One investigators are looking into the assault on the 16-year-old, Martin said. While he could not say too much about the case, he reported the girl required more than 100 stitches.
Larry Wells, father of an 11-year-old boy who waits at Darrell Phillips' bus stop each school day, said he worries every day for his son's safety in East Durham. Because the father leaves for work at 5 a.m., he said he has instructed his son not to leave the family's house until the bus arrives at the corner.
Wells added he was angry that Neal Middle School had notified parents of the dangers at the bus stop.
Durham Public Schools spokesman Michael Yarbrough said he could not comment and referred The Herald-Sun to Durham police.
Whitley said he is enraged that a bus stop is located on the same corner as a house frequented by drug users and prostitutes. Whitley said he has long asked the city to do something about the prostitutes and crack users who did business in the dark of 2116 Ashe St.
"Kids ought to be able to get on and off the bus without being threatened, without passing prostitutes," Whitley said.
He vowed to be at the corner this morning to help take back the corner from the individuals he said are ruining East Durham.
"I can't let them have that corner," he said.
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Democrats urge straight ticket vote
By Ray Gronberg, The Herald-Sun
September 28, 2006 10:56 pm
DURHAM -- Durham County Democrats are trying to pull together the funding for a three-week, get-out-the vote effort that could boost the electoral fortunes of the party's statewide judicial candidates and District Attorney Mike Nifong, their leader says.
County Chairman Floyd McKissick Jr. said the Durham party intends to encourage its faithful to vote a straight ticket, mainly to ensure that the Democrats running for seats on the N.C. Supreme Court and the N.C. Court of Appeals get the maximum possible lift from one of the party's chief strongholds in the state.
McKissick said that Nifong will have the county party's "wholehearted support" despite the continuing controversy over the Duke lacrosse case, and that he doesn't expect many party faithful to defect to petition candidate Lewis Cheek or Republican write-in Steve Monks.
"What I've heard is that Mr. Nifong is getting overwhelming support" within the county party, McKissick said. "That's not to say that there won't be significant efforts made on behalf of those not enchanted with his candidacy. But the overwhelming majority of Democratic activists that I've dealt with and spoken to are strongly behind Mr. Nifong."
The strength of the party's get-out-the-vote effort, however, likely would depend on whether McKissick can land the money necessary to pay for what he said without elaborating is "a pretty extensive plan" to spread the word.
McKissick declined to say where he expects the money to come from, though it's common knowledge in political circles that county parties have been receiving campaign subsidies in recent years from the Democrats' statewide organization.
State party Chairman Jerry Meek, who's pushed that effort, didn't return calls Thursday seeking comment on whether his organization will be helping McKissick's during this fall's election cycle. Other sources, however, said McKissick's funding request might have reached the state party after it already had allocated most of its available campaign money.
Meanwhile, the other candidates in the DA's race indicated that they're also trying to step things up.
Cheek confirmed Thursday that he intends to show up for a candidate interview with the Friends of Durham, one of the three political action committees that dominate the endorsement process in the county. The others are the People's Alliance and the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People.
The Friends are generally considered the most conservative of the three PACs. Among candidates, the rule of thumb is that a winning campaign needs support from at least two of the organizations.
Cheek has said he won't take the DA's office if elected, but would encourage people to vote for him anyway to give Gov. Mike Easley a chance to appoint a replacement for Nifong. His position on that hasn't changed, but people in the other two camps regarded the county commissioner's decision to talk to the Friends as a sign that he'll campaign more actively than they thought he might.
Cheek said he accepted the Friends' invitation Monday after speaking to one of the group's leaders, David Smith. He also received a candidate questionnaire over the weekend from an area newspaper, and is still trying to decide whether to answer it.
The questionnaire's arrival showed that "I have to think about how I'm going to handle these" routine campaign-related requests, Cheek said, adding that he accepted the Friends' invitation because he's always willing to meet with constituents.
"I'm approaching it the same way I do any other thing I'm doing," he said. "If folks would like to have me come talk to them and answer questions, I'm willing to do that."
Cheek hasn't received invitations yet from the Durham Committee or the People's Alliance. "I can't say I expect to," he said, noting the unusual nature of his part in the race.
Like McKissick, Monks and his campaign manager, Charlotte Woods, are trying to raise money for a last-minute campaign effort. Woods said she wants to secure television time for her candidate, and believes if the funding comes through to allow that, he'll be a threat to Nifong.
She hinted Thursday that the campaign had scored at least some success on the money front, and said that the possibility that Monks would step aside if Cheek changed his mind about taking office if elected is now off the table.
"We feel there's been some credibility lost there, if he were to step up and say I've changed my mind again," Woods said.
Monks -- McKissick's counterpart in the Durham County Republicans -- said his strategy depends on getting good support from GOP voters, and finding a way to appeal to unaffiliated voters and dissident Democrats.
"The Democratic Party is somewhat divided on this," he said, disputing McKissick.
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