Friday, April 15, 2011

Break-in suspect tries to move forward after dropped charges

On Thursday, the Observer told the story of Caleb Allen, the 25-year-old police initially charged in a string of south Charlotte “Bonnie and Clyde” break-ins earlier this year.

Police had warned residents of a man-woman duo who drove a red Jeep Cherokee and were responsible for several midday burglaries in upscale homes. Believing Allen (pictured at right) could be the male half of the team, police arrested him in February.

The arrest prompted Allen’s mother, who was convinced of her son’s innocence, to begin her own investigation. She tracked down what she believed to be the infamous red Jeep and even chased it down Interstate 485 as she called police.

The charges against Allen were later dropped, but so were those against two others charged in the case – Anna Lee Hoard, 34, and Justin Ryan Aldrich, 33 – because of problems in the investigation.

The saga of Allen’s arrest, his mother’s quest to clear her son’s name and the complexities of the case were also extensively covered by South Charlotte Weekly.

Hoard and Aldrich were arrested after Concord police caught them in a break-in last month. They posted bond and were released from Cabarrus County jail, but were arrested again this week – this time in Forest Acres, S.C., outside Columbia.

Police there said a man returning home for lunch saw a red Jeep Cherokee in his driveway and then saw the couple speed off.

Readers who commented on Thursday's story online had varying opinions about the case. Some expressed concern about the police’s investigation while others noted Allen’s criminal record. He’s a recovering heroin addict and convicted felon facing multiple drug-related charges.

“He’s no choir boy,” wrote one reader.

Another said people who use drugs will “pay a price for even the association with this practice.”

By the time Allen was jailed following his February arrest, he had been clean for about seven months, he told the Observer.

But his ongoing road to recovery has been a difficult one – one that’s been helped by his Christian faith, he said. Someday, he hopes to join the ministry and help other addicts.

Check out the Observer on Sunday for a follow-up by columnist Peter St. Onge on Allen’s personal struggle to kick the habit and move forward from this recent ordeal.

Today, Hoard and Aldrich are still being held in a S.C. detention center. Aldrich is being detained on a $75,000 bond for a burglary charge. He’s also facing a Horry County, S.C. charge of receiving stolen property, according to the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center.

Hoard is also being held on bond of nearly $76,000 bond for burglary and possession of marijuana charges. Authorities also charged her with driving without a license.

--Meghan Cooke

Anna Lee Hoard, 34, and Justin Ryan Aldrich, 33. Photos courtesy of the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center

Thursday, April 14, 2011

South most violent region in nation?

South Carolina was named the ninth most violent state and North Carolina ranks 19th, according to the 2011 U.S. Peace Index that measures states by level of peacefulness -- or “the absence of violence.”

The South is the least peaceful region in the United States, based on the study conducted by the Institute for Economics and Peace.

Louisiana was ranked as the least peaceful state and Maine ranked as the most peaceful state. The Northeast was found to be the most peaceful region in the U.S., followed by the Midwest and then the West region.

Nine of the ten most violent states are from the South. Only two states in the South are ranked in the top 20 most peaceful states: West Virginia and Kentucky.

When determining rankings, the U.S. Peace Index takes into account the number of homicides, violent crimes, jailed population, police officers, and availability of small arms.

Started in 1991, the peace index seeks to further the understanding of what makes a peaceful community and help quantify the economic benefits that could result from an increase in peace. The authors estimate that if the U.S. had the same levels of peacefulness as Canada then state and federal governments could save $89 billion in expenditures and generate $272 billion in additional economic activity, and create over 2.7 million additional jobs.

The authors estimate North Carolina could save $6.2 billion and South Carolina could save $4.3 if violence were reduced by 50 percent.

Here are 2011 rankings. The least peaceful states are ranked first.

1. Louisiana
2. Tennessee
3. Nevada
4. Florida
5. Alabama
6. Texas
7. Arkansas
8. Oklahoma
9. South Carolina
10. Maryland
11. Missouri
12. Georgia
13. New Mexico
14. Arizona
15. Delaware
16. Illinois
17. Mississippi
18. California
19. North Carolina
20. Michigan
21. Alaska
22. New York
23. Colorado
24. Kansas
25. New Jersey
26. Virginia
27. Indiana
28. Wyoming
29. Ohio
30. Pennsylvania
31. Kentucky
32. Wisconsin
33. West Virginia
34. Montana
35. Idaho
36. Connecticut
37. South Dakota
38. Oregon
39. Hawaii
40. Nebraska
41. Washington
42. Iowa
43. Rhode Island
44. Massachusetts
45. Utah
46. North Dakota
47. Minnesota
48. Vermont
49. New Hampshire
50. Maine

Note: Washington D.C. is excluded from the ranking list.

Photo: Aerial photo of Columbia, S.C.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

I got Tased

I'm glad to see towns around Charlotte debating the use of Tasers.

The stun guns are powerful weapons that can help police stop a bad guy without resorting to gunshots. But they also deliver an extremely painful, paralyzing shock – and should be used only in the most critical circumstances.

I know this first-hand, because I got Tased.

It was 2006. I hadn't committed a crime or otherwise provoked a police officer. I actually volunteered to "ride the lightning," as some officers call the Taser shock.

I was 24 and a new reporter covering Gaston County Police. The department's policy required that any officer selected to carry a Taser had to get zapped - so the officer would fully appreciate the pain and paralysis caused by the shock. So I figured a good reporter who planned to write about Tasers ought to know the pain too.

The video from that day gets great laughs in the newsroom: There I am, 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds, standing between two beefy Gaston County police officers. Electrodes are attached to my foot and shoulder. An officer pulls the Taser trigger, and instantly, I stiffen and go down.

It lasted five seconds, they told me. I lost count after three. It's still the worst pain I've ever felt. Electricity hummed in my ears and my muscles contracted as my body conducted 50,000 volts.

I got up off the padded floor with an embarrassed smile - and a scorch mark on my right shoulder. It's a scar now, and I'm pretty sure will never go away.

I have since written dozens of stories about Tasers. They're widely used in Charlotte and the region, although the town of Stallings recently abandoned its use of Tasers to avoid possible liability issues.

A 2008 study by the advocacy group N.C. Taser Safety Project found improper Taser use contributed to 11 deaths in North Carolina in the prior four years. The biggest complaint I've heard at crime scenes is that officers are too quick to use the devices instead of employing other methods to de-escalate a situation.

CMPD shocked suspects 120 times in 2008, including a teen who died from cardiac arrest after he was shot with a Taser during a dispute in a grocery store. The officer was disciplined for shocking the suspect for too long (37 seconds) and the city paid the teen's family a $625,000 settlement. CMPD officers were given additional training in proper Taser use.

The next year, Taser use fell significantly. CMPD used the device 80 times in 2009. Some departments have reclassified Tasers as less lethal, instead of nonlethal. Others have clarified their policies after the U.S. Department of Justice urged agencies not to use Tasers, if possible, on small children, the elderly, people with heart disease or pregnant women.

It's good to see Taser policies evolve as we learn more about this effective - and very painful - weapon. --Cleve R. Wootson Jr.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

NC ranks 11th in meth production nationwide

See how North Carolina compares with other states.

North Carolina investigators took down 235 meth labs last year, the 11th highest in the country. The state numbers reflect an increase in production seen across the country. After several years of decline, meth lab busts rose from 6,095 in 2007 to 10,247 last year.

The top 10 last year:

1. Missouri
2. Tennessee
3. Kentucky
4. Mississippi
5. Michigan
6. Alabama
7. Ohio
8. Arkansas
9. Illinois
10. Florida

We reported on Sunday that the production of methamphetamine in North Carolina appears on record pace, with nearly half of the meth labs discovered in primarily rural communities near Charlotte. One alarming impact, experts say, is that more children are being exposed to dangerous chemicals as their parents find easier ways to mix ingredients to make the highly addictive drug.
North Carolina had 157 busts in 2007 and 235 last year. And South Carolina's 26 lab busts in 2007 jumped to 124 last year.

Check out the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration graphs to see how the Carolinas rank compared to the rest of the country since 2007.

Visit the DEA website for more statistics.

-- Franco OrdoƱez