Judge, DA, deputy address students on drugs, texting while driving, social media mistakes

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District Attorney Andrew Womble addresses Camden County High School students in the school gym about decision-making during a school assembly, Wednesday. Also addressing students were District Court Judge Meader Harriss and Camden Chief Sheriff's Deputy Rodney Meads.


By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

CAMDEN — A district court judge, the district attorney and the chief deputy with the Camden County Sheriff’s Office all urged high school students here Wednesday afternoon to think about their future before making a bad decision that could ruin their life.

District Attorney Andrew Womble told students at Camden County High School that he tries to get help for people who are using drugs, but the whole approach changes if you are charged with dealing drugs. If you come into the courtroom in the seven counties of the 1st District and you have sold drugs to someone, Womble said, “my policy is you will go to prison.”

“If you are dealing drugs then you are a drug dealer,” Womble said. “You are a part of the problem instead of part of my solution.”

Womble, who stepped away from the podium and the microphone to address students because he felt like the podium was a barrier between him and the audience, said the biggest problem in the 1st Judicial District is drugs and the biggest drug problem is opioids — heroin and pills.

Womble stressed to students attending the assembly, which was organized by Principal Billie Berry and Student Resource Officer Mike Lawrence, that they also shouldn’t text while driving and should be careful not to speed. Speeding and cell phones are both leading causes of accidents involving drivers aged 16-25, he said.

Womble told students that if they kill someone while driving, the public wants him to send them to prison — even if they were headed to West Point or medical school.

“I don’t ever want to see you in the courtroom,” Womble said. “I especially don’t want to see you at the defendant’s table. And most of all I don’t want to represent you, because if I represent you that means something bad has happened to your family.”

Chief Deputy Rodney Meads of the Camden County Sheriff’s Office also addressed students. He said if a traffic stop involves drugs or alcohol “it’s going to go downhill from there” for the driver and other persons in the vehicle.

Meads said that while every profession has its bad apples, most law enforcement officers perform their job because they love the community. If an officer stops you, comply with the officer’s requests, Meads said.

“On the side of the road you’re not going to win,” Meads said. “Your chance to win is in court.”

He also gave students a checklist of things they should do if they’re pulled over by a deputy or police officer:

* If they’re stopped at night and not comfortable about where they are, cut their flashers on and go to a well-lit area

* Pull over to the right

* Roll their window down; don’t just crack the window, because that looks like you’re trying to hide something

* Keep their hands on the wheel, and wait to be asked before searching for their license and registration

* Be polite

* Have a positive attitude.

Meads also gave students a list of things they shouldn’t do:

* Stay in their car unless instructed to get out

* Make quick or evasive movements

* “Name-drop”

* Be confrontational.

Meads encouraged students to think about the consequences their actions can have for their future.

“Please just think about your future,” he said.

District Court Judge Meader Harriss also addressed students, also telling them he didn’t want to see them in the courtroom. He noted they could be sentenced to up to 120 days in jail for underage possession of alcohol. For driving after drinking even one beer when you’re younger than 21, you lose your driver’s license until you turn 21, he said.

You can be sentenced to up to 36 months for driving while impaired, Harriss said, and if you kill someone while driving while impaired you will spend at least three years in prison, he said.

Selling heroin and pills are felonies and could lead to significant prison time, Harriss said. But in addition to the immediate consequences of the crime, a criminal record follows offenders when they seek employment, he told students.

When a person goes looking for a job the first question they’ll be asked is: Do you have a criminal record?, Harriss said. “You need to be aware of that,” he said.

A prospective employer also will look up an applicant’s social media accounts, and posting something inappropriate such as a nude photo of oneself or someone else or a mean comment about a classmate could keep the applicant from getting a job, Harriss said.

Social media is a great tool but it can also be a source of bad consequences, so students need to use discretion in how they use it, Harriss said.

“What it all boils down to is decision-making,” he said.

Harriss urged students to set goals and make decisions that will not hinder them from reaching those goals. He reiterated that he didn’t want to see any of the students in court.

“I look forward to see you all outside of the courtroom,” Harriss said.