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Charlotte man charged with two child pornography felonies in Watauga, faces 23 other charges

BOONE — The Boone Police Department has charged a man with two crimes relating to the sexual exploitation of a minor after an investigation by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.

After the Boone Police charges, William Brandon Lee Campbell, 43, of Skyline Drive, Charlotte, has 25 total allegations against him.

Campbell was arrested on Aug. 19 in Lancaster County, South Carolina, after an investigation by the CMPD, according to the office of South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson.

Upon arrest, Campbell was charged with 23 counts split across two states.

In South Carolina, he is charged with four counts of first-degree sexual exploitation of a minor and four counts of voyeurism. According to the office of the SCAG, the first-degree sexual exploitation of a minor charges are felony offenses that can be punishable by up to 20 years imprisonment for each count.

“Investigators state Campbell produced multiple files of child sexual abuse material, as well as recorded nude minor victims without their knowledge or consent,” the SCAG office stated.

In North Carolina, Campbell was charged with six counts of second-degree sexual exploitation of a minor, six counts of third-degree sexual exploitation of a minor and three counts of secret peeping.

Second-degree sexual exploitation of a minor is a Class E felony charge under N.C. general statutes, and can be punishable by 15-63 months imprisonment per charge. Third-degree sexual exploitation of a minor is a Class H felony charge under N.C. general statutes and can be punishable by four to 25 months imprisonment per charge.

On Dec. 13, Campbell was charged with two offenses in Watauga County by the BPD — indecent liberties with a minor and another count of secret peeping. According to an affidavit, the investigation from the CMPD alleged Campbell had secretly placed a recording device in the bathroom of a Watauga County residence and in June 2018, captured images of a 12-year-old while they were undressed.

Both Watauga charges were filed as felonies. The indecent liberties with a minor charge is punishable as a Class F felony under N.C. general statutes and can be punishable by 10-41 months imprisonment, while secret peeping is punishable as a Class I felony with a punishment range of three to 12 months.

According to the North Carolina Clerk of Courts office, Campbell has court dates set for March 15 in Watauga and Feb. 21 in Mecklenburg County.


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WCSO K-9 Elvis retires after nine years of service

BOONE — After nine years, Elvis has officially retired from the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office. The K-9 was with the WCSO since 2013, and was sent off during a packed retirement party.

A German shepherd from the Czech Republic, Elvis had an eventful career that saw him find “lots of drugs” while on patrol, handler Lt. Rick Ruppert said.

“He officially retired at New Year’s, but he stopped coming to work a couple weeks ago,” Ruppert said at the Thursday, Jan. 6, event. “In front, he’s still a puppy full of energy. But his back half is getting old and he started having some hip trouble.”

About to turn 10, Elvis still has the habit of trying to go to work with his handler as he did for so many years, Ruppert said.

Celebrating his retirement, law enforcement officers from across the county stopped by to see Elvis off. As the guest of honor, Elvis ate steak while everyone else took the opportunity to enjoy a chili lunch together.

As part of the retirement process, Elvis was declared as surplus by the Watauga County Board of Commissioners on Dec. 21 and was sold to Ruppert 10 days later for a fee of $1.

In the letter to the commissioners requesting Elvis’s retirement, Redmon noted the K-9 was favorite at elementary schools. According to Ruppert, Elvis was always friendly to citizens and happy to receive a pat or two.

Elvis is the third WCSO K-9 officer to retire in one year, following Raven and Moses. According to Maj. Kelly Redmon, this leaves the office with one left, Maverick, but they are working on bringing that number up to three in the coming months.


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Self-defense class at high school offers education, training for students

BOONE — Watauga High School’s senior counselor Wes Calbreath is offering a self-defense class for students during the spring and fall semesters to help make young women feel safer throughout the entirety of their lives.

The class educates participants about common red flags, grooming techniques and provides a safe space to share experiences and thoughts.

Calbreath has trained in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and in nonviolent crisis intervention. He said he hopes to lower the rates of sexual assault while building and expanding his self-defense program.

“In North Carolina, 16 percent of high school girls are victims of sexual violence by the end of their high school career,” Calbreath said.

The class does not exclusively focus on physical self-defense as it is taught in three parts. Each section incorporates a variety of topics such as ways to prevent assault, how to spot grooming tactics and an emphasis on setting personal boundaries.

Calbreath stated the importance of setting personal physical boundaries and limits before someone is in a situation where they could be compromised.

Classes that teach topics that differ from a traditional curriculum are important, Calbreath said, which can also be good for students heading to college or the workplace after high school.

“I need to learn how to protect myself,” said senior and participant of the class Ellary Maiden. “Hopefully, I will never be in a situation where I have to use what I’ve learned, but I feel safer knowing that I have some techniques I can use.”

The tactics taught during the self-defense portion of the class are easy to learn and designed to be effective during dangerous situations, according to Maiden.

“We focus on tactics that are high percentage and low risk that will help you get out of a bad situation and they’re chosen specifically because they don’t require power,” Calbreath said. “They take advantage of size differential and they are designed to work effectively when there is a size differential.”

The classes are currently offered to female students and their mothers. It has been offered to all students, but female students are generally more interested in participating in the class.

“I think it’s just much better to be educated and prepared for something potentially scary or unknown rather than just wonder in fear,” said Maiden’s mother, Sabena Maiden. “As for me, it had been a long time since I had gone through this kind of training.”

Calbreath said he tries to make a point that self-defense is important for everyone.

“I’ve offered a boys’ class, but I don’t have many of the boys taking me up on it,” Calbreath said.

If male students became interested in the course, the classes would remain separated by gender due to the different rates of sexual assault along with the typical needs for different genders.

“With the guys, a lot of the time we talk about how to be a good ally and how to be a good partner,” Calbreath said.

The total cost for taking the class is $10 per pair and all proceeds are directly donated to Oasis of Boone.

“The only money I collect is a deposit for Oasis,” Calbreath said. “I donate to them each time and end up making about a $400 donation to Oasis each year.”

Oasis is a nonprofit organization that assists with domestic violence and sexual violence for Watauga and Avery counties. They provide resources for individuals in various unsafe situations.

“What I like about Mr. Calbreaths’s class is that not only does it focus on the protection aspect of yourself but it also educates on healthy relationships, consent and boundaries,” said Kellie Bass, the rape prevention education coordinator for Oasis. “Those couple of things are some of the most important parts of prevention as far as sexual and dating violence goes.”

As someone who works with individuals who have survived and are going through unsafe and abusive situations, Bass feels that self-defense and education about sexual violence are essential.

Bass said Oasis provides hospital response and advocacy for people who have been assaulted or require a rape kit. Oasis also has a shelter for clients who may need help.

Calbreath said he feels that his class is one of the most important classes students can participate in.

“For someone who spends much of his workday showing his compassionate and intellectual sides, he also knows how to teach you to toss someone on their back,” said Sabena Maiden


Local
Lawsuit filed against Watauga County over environmental concerns at Cottages, county files for dismissal

WATAUGA — A lawsuit against Watauga County is claiming the county allegedly failed to take action in light of the Cottages of Boone’s wastewater spills and solid waste buildups.

Throughout 2021 the Cottages of Boone, a 900-bedroom apartment complex, was the site of multiple spills of untreated and treated wastewater into the Laurel Fork Creek as well as a build up of trash causing community concern for environmental health.

Adam Zebzda, representing himself, is suing under Article XIV, Section 5, of the North Carolina State Constitution which states the government must “conserve and protect its lands and waters for the benefit of all its citizenry.”

The Watauga County Board of Commissioners and county staff submitted a joint response to the Watauga Democrat about the suit, which stated “The lawsuit filed by Adam Zebzda has made allegations against the County that is based on a misunderstanding and misapplication of the law. That being said, when the County files its response, it will become public record, and the unmeritorious allegations will be specifically addressed.”

In its legal response to the suit, the county filed a motion to dismiss the case on the grounds that Zebzda “fails to take a claim upon which relief can be granted because there is no actionable controversy” and because Zebzda does not have standing in the case.

Zebzda said he was disappointed in the county’s response, and “not only is this extremely disappointing, but it is also unbecoming of those whose duty is to serve the public, not ignore community concerns to avoid accountability.”

Zebzda said he filed the suit out of a sense of obligation. He said that he has been critical of the county for in what he claims is not acting in response to the Cottages’ pollution, but that it is difficult to be critical while not taking action himself as well. He said as a taxpayer, voter and engaged citizen in the county, he should have standing in a case about the environment in the county.

Marisa Mecke is a Report for America corps member covering the environment for Mountain Times Publications. Report for America is a national nonprofit service program which places journalists in newsrooms to report on under covered issues.


Part 2: A Look Ahead for Watauga County in 2022

Blowing Rock

A lot of balls are potentially in the air for the upcoming year, but 2022 is likely to be more about preparation and planning than execution, said Blowing Rock town manager Shane Fox.

“We can’t really say much about 2022 until after the town council’s winter retreat, Jan. 24-26. That’s when the board of commissioners and mayor will establish their priorities for the upcoming year,” said Fox.

Fox suggested that this might prove the perfect time to discuss and plan for a number of projects, since the repair and replacement of Main Street water and sewer lines is planned for 2023.

“The council, along with staff input, must decide what Main Street will look like after it is torn up and put back together,” said Fox.

The town manager said that the recent Roger Brooks International study aimed at sustainable tourism in Blowing Rock is likely to weigh heavily in the opinions of some of the council members. Combined with other projects contemplated by the previous council, the Brooks study raised a lot of questions, as well as opportunities.

Given those and other considerations, 2022 is shaping up to be one of the most important decision-making periods for Blowing Rock’s board of commissioners and mayor.

“The Main Street water and sewer lines project is going to kickstart any number of things,” said Fox. “Most of the answers to the questions we face are impacted by Main Street. On top of that, we have a property revaluation (by Watauga County) coming for the first time in eight years.”

App State

In 2022, App State will continue efforts to increase recruitment and retention of underrepresented faculty, staff and students, which have been a priority since Everts’ first day on campus in 2014.

In fall 2021, App State welcomed its most diverse enrollment in university history, with underrepresented students composing 19.1 percent of the total first-year population and 18.2 percent of the total App State population. Students from rural populations accounted for 34.3 percent of degree- seeking undergraduate students from North Carolina, and 32 percent of the undergraduate population were first-generation college students. First-to-second-year retention rates exceed the national average. During Everts’ tenure, App State has increased its total underrepresented student population by 66 percent since 2014.

As part of the university’s ongoing comprehensive strategic diversity initiatives, multiple initiatives will continue in 2022 to support a welcoming and inclusive campus climate and increase retention of diverse students, staff and faculty. The university will continue support for and development of formalized affinity groups for populations of underrepresented faculty and staff. Widely recognized benefits of affinity groups include attracting, recruiting and retaining employees; promoting diversity, cultural awareness and an inclusive work environment; and increasing employee job satisfaction, morale and productivity.

In 2021, an Affinity Group Council was established by Interim Chief Diversity Officer Jamie

Parson to support the success of affinity groups on campus. Everts approved the creation of a Faculty and Staff of Color affinity group, which will be established in spring 2022, as well as Appalachian Advocates, a partnership between the Office of the Chief Diversity Officer and the Walker College of Business to equip, expand and make visible the network of support available to members of underrepresented groups within the College of Business, the Appalachian community and the greater Boone community.

Each month, Parson shares updates on campus diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, and in spring 2022, Parson will share recommendations from several campus working groups for ways App State can continue to enhance support for underrepresented populations on campus.

App State is finalizing plans to open the university’s second laboratory school aimed at enhancing student education, improving outcomes and providing high-quality teacher and principal training at a North Carolina public school.

The new lab school will be one of nine in the state as part of the UNC System Lab School initiative, which was established by the N.C. General Assembly in 2016 to improve student performance and provide real-world experience for the preparation of future teachers and school administrators. App State will be the only UNC System institution to operate two lab school programs.

The Appalachian State University Academy at Middle Fork opened in Walkertown in 2018 in partnership with Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools.

The state budget also included $25 million — $12.5 million in each year of the biennium — for the Peacock Hall expansion. This project will support planning for the greater district goal of opening Boone Creek and replacing surface parking with a new parking structure.

New River Hall, the fourth and final new residence hall to be constructed as part of a major three-phase housing project near Kidd Brewer Stadium, is expected to open in summer 2022.

The final component of the housing project — the demolition of Eggers and Bowie residence halls — is projected to begin in summer 2022. New River Hall, which will have 750 beds, replaces Justice Hall, which was demolished during summer/fall 2020. Demolition of Gardner and Coltrane residence halls was completed in September 2021, and this area is being developed as surface parking.

The expansion of the Child Development Center, which currently serves 68 children, is slated for completion in spring 2022. The center will be licensed for 55 additional children. The design will add five additional classrooms, a kitchen, laundry facilities and additional parking and sidewalks around the new and existing buildings.

The state budget authorized $43.15 million in funding for the university to implement repair and renovation projects including repairs and upgrades to Edwin Duncan Hall, Wey Hall, Walker Hall and other campus buildings. Additional projects include the university’s new track and field facility at the Appalachian 105 property — the former Watauga High School — which is slated for completion in May 2022.

When the university-owned electric utility New River Light and Power begins purchasing its electricity from Carolina Power Partners in January, Everts announced App State will purchase hydroelectric power to increase its renewable energy purchase portfolio from just under 2 percent to 15 percent. The contract with Carolina Power Partners will allow the university and NRLP to continue exploring additional renewable energy sources.

Although most of App State’s power comes from NRLP, Blue Ridge Energy also supplies some power to the university. Everts shared App State is working on an agreement with Blue Ridge Energy that will convert the purchased electricity for Levine Hall to 100 percent solar early next year. In June, the university will host the 11th annual Appalachian Energy Summit. Since 2012, the annual event envisioned and hosted by App State has gathered faculty, staff and students from colleges and universities, energy managers and visionaries, and government and industry leaders to share ideas and put into action ecological, financial and social processes designed to improve energy efficiency across the UNC System, the state and beyond.

To date, the summit’s efforts have resulted in UNC System institutions, together with industry partners, saving North Carolina more than $1 billion in avoided energy costs between 2002 and 2019. The system is expected to realize $2 billion in avoided costs by 2025.

Elections

North Carolina will vote for the first time in 2022 on May 17 after the March primaries got delayed due to a challenge to the new congressional maps.

In 2022, voters in North Carolina and Watauga County will vote for U.S. Senate, U.S. House in the 14th and 11th districts, NC Senate in the 47th district, NC House in the 93rd and 87th district, County Commissioners District 1, County Commissioners District 3, County Commissioners District 4, Watauga County Sheriff, Clerk of Superior Court, district court Judge (Leake Seat), district attorney, three seats on the Watauga County Board of Education and other state races. Filing for the soil and water district position will take place in July.

“We’re excited that we’ve got folks interested in serving their community,” said Watauga County Director of Elections Matt Snyder. “We’re really grateful to them for coming out and being a candidate. We are here to help them through this process and make it as easy as possible and support them through their candidacy with questions and answers as they go through all this.”

Law Enforcement

According to Chief Andy Le Beau, the top priority for the Boone Police Department is simple, get back to full strength. Staffing numbers at the BPD has been an issue for a while now, and Le Beau said the goal is to get back up to 38 officers.

Le Beau noted that the BPD has been roughly 25 percent under their targeted officer numbers. While that can be sustainable, he said that the pandemic has stressed that due to officers having a higher chance of being exposed to COVID-19.

“We’re hoping to be full within the next couple of months,” Le Beau said. “We have two positions we need to hire now. We’ve done interviews and we’re really happy with a couple of candidates so we’re moving forward with them.”

Le Beau noted that hiring for the BPD is not a quick process, noting he only wants to hire the right people, and then some hires need to go through basic law enforcement training and then BPD’s field training. In all, it can take up to a year to fill a position.

“That’s why when we get 25 percent short, we’re 25 percent short for a while,” Le Beau said. “Hopefully, we see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Also on the agenda for the BPD are some new vehicles. Le Beau said the department is committed to following the town’s sustainability goals and has already implemented some hybrid Toyota Rav4 vehicles for non-patrol work, while new Ford Explorer hybrids will be added by the end of the year.

For the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office, staffing is not as much of an issue, with only a “couple of positions” still open, according to Sheriff Len Hagaman. Like Le Beau, Hagaman said having the ASU program in their backyard has been a good resource for potential hires.

Hagaman noted the biggest hurdle the WCSO faces in 2022 will be of the emotional kind. In late April, the department will mark the one-year anniversary of the standoff that left two officers — Dep. Logan Fox and Sgt. Chris Ward — dead. Only a few weeks later, the officers’ names will be added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Hagaman said that one thing the office will continue to do is additional training for deputies. He said that there is more training that the department has wanted to do on top of required deputy training, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult to get through smoothly.

Additionally, the addition of North Carolina Senate Bills 536 and 300 — both signed by Gov. Roy Cooper in September — have added additional training for law enforcement officers such as requiring officers to intervene and report the excessive use of force, promotes early intervention mechanisms to curb officer misconduct and other acts of criminal justice reform.

“Officers have made some really tragic mistakes, but the reactions have caused good changes,” Hagaman said.

One thing that will affect all of law enforcement in the county will be the consolidation of the 911 system, which will see all 911 communications in the county funneled to one location, as opposed to being spread out. With the consolidation, Hagaman said it will make cooperation between law enforcement offices and emergency personnel easier than ever.

Environment

While nature-lovers have long enjoyed the outdoor opportunities in western North Carolina, 2022 will expand those options even further.

According to director of communications for Blue Ridge Conservancy, Leila Jackson, state funding has set aside an unprecedented amount of money for conservation, preservation, parks and more in the new year’s state budget.

$300 million were earmarked for conservation and preservation in the state budget and another $200 million was set aside for resilience and flood resilience. Jackson said three big BRC projects, the Middle Fork Greenway, the Watauga Paddle Trail and the Northern Peaks Trail all received extra funds that will expand the ways High Country residents walk, bike, hike and paddle in the mountains.

Chelsea Blount, communications director for the New River Conservancy said that the organization had received two grants from the North Carolina Land Water Fund headed into the new year. One grant will fund floodplain restoration and reconnection of Middle Fork New River in Blowing Rock. NRC is working with the Blue Ridge Conservancy, the town of Blowing Rock and other stakeholders on the project.

The second project is a wetland and tributary restoration in Green Valley Park in Todd, which will entail work like invasive plant removal and wetland enhancement.

With ever-expanding outdoor recreation opportunities, Watauga residents will be walking, biking, hiking and paddling throughout 2022.

Arts and Recreation

2022 is already bringing new opportunities to Watauga County Parks and Recreation according to Stephen Poulos, parks and rec director.

The new facility, a nearly $40 million dollar project, is making way for expanded programming including basketball for children in grades 4-7, and tennis and pickle ball for all ages.

“We’ve only scratched the surface of what this facility can offer,” Poulos said.

As the pandemic continues, Polous said he’d like to see new programming at the center that addresses health and wellness in the community. He would also like to see community members utilizing the rec center’s online resources, which list detailed information about hours of operation fees for special programming, and the in-person resources, which include — for visitors’ convenience, he said — heated outdoor restrooms.

More information about the center can be found at www.wataugacounty.org/app_pages/dept/parksrec/home.aspx.


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