The attorney for Charles Joseph Donohoe, the Kernersville resident and local Proud Boys leader facing federal charges in the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot, said in court papers filed Thursday that her client is not a flight risk and should be released from custody, describing Donohoe as a family man who respects law-enforcement and loves his country.
Lisa Costner, Donohoe’s attorney, also pushed back on claims made by federal prosecutors that Donohoe played a pivotal role in leading his fellow Proud Boys in storming the Capitol. In fact, Costner said in court papers, Donohoe went to Washington, D.C. at the last minute and never entered the Capitol, destroyed property or assaulted law-enforcement officers. She said Donohoe also did not encourage anyone else to destroy property or assault law-enforcement officers.
“It is true that the Government has evidence that Donohoe was in communication with other Proud Boys and that he went to Washington, D.C. on January 6,” Costner said. “However, whether the Government can prove that Donohoe committed the crimes alleged in the indictment is questionable.”
FBI agents arrested Donohoe, 33, on March 17 at The Brewers Kettle, a beer bottle shop and taproom in Kernersville, where he worked for the past four months as a handyman, according to Costner’s motion. He faces several charges coming out of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, where hundreds of people stormed the Capitol building in an attempt to stop Congress from certifying the 2020 presidential race. Those charges include conspiracy, obstruction of an official proceeding, destruction of government property and disorderly conduct in a restricted building or grounds.
The alleged rioters came to Washington, D.C. under the false belief that the election was stolen from former president Donald Trump. Donohoe was charged with three other men, who are either leaders or members of the Proud Boys — Ethan Nordean, 30, of Auburn, Wash.; Joseph Biggs, 37, of Ormond, Fla.; and Zachary Rehl, 35, of Philadelphia. Donohoe is the president of the Piedmont chapter of the Proud Boys, a far-right group that has gotten into violent confrontations and is called a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its anti-Muslim and misogynistic rhetoric.
He appeared in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. and pleaded not guilty to all charges. A detention hearing scheduled for Monday was postponed because the U.S. Marshals Service had abruptly transported him from the Alamance County Jail to Oklahoma. Costner asked for a continuance so that she could talk to her client. A new date for the detention hearing has not been scheduled but could be held as early as Monday.
In a 21-page motion, Costner goes into great detail about Donohoe’s background and challenges federal prosecutors’ allegations about Donohoe’s role in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. She also includes letters from his grandparents, his girlfriend and the owner of The Brewers Kettle, all urging that Donohoe be released from federal custody. She includes a statement from Donohoe’s twin brother, Liam, who relates a story about Donohoe’s attempt to save the life of a man on a ski-lift in Winterplace, West Virginia in 2015.
Andy Kennedy, the owner of The Brewers Kettle, said in a letter that if released, Donohoe would have a job there, saying that Donohoe is kind, selfless, reliable and hardworking.
“His mouth gets him into trouble,” he said. “He is not a risk to anyone. He is a natural protector, and friend to everyone, no matter who they are or their beliefs.”
Donohoe was in the U.S. Marines from 2006 to 2010, serving two tours in Iraq. After that, he worked as a contractor for the U.S. Department of State. He also worked as a contractor for a company formerly known as Blackwater and then twice renamed as Xe and then Academi. In 2007, a group of its employees killed 17 civilians and injured 20 people in Nisour, Baghdad in Iraq. Four guards were convicted but Trump pardoned them in December 2020.
During his time with Blackwater, he was stationed in remote bases in Afghanistan and Pakistan. According to court papers, he provided civilian defense and disrupted Taliban operations.
Costner said Donohoe was born in Long Branch, N.J., and moved with his mother and his brother Liam to North Carolina when he was 3. His mother, Stuart Picket, lives in East Bend, and his grandparents, Charles and Jacklyn Donohoe, live in Winston-Salem. Donohoe has a total of five siblings, and all but two live in North Carolina, Costner said.
He also has a 4-year-old son from a previous relationship and he has dated Stephanie Burnette since July 2018, according to court documents.
Costner includes several pictures of Donohoe, including one with the Winston-Salem Jaycees during a Christmas Cheers Event. Donohoe and four other Proud Boys were volunteers for the event. Yvette Spears, then-president of the Winston-Salem Jaycees, said members weren’t aware that Donohoe and the four other men were affiliated with Proud Boys or that Proud Boys is an alt-right group.
Costner said prosecutors have no evidence that Donohoe played a leading role in planning the events on Jan. 6.
“Donohoe did not use any force or commit acts of violence during the events of January 6, 2021,” she said. “Critically, he did not enter the Capitol Building, nor did he destroy, vandalize, or even move any Government property. He did not assault or harass any law enforcement officer or security guard, nor did he instruct or encourage anyone to act in a violent or destructive manner.”
He also did not go into hiding after the event, Costner said. In fact, she said, Donohoe participated in the search for Savannah Childress, a Davidson County girl who was abducted and was later found in Arkansas.
Costner does acknowledge that Donohoe did create a new Telegram chat room after national Proud Boys chairman Enrique Tarrio was arrested on Jan. 4. Prosecutors allege that Donohoe directed others to delete messages, but Costner said prosecutors have no evidence that Donohoe or others were trying to delete messages “concerning any plan to commit acts of violence on Jan. 6, much less plan an ‘insurrection.’”
She also said that Donohoe did not leave North Carolina for Washington, D.C. until 2 a.m. on Jan. 6. He arrived in Washington, D.C. at 6 a.m., and Costner said there’s no evidence that Donohoe sent messages for the purpose of planning a stealth attack or that he destroyed, knocked down or even touched barriers to get to the Capitol.
She said that Donohoe’s main concern was finding a place to stay and how late he could purchase beer. After the rally, Costner said, he had no ride back because the people he rode with left him behind.
One of the more serious allegations from prosecutors is that Donohoe was seen carrying a riot shield that fellow Proud Boys member Dominic Pezzola stole from a Capitol police officer. But Costner said that at the time he was seen on video with the riot shield, he was a “good distance” from the Capitol’s entrance, and it would be more than a half-hour before Pezzola would use the riot shield to break a window.
She said there is no other video of Donohoe touching the shield or having any interaction with Pezzola.
Prosecutors also pointed to comments Donohoe made after the event, including that he felt like a “complete warrior.” Costner said Donohoe was only bragging.
“This braggadocio in no way supports the Government’s theory that he was somehow responsible for the violence that took place,” she said.
If released from federal custody, Donohoe would live with his grandparents, Costner said.
In his statement, Liam said he was heartbroken during a recent visit with Donohoe’s son. The son had asked Liam to move a box for him, using the word, “please.” Liam thanked the son for saying “please,” and the son said he used the word as his father had taught him to do.
“That moment was the biggest stab in my heart I have ever felt in that his dad is not home to provide him this structured and loving environment,” he said.
Construction has begun on a new Donnaha Bridge on N.C. 67 that spans the Yadkin River, a project expected to last three years.
The good news is that the current bridge will stay open while the replacement bridge is being built.
But for people who like to paddle the Yadkin River, from the Shoals access to the Donnaha access, a popular 6.9-mile paddle, the construction project brings some bad news.
A river access at Donnaha Park, just below the bridge has closed for the duration of the project. The next public access is at the Old 421 River Park, 6.6 miles downriver.
That means that people who like to put in their boats at the Shoals access near Pilot Mountain State Park are in for a paddle of nearly 14 miles, which amounts to a full day on the river. They’ll also have to carry their boats around a dam just before the Old 421 River Park take-out point.
“That’s not a sit back and relax float,” said Brian Fannon the riverkeeper for the Yadkin Riverkeeper. “It’s an actual paddle.”
According to Fannon, the 6.9-mile stretch between Shoals and Donnaha is among the most popular stretches to paddle and float in the Piedmont portion of the Yadkin River. It includes views of the knob at Pilot Mountain as it meanders through mostly undeveloped farm land in Yadkin County.
“It’s a pretty section of the river,” Fannon said. “It’s got very mild whitewater, if you can call it that, just enough to splash in and get a little wet. And it’s close to Winston. You can make a quick drive, float, get to Donnaha and you’re almost home.”
The section, which takes two or three hours to float, has good fishing, remnants of an old canal and a few islands.
The Riverkeeper organization looked for other access points along that stretch but had no luck finding private landowners who would allow their land to be accessed by paddlers. The banks of the river are also steep in much of that section, as high as 15 feet in some places, Fannon estimated.
“It’s unfortunate, but the bridge really needs to be replaced,” he said. “I’ve been driving across that bridge since 1980, and it’s always looked really rough. It’s definitely time for it to be replaced.”
Operated and maintained by Yadkin County Parks, Donnaha Park is a popular spot for people to wade in the river. The water is low there, creating a beach-like area. One concern for Matt Windsor, the superintendent of Pilot Mountain State Park, is that some of those folks will head to the Shoals access where there is limited parking.
“Last year with COVID, we could have over 200 cars a day on the weekends and sometimes over 100 on weekdays, and it’s a 10-car parking lot,” Windsor said.
People would park along the gravel road leading to the access, creating a traffic mess for the park staff.
The water is also higher, with some submerged logs, near the Shoals access, creating unsafe conditions for people who want to splash around in the river, he said.
Smith-Rowe of Mount Airy was awarded the $9.5 million contract to replace the 71-year old bridge. Construction is expected to finish in May of 2024.
The new bridge will be built to the north of the current bridge. It will have 12-foot wide lanes and four-foot shoulders.
Pandemic or not, it’s prom season for high school students.
And that concerns Dr. Christopher Ohl, an infectious disease doctor at Wake Forest Baptist Health.
“Prom is going to be a challenge and, just frankly, not a very good idea,” Ohl said earlier this week. “It epitomizes all the things we tell people not to do.”
He revisited that sentiment during his weekly news conference on Thursday. Proms, by their nature, are typically fraught with behaviors that come with risk during a pandemic — slow dancing, eating, mingling. That doesn’t even include two staples of a typical prom night — eating in a restaurant with a large group of friends and hanging out with friends into the wee hours.
“Transmissions are going to occur,” Ohl said. “I guarantee you.”
Several school districts in the region are having district-sponsored proms, including Stokes and Yadkin counties. Others, including Davie County Schools, are not. In districts with no official prom, some parents are organizing private proms, including one at Truist Stadium in Winston-Salem for East Forsyth High School students.
Official proms and other milestone events were canceled last year because of COVID-19.
Brent Campbell, a spokesman for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, said principals and members of the the school board’s COVID committee are working on end-of-year events, which would include proms.
“Graduation has been our primary focus. It is important to note that the NC StrongSchools Toolkit says events where social distancing can’t be maintained are not encouraged. Any event we do end up having would of course follow those guidelines and need to be handled in a safe manner,” Campbell said.
Ohl acknowledged that, regardless of his warning, proms will continue to take place. He offered a few suggestions for parents.
“The first thing is talk to your kids. They do listen,” he said.
Some of his tips include getting your child vaccinated if he or she is 16 or older. Pfizer vaccinations are approved for people as young as 16. It may be too late for students to be fully immunized by the time of prom, but one shot taken three weeks before prom will provide up to 80% protection against the virus, Ohl said.
Prom-goers should also get tested the morning of or day before prom. While at the prom, students should use hand sanitizer frequently, avoid slow-dancing, wear a mask and stay within their bubble of friends. Some proms will be outdoors, which is a safer environment than indoors, he said.
Ohl said he is particularly concerned about before and after prom activities.
“I’d maybe try to cut those things and just enjoy the prom itself,” he said.
In his weekly address, Ohl talked about some of the protocols that local schools and businesses employed to stop the spread of the virus. Some of those protocols no longer need to be followed because more is known about the virus’ spread. He mentioned the health screenings that the local school district is considering eliminating for students. Those screenings involve asking students a few questions about their health and taking their temperature.
Superintendent Tricia McManus said the district is considering dropping the health screening, following the lead of other school districts and guidance from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.
“It doesn’t make anyone safer,” Ohl said, noting that nearly 40% of people with COVID-19 show no symptoms.
“That doesn’t mean you should go to school or work sick,” he said. “It’s going to become your own responsibility.”
Noting the transmission of the virus among young athletes in the Upper Midwest, Ohl said there’s a possibility that student athletes could get tested if clusters begin to develop.
Campbell said the local district has discussed the possibility of testing student-athletes but will wait for state guidance on how such a program would be implemented.
Winston-Salem State University wants more students to be tested for COVID-19 after a rise in cases on its campus.
The Winston-Salem university recorded 13 new cases on Monday — the highest one-day total at the school since it began tracking coronavirus data in August.
WSSU also notified students and employees Monday that it had confirmed a cluster of five positive cases on campus. A university spokeswoman said Thursday the cases were found within the athletics department.
There’s more: The university on Tuesday announced it wouldn’t hold the final five spring football practices and the team’s annual spring game scheduled for Friday. The university’s athletics director said the cancellations were about safety because COVID-19 cases were on the rise on campus and in the surrounding community.
Winston-Salem State has reported 115 cases so far this semester. Forty-four of those cases came between April 1 and Monday, the last time the university updated its COVID-19 dashboard. All but two of those new cases are students.
Before the start of the spring semester, Winston-Salem State required all students living on campus to test negative for COVID-19 before moving into their dorm rooms. The university has operated an on-campus clinic each Wednesday this semester to give free COVID-19 tests to any students who wanted them.
Starting Monday, however, Winston-Salem State will begin surveillance testing, starting with residents of campus dorms and later including student groups and other subsets of students.
“The goal of surveillance testing is to get a more accurate account of our campus’s infection rate,” the university wrote in an email to campus Thursday. “Many of our recent cases have been persons experiencing no symptoms, so we ask everyone to do their part and help us stay ahead of the spread of COVID-19.”
The university noted in its message that surveillance testing isn’t mandatory, but “students are strongly encouraged to participate.”
WSSU also had added testing clinics on Mondays and Fridays through the end of the spring semester.
With less than four weeks of spring classes remaining, spokeswoman Haley Gingles said the university is once again reminding students of its community standards: Face coverings must be worn in nearly all campus spaces, hands should be washed frequently, social distancing should be practiced and large gatherings should be avoided. The university said most of the recently reported COVID-19 cases can be traced back to social get-togethers.
The university also is urging students to get tested weekly and to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Gingles said Winston-Salem State will send emails to parents, too, so they can encourage their students to follow these campus guidelines.
“We’re reminding (students) to stay vigilant and don’t let your guard down,” Gingles said. “Yes, the vaccine is out there, but we all have to do our part to keep everyone safe on campus.
WSSU recently announced new times and venues for commencement, which will be held May 20-21.
Here’s the revised schedule for the university’s five commencement ceremonies:
9 a.m. May 20: Undergraduate and graduate students from the class of 2020
6 p.m. May 20: Master’s and doctoral graduates from the class of 2021
9 a.m. May 21: Class of 2021 undergraduates in the College of Arts, Sciences, Business and Education
Noon, May 21: A virtual commencement for summer 2020, fall 2020 and spring 2021 graduates; students must opt-in to this online ceremony.
6 p.m. May 21: Class of 2021 undergraduates in the School of Health Sciences
The four in-person ceremonies will be held on the intramural practice field near the C.E. Gaines Center. Each graduate can bring up to two guests.