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“We thought we were being invited to a dinner party, instead we were attending a fancy dress ball in Dante’s H*ll.” That was a comment made by speaker Debra Conner (pictured) as she portrayed Titanic Survivor Edith Russell at a recent program at The Chester County Library. Conner related the story of the R.M.S. Titanic disaster in first person as Russell, even answering questions as the fashion designer and reporter, before stepping out of the persona of Russell and answering questions about how she prepared for her role as Edith Russell. As part of the program, Conner handed out reproductions of a Titanic boarding pass, marked with a “P” or an “S” for “Perished” or “Survivor”. To the survivors, she asked, “What have you done today to earn your place on that lifeboat?” This was Conner’s final performance as Russell. Later this year, she will portray poet Emily Dickinson. The event was sponsored by the S.C. Humanities Council.

‘A fancy dress ball in Dante’s H*ll’

N&R staff wins 17 SCPA awards

Staff members of the News & Reporter brought home 17 awards from this weekend’s South Carolina Press Association Awards Banquet, including one of the state’s top individual prizes.

Editor Travis Jenkins won the prestigious Montgomery/Shurr Freedom of Information Award. It was the second straight year Jenkins won the award and the sixth time overall.

“Jenkins’ work exhibited textbook examples on how FOIA requests can lead to uncovering misdeeds and yield accountability in journalism topics. There was also follow-up editorial work to encourage openness in public bodies, something that is a service to newspaper readers,” judges wrote.

Staff members were honored with four first place finishes. Reporter Brian Garner received first place honors in the news headline writings category.

“’Outstanding in her field’ made me laugh way harder that I should have,” the judge said. “The accompanying photo and lede were brilliant.”

Garner also won first in the series of articles category for his series “Brothers in Arms.”

“As our WWII and Korean War veterans pass away and their numbers shrink, it is beyond important that we document their stories before they are lost to the ages. Thank you for telling the story of brothers from two wars,” judges commented.

Jenkins won first place for sports headline writing.

“Inspired use of names and situations to make interesting headlines,” judges said.

Jenkins also took a first place finish in the category ofr arts and entertainment writing for a piece on the retirement of musician Robert Earl Keen.

“Story well written and thought out. Good job,” judges said.

Jenkins and James McBee combined to win three second place awards in the categories of sports video, feature video and news video. Additionally, Jenkins finished second in the categories of enterprise reporting, investigative journalism and breaking news reporting. Garner came in second in the profile feature writing or story category.

Jenkins scored a third place finish in the category of food writing. Jenkins, Garner and David Jenkins combined for a third place finish in reporting in-depth.

Garner came in third in the categories of government beat reporting and faith beat reporting. Bill Marion scored a third place finish for sports action photography.

Two other Chester natives brought home an armload of plaques as well. Avery Wilks, a Chester High graduate, was named the Daily Journalist of the Year (his second time being so honored). Additionally, he took first place in business beat reporting, first place in short story writing, second place in profile writing and second place in beat reporting. Wilks recently announced he was leaving the Post and Courier and has moved into the position of vice president of communications for South Carolina’s electric cooperatives.

Hannah Wade, also a Chester High graduate, is currently the interim editor of the award winning Columbia Free Times. She won a third place honor in the food writing category and took third place for beat reporting.

Apprenticeship program is ‘boots on the ground’ approach to Detention Center experience

The new crop of York Tech students studying to be detention officers will be “boots on the ground,” those boots will just be inside the Chester County Detention Center.

Thanks to a partnership between the Chester County Sheriff’s Office, York Technical College and Apprenticeship Carolina, YTC students interested in a law enforcement career will have a chance for some hands-on experience as apprentice detention officers in the Chester County Detention Center. This is the only apprenticeship program of this kind in the state.

Sheriff Max Dorsey joined York Tech President Dr. Stacey Moore and Detention Center Director T. Neal for the announcement at the Chester County LEC.

“The announcement is important for Chester County, it’s important for the Chester County Sheriff’s Office and our Detention Center,” said Sheriff Dorsey.

“York Tech was established to provide technical training for people in York, Chester and Lancaster Counties and they have done a wonderful job, and it continues to do that as it answers the call for technical training to power the jobs here in our region…YTC has multiple campuses throughout the region and we are proud to say that we have the Chester Center in Chester County.

“Today we are here to announce the campus of YTC is expanding even further and it s not a part of the Chester Detention Center training facility.

“Many of you understand that our detention center houses most of those who are charged with crimes, and we are responsible for their care and custody while their charges are pending and while they are awaiting adjudication.

“It is our responsibility to take care of those men and women who have been accused of crimes. We also house a few other inmates who have been convicted of crimes and they are here on work release programs that we partner with the state Department of Corrections,” he said.

The apprenticeship program will fill a critical need for detention officers at the detention center, Sheriff Dorsey said.

“I think we can all identify with the struggle of hiring people and that’s not just in government, it has been a problem for private business and industry. York Tech has been at the forefront of trying to prepare our workforce with quality employees to meet those needs in the private sector and in government.”

Sheriff Dorsey said this idea has been the brainchild of several Sheriff’s Office employees, including General Counsel Katie Swansea and the staff and instructors at York Technical College.

He explained the apprenticeship “is an opportunity for those students who are 18 years or older, who have a desire to enter in the criminal justice profession. They can apply to York tech for their Criminal Justice program and then they will apply for a position here at our Detention Center. We will work with their schedules, so they can attend college and work here under an apprenticeship program, where they will get hands-on, realtime training in what we will all admit is a difficult environment, but it is an absolutely critical part of the criminal justice process.”

Previously, if you wanted to join the criminal justice profession, you had to wait until you were 21, Sheriff Dorsey explained, but at the last session of the General Assembly, that was changed so that 18 year-olds can now become detention officers, giving them their first foray into law enforcement. Sheriff Dorsey said it is difficult to hire detention officers, the job is not easy by any means, “but it is the best training ground in the world, if you want to become a cop, if you want to get in the law enforcement profession, there’s no better training ground than in a detention center.

“And did I mention that the tuition is free?” Sheriff Dorsey said. He said the combination of the free tuition, thanks to the General Assembly and the technical college system, and the change in the law to allow 18-year old applicants, is “just the perfect storm for those men and women who are wanting to get into this profession — you can go to college for free, get some of the best training and education available and you can get some of the best training here while working in our detention center.”

York Technical College President Dr. Stacey Moore thanked Sheriff Dorsey and his staff, the faculty and staff of York Technical College and the help of Apprenticeship Carolina, for facilitating this apprenticeship, the only one of its kind in the state.

“One of our major objectives at York Technical College is to support our communities, always. One of the key components of that is ensuring the safety of those communities, of our families. And we need incredibly skilled, passionate law enforcement professionals to do so. We have huge respect and honor in law enforcement; we do we believe a great job because we have the best faculty in the world to help that and we work with amazing partners, like the Sheriff’s Office here in Chester County… We understand very clearly that law enforcement requires immense courage, and dedication and hard work. And so one of the great things for our students is not only will they have exceptional faculty at York Tech, we are so honored to have them learn alongside this Sheriff’s Office here in Chester, for mentorship, for hands on training for those skill building, that they will have exceptional opportunities to do so,” Dr. Moore said.

Newly appointed Detention Center Director T. Neal said she is excited about the program and looks forward to seeing the new people who will come in willing to learn who are serious about taking the apprenticeship program to a new level and making this a career and not just a job.

Sheriff Dorsey added, “We are looking for that next generation of leaders. We want our agency to be full of those who want to be the boss, we want those who aspire to be the director (in the future)…I tell all of our employees that under our umbrella here we have the Sheriff’s Office, we have Dispatch and we have the Detention Center, and if one of those fails, the rest of it would fail. So detention is a critical component of the criminal justice system, as I said before.

“We’re looking for those people who want to come and make a career of detention,” he said.

“I’m excited about what the students are going to be able to learn in the classroom and how they’re going to bring that and mold that into what they experience here in our detention center, with boots on the ground.”

The apprentices could start working in the Chester County Detention Center as soon as they are taking criminal justice classes in the summer, York Tech officials said.

Detention Center apprentices will be paired with veteran detention officers for the hands-on training at the Detention Center.

In response to a question about what the apprentices would be experiencing, Sheriff Dorsey said, “There are different variations of jobs in the Detention Center: we are running a 24/7 operation where we have to feed people, we have to clothe them, we have to keep things clean, we have a central control room that we have to monitor all these cameras to keep people safe. We have a booking area, we have the prison camp. So we have a variety of jobs that they will be exposed to…students will be mentored by a senior officer who will ensure that they’re safe and that they’re not put in positions alone or by themselves,” he said.

This apprenticeship is a one-of-a-kind program and Sheriff Dorsey added he was proud that “York Tech would think of us to partner with in such an important program.”

Filing closes for city election

Campbell not seeking second term, Williams gives up council seat to run for mayor

Two Chester City Council incumbents will not be running for their old seats in May. One of them is running for a new seat, however.

Filing closed for Chester’s upcoming municipal election on Monday and the last few hours brought a flurry of activity, with seven of the 12 total candidates filing just before the noon deadline. The mayor’s seat is up for grabs and incumbent Wanda Stringfellow, who has served four non-consecutive terms, filed for reelection. She will face three competitors, including Ken Lebbon, a previous candidate for Chester City Council and mayor and the executive director of CURES for Chester and Betty Johnson Leake, an author, podcaster and spiritual and business coach. The other candidate is current Ward 4 Councilman Carlos Williams.

“I said at the outset that I was only going to serve on council for eight years and I’m being true to that but I want to continue to be a part of improving the city I love,” Williams said.

In Ward I, one-term incumbent Councilman Wade Young is seeking reelection and will be opposed by Darlene Wright, who was among the first to both file and post campaign signs inside the City.

In Ward 2, incumbent Tantanish Campbell (who won a special election to fill the unexpired term of the late Betty Bagley, chose not to seek a second term in office. Local business owner David Claytor was the lone candidate to file for the seat. He has previously run for Chester City Council.

Long-serving Ward 3 incumbent Annie Reid has filed to seek another term and will be opposed by Ursula Boyd-Crosby. With Williams opting to run for mayor, his Ward 4 seat is open and has drawn three candidates in Tony Nelson, William King and Jennifer Brecheisen. Nelson and Brecheisen have both sought office before. King was elected to Chester City Council in 2017 but was suspended from office by order of a judge and was eventually forced to give up the seat when his past felony convictions were brought to light by a lawsuit from the watchdog group Chester Citizens for Ethical Government. However, King has received a full pardon from the state, which allows him to both register to vote and seek public office.

The election is set for May 2.

Palmer again denied bond in ’22 fatal crash

His charges have changed but Jason Palmer again had his bond denied for a traffic fatality last year.

Initially, Palmer stood accused of felony DUI with death, felony DUI with great bodily injury and possession of cocaine in the July collision that took the life of seven-year old Max Shanks and injured his father Corey Shanks.

After having bond denied initially by a county magistrate, Palmer appeared before Judge Brian Gibbons last December. Sixth Circuit Deputy Solicitor Candice Lively handled the case for the state. She said that Palmer was driving “fast and erratically on I-77 when he encountered the Shanks family of four in their SUV. According to the MAIT (Multi-disciplinary Accident Investigation Team) Team report, he was going 98 miles per hour Lively said.

Max Shanks was pronounced dead at the scene following the collision. There were multiple witnesses to the accident and to the defendant’s erratic driving. Max’s father Corey suffered multiple injuries and was in a coma for several days.

At December’s hearing, Lively said law enforcement encountered Palmer and noted slurred speech and red eyes. They did not detect the scent of alcohol but a search of his vehicle turned up rolling papers, a quantity of marijuana and a substance believed at the time to be crack cocaine, though lab results on the substance were not available at the time.

Last Thursday, Palmer was arraigned in front of Gibbons at the Chester County Courthouse and served with a true-billed indictment for reckless homicide, assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature and possession of cocaine base. His original charges of felony DUI with death and felony DUI with great bodily injury are no longer being pursued based on negative toxicology reports showing now substances in his system that would be probable cause to show impaired driving.

Lively said the State was instead pursing charges based on Palmer’s “extreme recklessness” and the unlawful act of driving at an excessive speed on a busy interstate, “which shows a reckless and wanton disregard for human life.”

Bond was again denied for Palmer.

Reporter Brian Garner contributed to this story

Appeal coming in McCree case

It hasn’t actually been filed yet, but the estate of the late Ariane McCree has indicated it will appeal a recent summary judgment in favor of the defendants in a civil rights lawsuit filed over McCree’s 2019 shooting death.

McCree was shot and killed by police in the parking lot of the Chester Walmart in November of 2019. After being detained for shoplifting, he bull-rushed an officer in the store’s loss prevention office, fled the store and continued to run. Officer Nick Harris caught up to McCree but said he was headbutted several teams. McCree allegedly ran to his car at that point and fetched a gun. Harris fired at him until he ran out of ammunition. Another officer (Justin Baker) who was called to the scene to pick McCree up on the shoplifting charge ultimately encountered McCree in the parking lot, shot him, took his gun, then applied pressure to a chest wound until EMS arrived. McCree died shortly thereafter. The office of State Attorney General Alan Wilson absolved Harris, Baker and other officers entirely, saying they acted in defense of themselves and the public, but the McCree estate filed a civil suit against Baker, Harris, Walmart and the City of Chester (for whom the two officers worked).

Those defendants requested a summary judgment and Judge Joseph Anderson presided over a hearing to rule on that motion early this year. Attorney Colin Ram, representing the McCree estate, argued in favor of a jury trial. He said McCree did not actually shoplift a lock set as alleged, stating that he told the cashier to “put it on my tab” and returned to the store later with approximately the amount of money needed to pay for it. He argued that McCree could not have opened his car door and retrieved a gun while handcuffed and did not even have a gun, claiming one was planted on him. He also pointed to “inconsistent” testimony from officers and onlookers and suggested they were coached by the State Law Enforcement Division.

Lawyers for the defendants said there was “zero evidence” a gun was planted on him, noted that the gun was owned by McCree and had his DNA on the trigger. McCree also was clearly seen holding a gun in surveillance video, they argued. Walmart attorneys said they did not arrest McCree or order him to be arrested and the City of Chester’s attorneys said the City was not liable for McCree’s death because his arrest in and of itself did not kill McCree.

In February, Anderson agreed with a federal magistrate opinion in favor of granting summary judgment.

“This Court finds the magistrate judge’s recommendations fairly and accurately summarizes the facts and applies the correct principles of law. Accordingly, this Court adopts the report and recommendations in all regards,” Anderson wrote.

The judge said there was probable cause to arrest McCree for shoplifting and that claims of excessive force were not valid and back the magistrate opinion that “the undisputed facts in the record a reasonable officer in their respective situations would have believed McCree posed a threat to their lives or the lives of bystanders.”

Additionally, Anderson said body camera footage clearly demonstrated McCree had a gun. He flatly disregarded the idea the gun was planted, saying such a claim was “without evidentiary support.” Even if the two officers had violated McCree’s Fourth Amendment rights, they would have been protected by qualified immunity, Anderson said.

“Thus, Defendants Nicholas Harris, Justin M. Baker, Walmart Stores, East L.P. and Walmart, Inc’s motions for summary judgment are granted as to plaintiff’s federal civil rights…which are hereby dismissed. Further, Defendant City of Chester’s motion for summary judgment is denied,” Anderson wrote.

Remaining state law claims for false arrest or false imprisonment, negligence, gross negligence and wrongful death were all remanded to the Court of Common Pleas for Chester County, as were claims against the City for negligent hiring, supervision and retention.

There is no indication on what basis an appeal will be filed, but on Friday, there was a filing that simply indicated, “notice is hereby given that Plaintiff Vickie J. McCree, as personal representative of the estate of Ariane L. McCree…hereby appeals to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit from the order and opinion as to the federal civil rights claim brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C.”