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Crime-and-courts
Kernersville residents show support for injured officer

The man charged with attempted murder in the shooting of a Kernersville police officer on Sunday is a patient in a hospital, although officers say he was not injured in his arrest.

Quinton Donnell Blocker, charged in the shooting of Kernersville police officer Sean Houle, made his first court appearance on Monday at the hospital, but officials have not disclosed anything about Blocker's health or why he was taken to the hospital. 

Meanwhile, townspeople in Kernersville are showing their support for Houle, even as they deal with the shock of learning that he was shot three times with his own gun.

Kernersville police said Houle remained in critical condition at a local hospital on Monday. He was shot in the face, arm and hand.

"We are hopeful that he will be able to pull through," said Officer Blake Jones, speaking for the Kernersville Police Department. 

Curtis Swisher, the former Kernersville mayor and currently manager of the town, called the shooting of Houle "a blow to everybody in the community."

"I've been involved with the town since '97, and we have had an officer responding to a call who got in a car wreck and was injured badly, but we have not had an incident like this in 23 years," Swisher said. "In a town like Kernersville, we have been fortunate not to have too many of these and not every often. Officer Houle is well-known and well-liked by folks in the community, as are all our officers."  

Jail records indicated that Blocker was at a hospital Monday night. The hospital was not identified.

An official with the Forsyth County Clerk of Court's office said Monday afternoon that all the paperwork in Blocker's case had been taken to a hospital for a first appearance hearing, which was moved up to Monday from Tuesday.

The Forsyth County Sheriff's Office confirmed that Blocker's first appearance was held Monday, but would not comment on the location of the hearing.

Kernersville police said Blocker was uninjured during his arrest on Sunday, and that Blocker was placed in the Forsyth County Jail that day.

Blocker was charged with attempted first-degree murder, felony assault on a law enforcement officer with a firearm, and possession of a firearm by a felon.

Kernersville police said the shooting took place about 3:30 a.m. Sunday at Century Square Apartments off South Main Street in Kernersville.

Reports showed that Houle encountered Blocker, who he had seen earlier in the day when Blocker ran from a traffic stop. Police didn't provide more details about what happened during the early-Sunday encounter between the two men, other than that Houle was shot with his own gun.

Blocker was arrested later Sunday morning. His bond was set at $1 million.

Houle is a K-9 officer with the Kernersville Police Department and formerly worked for the Winston-Salem Police Department.

Taylor Thornton of Kernersville, who got to know Houle when she did some ride-alongs with the officer when she worked for the Kernersville Chamber of Commerce, called Houle "the most dedicated police officer I think I have ever met."

"You talk a lot when you spend 12 hours in a car with someone," she said. "He talked all the time about how much he loved his wife, and was so proud to be her husband. He thinks that's the best thing he ever did. Whenever he wasn't on a call or working, he was showing his pictures."

Thornton decided she would start accepting donations of items so that snack bags can be put together and handed out to members of the Kernersville Police Department, just so officers know townspeople care about them.

"Include handwritten notes or encouraging words," she wrote on Facebook as she appealed for donations. She said people who want to take part can call her directly at 336-416-5405 or send her an email at tkthornt@gmail.com.

"We can use protein bars or shakes, anything an officer can grab quickly and go to work," she said, "The response has been overwhelming."

T.J. Small and his wife Heather decided they would donate 10% of their profits from the family auto-repair business, Twin City Automotive on Silas Creek Parkway, to the Houle family through March 26.

T.J. Small said his wife works with Houle's wife, Ellie, at Novant Health. 

"We spent most of yesterday hearing about an officer being shot, worrying about who it was," he said. "Then we learned our worst fears. We know she (Ellie Houle) has two small kids, and we wanted to do anything we could do to help."

The four Subway restaurants in Kernersville said they would donate at least 20% of sales to Houle and his family from 4 to 8 p.m. on Thursday. And other businesses appeared to be getting involved as well.

A local business, Local Roots Coffee Bar, said it was working with a local microbrewery, Gypsy-Road Brewing Co., to organize a fundraiser for the Houle family. Local Roots announced its own fundraiser Wednesday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Christi Irby said on her Facebook page that she is a co-worker of Houle's wife and would be selling T-shirts through Feb. 27 with the Houle name on it as a way to raise money for the family. Irby said her Facebook page is the easiest way to connect and make an order.

Kernersville Mayor Dawn Morgan said the hearts of everyone in the town are going out to Houle and his family. 

And not just in Kernersville: The Lewisville and Oak Ridge fire departments were telling people on Facebook to keep the injured officer in their prayers, since Houle had formerly worked for both departments.


Local
featured
Classrooms in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools open to any public school student who wants to learn in person

Thousands of students in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools are still learning online, but as of Monday, every student has the choice of learning in a classroom.

On Monday, the school district opened its doors to 10- through 12th-graders for the first time since last March, when Gov. Roy Cooper ordered public schools statewide to close in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Photos: Ninth graders return to in person classes in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools

Local students started returning in early October, part of the school district's slow and deliberate plan to get students back in school. Students in 10th through 12th grades were the last wave to return, joining freshmen who came back on Feb. 1. 

Principal Carol Montague-Davis of Carver High School said she could have never imagined that it would take nearly a year for students to return to the school.

"I was hoping we'd be home a week," Montague-Davis said, standing in the foyer of the high school. "It was like, 'Wow, we've got to get our kids back.' And it just got longer and longer, and there was a level of anxiety with our parents, our students and our teachers. I never thought we'd be out almost a year, so we know there's a lot of lost learning and we've created plans to address that."

High school students are divided into groups so that students can maintain 6 feet of social distancing as recommended by the state Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At Carver, 234 students will go to class Monday and Tuesday and 216 students will go on Thursday and Friday. Wednesdays across the district are remote, allowing time for the maintenance staff to clean schools and teachers to do small-group work with students.

About 100 students were at Carver on Monday. Montague-Davis expects that number to increase on Tuesday as students adjust to the new schedule. Districtwide, about 60% of the 11,500 10- through 12th-graders are expected to return to the classroom.

At Tuesday's board meeting, Interim Superintendent Tricia McManus is scheduled to give a COVID-19 update and make a recommendation. 

Cooper has given elementary schools the OK to open every day as long as state health protocols are followed. Locally, students from pre-K through third grade go four days a week, and there's a strong possibility that McManus will recommend opening that option to fourth- and fifth-graders. 

She indicated as much earlier this month when she said in a statement: “Our plan has always been focused on getting all our students in school, as many days as possible. We know students learn best in person." 

Those statements were in response to Cooper asking local school boards to offer an in-person learning option. Most of the school districts in the state are already doing that or have plans to start soon, but a handful remain fully remote. 

Shortly after the governor encouraged a return to in-person classes, the state announced that school staff would be moved up the priority list for vaccinations. They are now eligible starting Wednesday.

Oct. 6: Students are back in a few Winston-Salem/Forsyth high schools


Nov. 2: A second wave of students return to Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools

Jan. 11: More students return to school buildings in WS/FCS



Local
featured
With more athletes ineligible for sports, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools to recommend waiving GPA requirement

Alarmed by an increase in ineligible athletes for the spring semester and the impact that may have on students' mental health, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools will recommend on Tuesday that the school board waive a local academic requirement that will open sports and other extracurricular activities to more students.

The N.C. High School Athletics Associations establishes eligibility requirements for student-athletes across the state, and local districts can add their own requirements, as long as they are not less restrictive. 

The state requires that students pass three of four courses.

The local district will ask the school board at its meeting Tuesday to waive the local requirement that students must have had a 2.0 grade-point average in the previous academic quarter to be eligible for sports. It will ask that the waiver remain in place for the rest of the 2020-21 school year as well as the first semester of the 2021-22 school year.

Though the topic was not on the agenda at the school board's work session earlier this month, it became a major topic of discussion, with board members Leah Crowley and Dana Caudill Jones, in particular, suggesting that the district make some local adjustments to allow for more students to play sports or get involved in extracurricular activities. 

The school board doesn't have the authority to waive state eligibility requirements.

"For the majority of high school students, they haven't seen a classroom since March, 2020, and we're penalizing them and taking away the only lifeline that they have, and that really concerns me, especially when you look at what the alternatives are, what they could be involved in if they aren't playing soccer or softball," Crowley said at the work session. 

Jones said she had talked to athletics directors and coaches about the high number of ineligible athletes. One soccer coach told her that his school typically fields a varsity and junior varsity team, and that he'd be lucky if he is able to field one team this year.

"Whatever we can do to put these kids back in something they love to do (we should)," Jones said. "Honestly, it might keep a lot of kids in high school instead of dropping out."

In a typical year, about 2% of the 5,000 student-athletes in the school system fail to meet state and local requirements to compete in sports, according to statistics that school officials will present to the board on Tuesday.

The disruption in education, from in-person to remote learning, has resulted in a demonstrated loss of learning, making many more students ineligible. There are now 193 students or 9% of the 2,000 students participating in six sports who are ineligible after failing to meet state requirements.

The six sports now competing are boys and girls basketball, football, cheerleading and boys and girls lacrosse. 

An additional 212 students were placed in an academic support program that requires them to go to three hours of weekly tutoring because they did not meet the local requirement. If they don't meet the tutoring requirement, they become ineligible.

Football has been the hardest hit. In a typical year, 48 students are ineligible to play. This year, that number is 111. In boys soccer, the numbers are 23 in a typical year compared with 49 this year.

Interim Superintendent Tricia McManus told the board at its work session that she had been in talks with John Sullivan, the athletics director for the school system, about this issue.

"I know these students need these outlets and not just athletics," she said. 

Crowley's husband, Pat, is the football coach at Reynolds High School, and she said that has allowed her to see the impact of the pandemic and remote learning. 

Some of his players are working jobs to help with family finances; others are helping siblings with school. As a result, their grades have suffered. 

A sport or other extracurricular activity can be an outlet for students dealing with stress and provide them with adult mentors, Crowley said.

"For me, this is an extraordinary time, and we need to take extraordinary measures to meet them where they are," she said. 

The board is scheduled to take action on the recommendation at its meeting. 


President Joe Biden reads the number of American that died from COVID-19 during a speech at the White House, Monday, Feb. 22, 2021, in Washington.


Crime-and-courts
breaking top story
Former cop charged in the Capitol riot was an armed guard for Novant. She's no longer allowed to hold that job.

A former Novant Health security guard who was arrested last week for her alleged role in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol can no longer work as an armed security guard in North Carolina.

Records released Monday also show that the woman was fired as a High Point police officer in August 2004 for several reasons, including absence from duty and violations of communication policy.

Laura Lee Steele, 52, of Thomasville was arrested Wednesday in Greensboro. She was among nine alleged co-conspirators indicted on several charges, including unlawful entry into the U.S. Capitol and conspiring to obstruct the U.S. Congress' certification of the presidential election results.

Clyde Roper, a spokesman for the N.C. Department of Public Safety, said Monday that Steele previously was a registered armed security guard with Novant Health. She had been registered with the Private Protective Services Board since 2018. The only way Steele can work as an armed security guard is if she has a registration through that board.

It's not clear when Steele started as a security guard with Novant Health. Officials last week declined to comment on her status with the hospital system.

Roper said that the board can suspend or revoke a license or registration for violating provisions of the Private Protective Services Act.

"The suspension is effective immediately and she may no longer work as an armed guard until the suspension is lifted," he said in an email.

John Bryson, Steele’s attorney, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.

Her co-defendants included her brother, Graydon Young, 54, of Englewood, Fla.; Kelly Meggs, 52, and wife, Connie Meggs, 59, both of Dunnellon, Fla.; and Sandra Ruther Parker, 62, and husband, Bennie Alvin Parker, 70, of Morrow, Ohio. In January, federal authorities announced the arrests of three other co-defendants — Thomas Caldwell, 65, of Clarke County, Va.; Donovan Crowl, 50, of Champaign County, Ohio; and Jessica Watkins, 38, also of Champaign County, Ohio.

All nine defendants were associated with The Oath Keepers, a radical, far-right, anti-government group that believes that a cabal of elites are trying to strip Americans of their rights. The group has an open membership but heavily recruits from military and law-enforcement. Kelly Meggs is a self-described leader of the Florida chapter of the Oath Keepers.

In late December, he wrote in a Facebook message, "Trump said It's gonna be wild!!!!!!! It's gonna be wild!!!!!!! He wants us to make it WILD that's what he's saying. He called us all to the Capitol and wants us to make it wild!!! Sir Yes Sir!!! Gentlemen we are heading to DC pack your s***!!" He later said in the Facebook post that there would be 50 to 100 Oath Keepers there.

Authorities alleged in court papers that Steele and the others communicated over the course of two months before the Jan. 6 Capitol Riot, coordinating training, logistics and travel plans. They also communicated while in the U.S. Capitol and talked about whether weapons would be needed and what tactical gear they would need to wear. Authorities were able to identify Steele and others through videos and pictures either posted on social media or captured by news organizations.

Steele submitted an application to the Florida chapter of the Oath Keepers on Jan. 3. In that application, according to court documents, she said she had been in law-enforcement for 13 years, working as a SWAT officer and a K-9 officer. On Jan. 6, she, along with her brother and others, dressed in paramilitary clothing and went into the U.S. Capitol in a military-style "stack" formation, meaning that members kept their hands on the backs or vests of the person in front of them as they moved into the building.

Some of the defendants took selfies and communicated with each other while in the U.S. Capitol, court papers said.

Steele used to work as a High Point police officer, and she is currently married to Kenneth Steele, who retired in January as an assistant police chief for the High Point Police Department.

According to records released Monday, Laura Steele and her husband were hired the same day – March 16, 1992. Laura Steele was suspended without pay for two days in July 2004 for violation of professional behavior and conduct toward the public policies. She was fired on Aug. 27, 2004 for conduct toward superior personnel, absence from duty and violation of communications policy.

The High Point Police Department did not provide additional information about Steele’s suspension and subsequent termination.

In 2001, Steele worked as a school-resource officer as part of her duties with the High Point Police Department. She was investigated and cleared in two separate incidents in which she pepper-sprayed students — an 11-year-old girl at Southwest Middle School and a 16-year-old boy at Southwest High School. In 1994, she also used pepper-spray against a woman after the woman allegedly kicked Steele in the jaw during an arrest.

And that same year, she was involved in a car chase that went into Davie County and resulted in her patrol car being totaled.

Steele is scheduled to appear Tuesday morning in U.S. District Court in Durham for a detention hearing.

Steele is the third person from the Piedmont Triad to be arrested in connection with the Jan. 6 insurrection. A Pilot Mountain couple — Christopher Raphael Spencer and Virginia Spencer — were arrested for their alleged role in the insurrection.

The Capitol riot on Jan. 6 followed months of false allegations, many promoted by former President Donald Trump, that the presidential election was rife with voter fraud. Thousands of people pushed through Capitol police officers and broke into the U.S. Capitol in an apparent effort to stop the certification process.

Prosecutors said that 139 Capitol Police and Metropolitan Police officers were assaulted. Five people died, including a woman who was shot as she tried to get through a barricaded door near the House Chamber.


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