Category: Uncategorized


NC Opioid Overdoses

I made this choropleth for Our Chatham to accompany a story about how the county was suing the major opioid manufacturers. It shows a rough number of overdoses for each county in North Carolina in 2018, the latest year for which data was available. The data was acquired from the state of North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.


UNC Police chief ignored student gun concerns before incident

An officer leads a Thomas Bruefach to a van, while other officers guard them at a protest over Silent Sam on August 25, 2018.

By Ari Sen

Shortly after noon on Tuesday, a group of anti-racist activists released a letter detailing a Feb. 6 meeting of the Joint Governance Council, a body consisting of representatives from undergraduate and graduate student government, with UNC-Chapel Hill Police Chief Jeff McCracken. In the meeting, McCracken said law enforcement officers “didn’t check anybody” for weapons before large protests over Silent Sam in the Fall semester, including neo-Confederates with avowed pro-Second Amendment positions.

The previously unreported statements, made in response to a question by Graduate and Professional Student Federation Vice President Michelle Hoffner O’Conner, show McCracken was aware of student concerns but failed to publicly act on them before an armed group came to campus.

In response to O’Conner’s question, McCracken initially said “They all have guns,” referring to the pro-Silent Sam demonstrators.

McCracken later said that’s what he believed O’Conner was implying with the question and would search people if they knew they had a weapon.

But Calvin Deutschbein, a GPSF senator and anti-racist activist, said he saw pro-Silent Sam demonstrators carrying guns at a protest in August of 2018.

“This isn’t the first time we’ve seen guns on far right on campus that I’m aware, but it is the first time someone managed to get pictures,” he said.

Deutschbein, who was present at the meeting, said he interpreted McCracken’s comments as confirming that neo-Confederate demonstrators brought guns to campus at prior protests and events. He also added the comments were indicative of the political nature of on-campus policing.

“Michelle did pretty well, but she didn’t push to the next obvious step of ‘Why do you choose to allow people you know to have guns on campus?’ which is the question he didn’t want to answer and the question he successfully avoided,” Deutschbein said in a Twitter direct message.

Deutschbein also said he reached out to McCracken after the meeting with follow-up questions but received no response.

Lindsay Ayling, a Ph.D. student and anti-racist activist who was also present at the meeting, said she didn’t believe McCracken was implying knowledge of neo-Confederate demonstrators carrying weapons, but she viewed the comments as dismissive of a genuine concern.

“I think he was being sarcastic and kind of trying to pretend that the problem of armed racists wasn’t a real problem,” Ayling said.  “He was dismissive and patronizing and he was patronizing throughout that entire interview.”

As of the publication of this story, McCracken and O’Conner did not respond to requests for comment and clarification about McCracken’s comments, nor about Saturday’s gun incident. UNC Spokesperson Kate Luck said McCracken’s comments “speak for themselves.”

The letter comes a little more than a week after an event on March 16, when a group of armed neo-Confederate demonstrators—including a twice-convicted sex offender— marched down Cameron Avenue onto the UNC-Chapel Hill campus carrying weapons. In a statement six days after the incident, UNC-Chapel Hill Interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz pledged he would convene a campus safety commission composed of students, faculty and staff, meet with campus groups and review the incident.

“By now, many of you have heard accounts of a disturbing incident that took place on campus Saturday when Confederate supporters walked through campus with a handgun,” he said in the statement.  “Fortunately, UNC Police prevented the situation from escalating and asked that individual to leave campus. To be clear, weapons, especially guns and the threat they convey even when holstered, have no place here and will not be tolerated.”

Despite it being a felony to possess a firearm on a college campus in North Carolina, police made no arrests in the case. No Alert Carolina message was issued to students, though most were on Spring Break at the time. The campus was not placed on lockdown, as it was in 2015 in response to reports of a man on campus carrying a rifle.

Officers only asked the group to return to Chapel Hill town boundaries, where carrying a gun is legal. In a statement to Town Manager Maurice Jones, first reported by Chapelboro, Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue said a supervisor informed UNC Police about the armed group.

“A member of the group asked where the boundaries of campus were and she told them,” Blue said. “She also noted that some members of the group were carrying firearms and she informed them of the prohibition of weapons on campus. A CHPD supervisor informed UNC Police of the group’s presence and their plans to visit campus.”

The Heirs to the Confederacy scheduled a Facebook event for a demonstration on March 16, shortly after a Feb. 23 rally, in which a group of neo-Confederate demonstrators clashed with a group of anti-racist demonstrators.

Deutschbein said Defend UNC planned a counter-demonstration for the event, but the event turned into a bake sale and parachute party after the neo-Confederate’s canceled.

Despite the cancelation, a group of pro-Silent Sam demonstrators decided to come anyway.

Ayling said she saw Lance Spivey, the chairman of the board of directors for the Heirs to the Confederacy, among the demonstrators. Photographic evidence posted on Twitter by Durham-based photographer Daniel Hosterman appears to show Spivey standing in front of UNC’s Memorial Hall, with a camouflage semi-automatic handgun holstered at his waist, as well as several other demonstrators carrying knives, handcuffs and an extendable baton.

“They like to play games with us sometimes, they think that they’re being clever,” Ayling said of the armed neo-Confederate demonstrators showing up after canceling their event. “We don’t really see it as a game— people’s lives are at stake when violent white supremacists are coming to campus.”

In an initial statement released on Monday, two days after the incident, UNC claimed no one was arrested because police were unsure whether Cameron Avenue was part of campus. But Cameron Avenue runs through the heart of campus, past Memorial Hall, South Building and the Old Well.  

“On Saturday, March 16, members of a ‘Confederate Heritage’ group walked onto the UNC-Chapel Hill campus from the Town of Chapel Hill via Raleigh Street and Cameron Avenue,” the statement reads. “At least one individual was in possession of a handgun. They were approached by UNC Police officers on the sidewalk in front of Memorial Hall and were asked to leave campus, which they did.”

The statement continued: “Due to the immediate uncertainty on Saturday about the application of these laws to the Cameron Avenue right of way, which is maintained by the Town of Chapel Hill, no arrest was made in this case.”

But a live video purportedly posted on the Heirs to the Confederacy Facebook page and circulated widely on Twitter, shows a UNC-Chapel Hill Police officer clearly identifying the area as being on campus.

“This is campus. Anything South of that rock wall on Franklin Street is campus for one square mile,” the officer in the video told a group of neo-Confederate demonstrators. A Daily Tar Heel story identifies the officer as Lt. Timothy Tickle.

“If you’re passing through, we won’t say too much about the weapons, but now that I’ve talked to you, this is going to be your guys’ only warning, OK?”

In an interview conducted over Facebook Messenger, Spivey confirmed he carried a Hi-Point 9mm semi-automatic pistol holstered to his right hip onto campus on Saturday. The Hi-Point, known for being an inexpensive gun for self-protection, typically holds nine rounds —eight in a standard magazine and one in the chamber.

“We were told by a CHPD Officer that as long as we stayed on the sidewalks lining the streets, we could carry, so that’s what we did, and on Cameron Street, we were approached by UNC Police who informed us that we were actually on the campus and would have to leave, and we complied,” Spivey said. “I understand a lot of people are mad about that, but it was an honest mistake.”

Spivey said nine adults and two children, came to campus to “show support for the replacement of Silent Sam in his rightful place.”

Spivey also confirmed others carried concealed handguns onto campus, but refused to say who, how many others or what kinds of guns they were carrying.

Spivey said he needed the handgun because he believed he would be targeted by “Antifa” members on campus.

“It has become normal procedure for me (to carry a handgun) since ANTIFA (sic) identified me,” Spivey said. “They have made it a point to let me know that they know who I am and much about me, so I have indeed begun carrying my sidearm with me as normal procedure.”

In a blog post railing against immigrants in the county without documentation, Muslims and “Antifa” on March 12, Spivey wrote he was willing to kill for his beliefs.

“I am willing to die for what I believe; I am more so ready to kill for it,” Spivey wrote in the post. Spivey added he “wasn’t condoning violence,” except in cases of self-defense but “merely stating fact.”

“To ANTIFA (sic) and those like them, I say this: We will not surrender, we will not quit; not ever. We do not fear you; you will have to kill us to stop us, and we will not go alone,” he wrote later.

Spivey also confirmed one of the men with him was Richard “Popeye” Hayslett, who came with his wife and two children. Hayslett is a registered sex offender in Virginia and was convicted of two charges of aggravated sexual battery—once in 1990 and once in 2003—state records show.

Public records fail to list an age of the victim, but a 2002 news report from the Daily Press said police charged Hayslett with rape, forcible sodomy and contributing to the delinquency of a minor in connection with a sexual assault of a 12-year-old girl sometime between November 2000 and August 2002. The story says he forced the girl to have sex and gave her marijuana, alcohol and cigarettes.

In a video of the Saturday incident provided by Ayling, pro-Silent Sam demonstrators can also be heard questioning people about their sexual orientation and using homophobic slurs.

“I can be homophobic, I can be racist, I can be any damn thing I want to be because this is America,” one female neo-Confederate demonstrator can be heard saying in the video in an exchange with Ayling.  

Guskiewicz said in his statement he was committed to keeping students safe.

“We must nurture an environment where all people in our community can live, learn and work without fear. The increasingly heated rhetoric aimed at our community – both online and here on our campus – can make that difficult,” he said. “I am confident that we will come together to foster an inclusive culture in which all members of our community feel safe, like they belong and can flourish.”


After the Flood


March for Our Lives

People of all ages joined together holding signs and chanting together “Never again!” during the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. The March was organized by survivors of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, F.L. Crowd size estimates vary between 200,000 and 800,000 people.


Learning the Bases

Members of the Chapel Hill High School Tigers JV baseball team defeated Northwood in the first of a double-header. “Its just the kids man, they got all the talent in the world,” JV Baseball Coach Michael Pulver said. “We are just happy to have them.”


The Fall of Silent Sam

Silent Sam, a Confederate statue, stood on the upper quad of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for over a hundred years. Students and activists toppled the statue shortly after 9 p.m. on August 20, the day before classes started.

Protestors, including students, community members, activists and others, have numbered in the hundreds for each of the subsequent protests. A large number of police and sheriff’s deputies from around the state have been deployed to quell the protests and have used riot shields, smoke bombs and pepper spray to disperse crowds. Neo-confederate demonstrators have also been present to memorialize the statue.


N.C. Per Pupil Spending Schools Performance

This map shows the local, state, federal and total per-pupil spending for every school district in North Carolina and the percentage of low-performing schools in that district. I made it to accompany an investigation I did for Our Chatham about impact fees.

The map operates on a scale from red to blue, with the red districts having the highest percentage of low performing schools and the blue districts having the lowest.

In the bottom left corner there is a magnifying glass to put in your address, so you can see how much your school district spends per pupil, where the money is coming from and the percentage of low performing schools in your district. 

Component data provided by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction and the Census Bureau. 

For how I did the analysis head over to my page here.


Chatham County Rural Broadband

This map shows the internet service provider for every Census Block in Chatham County and the download and upload speeds they offer. In the bottom left corner there is an option to put in your address to search for the provider that covers your area. 

I made this map for a story on internet speeds, which was published in Our Chatham. Component data comes from the Chatham County GIS Department, the FCC and the Census Bureau. 


After the Flood

A group of around 20 students, staff and leaders with UNC-Chapel Hill’s chapter of Wesley Campus Ministry traveled to Fayetteville, North Carolina to assist in disaster relief in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence.

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Carrboro Board of Alderman

Town of Carrboro preempts legal challenge to N.C. body…

By Ari Sen 

Carrboro’s town attorney thinks body camera video should be seen by community leaders.

And he thinks he just might have a way around a new state law that would prohibit such disclosures.

“The statutes say the council of a city runs, or are the corporate officers of the city and that includes the police department. The statutes say that the manager is essentially the chief executive officer and administrator of all personnel in the city,” Town Attorney Nick Herman said in an interview.  “So if you’ve got the police department doing something on tape arguably under the statutes that would empower the manager to be the administrator of the city and he outta be able to see that tape.”

After two years of deliberation and refinement, the Carrboro Board of Alderman passed a measure 4-1 at the Feb. 28 board meeting which would authorize body camera use by the town police department. Body camera video disclosure is governed by N.C. General Statute 132, which went into effect on Oct. 1, 2016.

Under the new law, police body and dash camera recordings are no longer part of the public record and only legal representatives of those in the recordings could request to see the footage from a police department. The police department, however, would not be legally required to allow them to view the footage.  If the footage wasn’t handed over to the representative, they could then request the footage from a superior court judge. For any other person who wants access to the footage, they must request access to it in court from a superior court judge.

The Carrboro resolution was developed in a collaboration between the aldermen, the town police department and attorneys for the town, police department and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Upon request from the ACLU, the town implemented measures in the new policy that places the presumption on disclosing all footage unless the police chief has a legitimate reason not to do so.

The aldermen also authorized four new motions to the policy before it passed on Tuesday night including resolutions striking language that reiterated the general statutes excluding the recordings from the public record and adding language allowing the town to read the new policy in ways that could potentially allow their access to any police tapes.

“My position on that is that we are bound by the statute… we cannot bring a facial challenge to it,” Herman said in the meeting. “There is nothing unlawful about the statute itself, its enactment or what it says. What the fight would be potentially is an interpretation of the reach of the statute—what it means. Some of us believe that the statute must be read in light of other statutes that the manager is empowered to do certain things and empower (the alderman) to do certain things. Viewed that way is disclosure or release may be more expansive than just what’s literally stated in this.”

UNC-Chapel Hill School of Government professor Jeff Welty said in a September interview that despite other states passing laws governing body camera footage, North Carolina’s law is unique.

“(Other) states are all over the map,” Welty said. “But one aspect of our law that that’s unique is that I don’t think there is any other state in which there is no way to get access to a recording like this except through a court order.”

Alderman Sammy Slade voted against the policy Tuesday night because he said the state law limits one of the original intentions of body cameras.

“I feel that one of the values that video footage has… is for the public to serve to hold accountable not just the police force but (also) the justice system itself,” Slade said in the meeting.

“A superior court judge is accountable to a larger group of people who vote for him than a Board of Aldermen or an elected body is. Other people participating that have other issues or concerns may not feel the accountability that may happen is as direct”

Alderman Bethany Chaney said that despite objections to the state law she supports the new policy.

“I’m very much in support of this policy,” Chaney said. “I think the two years it’s taken to get here has been appropriate.”

Gov. Pat McCrory said when he signed the law on July 11 that statute is designed to increase transparency.

“This legislation fulfills our commitment to protect our law enforcement and gain public trust by promoting uniformity, clarity and transparency,” McCrory said.

Gov. Roy Cooper opposed the law in his campaign against McCrory, criticizing it as misleading and not transparent.

“Cooper has consistently said he supports the use of body cameras in law enforcement but the law signed by Governor McCrory doesn’t do enough to ensure transparency,” Cooper campaign spokesman Ford Porter said in a statement. “Transparency is vital to building trust and respect between law enforcement and the communities they protect. It’s a shame that (the) Governor insists on attempting to mislead voters instead of taking responsibility for the law he signed.”

Herman said that releasing the tapes to the public could potentially expose the town to legal action.

“My view is the manager needs to know about (an incident) immediately and then the manager outta be able to to come in here and closed session and show you the tape and say ‘We gotta do something about this’ because what your lawyers gonna say is ‘We are gonna get the hell sued out of us,’” Herman said after the meeting.  “Now releasing to the public is sticky wicket. There would be at least legitimate arguments about some safeguard about putting this out in the public domain only because take an ambiguous tape—everybody sees what they want to see.”

Local ACLU attorney Susanna Birdsong, who collaborated on the Carrboro policy, also criticized the law in September after violent protests erupted in Charlotte, N.C. over the shooting death of Keith Lamond Scott.

“Under this shameful new law, North Carolinians will have to spend time and money seeking a court order if they want to obtain police footage they themselves are in – and even then, they could still be denied,” Birdsong said in a statement. “The law also prohibits law enforcement agencies from releasing footage in the public interest – as we have seen officials do recently in Greensboro, Charlotte and Tulsa, Oklahoma – without a court order, which is why it has been criticized by police chiefs in Burlington, Fayetteville, and Greenville, and people across the state.”

The Carrboro policy would allow officers to view recordings prior to writing their reports, except in cases of officer involved shootings. In the event of a shooting, the officer would be suspended for two to three days and then would be required to write a statement about the shooting before they could view the tape. The written statement could then be amended thereafter, but the original draft of the statement would be kept.

Carrboro Police Chief Walter Horton said he supports the new policy, but it will not be the panacea to police-resident relations.

“My two cents—we’ve got a solid policy,” Horton said in the meeting. “I am looking forward to (body worn cameras) but they are not gonna be the end-all solution, the everything that’s gonna answer every question… but I’d rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it.”