Panelists tackle crime topics at forum

Johnnie Finch ECSU Forum

Defense attorney Johnnie Finch (standing at right) introduces himself during a "Know Your Rights" forum at Elizabeth City State University Thursday night. Finch joined other criminal justice professionals in answering various legal questions. Other panelists shown (from left) are Elizabeth City Police Chief Eddie Buffaloe Jr., Perquimans Sheriff Shelby White and Elizabeth City Police Shift Sgt. Eddie Graham.


By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Drug abuse, body cameras and how to get out of a speeding ticket were among the wide-ranging topics criminal justice professionals tackled in a “Know Your Rights” forum Thursday night at Elizabeth City State University.

The Delta Chi chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority hosted the forum whose panelists included police officials, attorneys and others who play a role in law enforcement and the courts. Many in the public don't know all their rights, or the resources that are available to them, organizers Tia Broome and Nicole Luzayadio said just before starting the forum.

The discussion opened with city resident Jackie Latson asking what could be done about “rampant” violent crime and repeat offenders in and around Elizabeth City.

“What are we doing wrong, and what could we be doing right?” she asked.

Johnnie Finch, a defense attorney, responded that the solution to crime starts at home. If someone doesn't have a stable, loving household, police can't be expected to “over-compensate” for those persons’ lack of good role models, he said.

“I wouldn't look to law enforcement for the answer,” Finch said.

Perquimans County Sheriff Shelby White disagreed, explaining he's made it a priority to reach out to young kids “to steer them in the right direction.” He also wants young people to not grow up fearful or distrustful of law enforcement, he said.

Community issues factored into the forum’s next question, as a student asked police representatives what the most challenging part of policing is in their jurisdiction.

“Community engagement” was Elizabeth City Police Chief Eddie Buffaloe's answer. Youth mentoring and other police programs need people to stay involved if they're to work, he said. He also suggested that people “vent” on social media about problems, but fall short of sustained engagement.

Questions also turned to another big problem: opioid abuse. One woman said North Carolina is “inundated” with the drugs, and that teens are turning to heroin after abusing their parents' prescription drugs. She asked about law enforcement partnering with medical providers to limit opioid abuse.

Lt. Brent McKecuen of the Pasquotank County Sheriff's Department said the department has partnered with health officials to reduce opioid abuse. Part of the effort has involved collecting and disposing of old prescriptions.

However, he said abuse remains a big challenge. He noted, “We're actually seeing people that are going in and being assaulted on purpose, just so they can get a tooth knocked out so they can get pills.”

The panel also fielded questions on various other topics. Some highlights include:

* Elizabeth City Police Shift Sgt. Eddie Graham said body cameras remain beneficial to law enforcement, as they provide a record of interactions with officers. The only downside to the cameras, Buffaloe added, is the cost. Police have to buy not only cameras, but the computer servers and other equipment needed to store video records, he noted.

* Graham and Finch told a questioner that citizens have a right to record video of police officers. Finch cautioned, however, that citizens still should take video in a respectful way, and without interfering in an officer's work.

* On interacting with officers, Finch also said that people should comply with officers' instructions even if they believe those instructions are wrong. He commented, “if your civil rights are violated, the way you win is you go to court with them; you don't win on the streets.”

* One student asked about his options after receiving a speeding ticket. Though noting he actually was speaking from an “adversarial” position as a prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Kyle Jones told the student he might get the ticket dismissed if he completed a “Street Safe” course.

* Another student said that, as a young female who drives back and forth from Virginia, her commute has many dark places where she doesn’t feel safe pulling over. White advised her to slow down, put her hazard lights on, and call 911 if necessary so a dispatcher can relay her intentions to a law enforcement officer.

* Probation officer Latisha Rouson discussed her authority to conduct searches without warrants. Probationers must submit to such searches, she said. She also explained that, when probationers live at their parents' house or otherwise share a residence, the property owners must allow a search of the probationer's living space and any common areas.

* Bail bondsman David Brothers explained that when, someone is out of jail on bond and doesn't show up for court, a bail bondsman is empowered to find that person, including through searches without a warrant, and arrest them.

* Jones and Finch also offered some advice on becoming attorneys. Finch said law school is extremely challenging, and if people are mentally exhausted from prior schooling, they should take a break from school before taking it on. Jones also cautioned people to think carefully about how much debt they were willing to face for a law degree.