Sheriff: Reason for rise in murders hard to pinpoint

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 27, 2018

SALISBURY — Murders in Rowan County increased in 2018 over the previous year, but Sheriff Kevin Auten said it’s hard to pinpoint the reason. He said of the six murders in 2018, most involved either drugs or domestic incidents.

The Rowan County Sheriff’s Office investigated six murders this year, one of which was a murder-suicide. Detectives investigated one murder in 2017. In each of the murders, an arrest has been made or the case was resolved.

Meanwhile, other cases involving deaths in previous years were resolved in 2018. One of those was the Erica Parsons case. Her adoptive parents, Sandy and Casey Parsons, remain in the county jail awaiting trial.

Lt. Chad Moose said nothing has changed in the way detectives investigate murders. There are simply more murders in some years than others, he said.

In most of the murders, Moose said, there is a definitive motive, and, in most cases, the murders are committed by people who know the victims.

There have been exceptions, including the June 24 murder of Mariah Turner, who was shot at her mother’s North Long Street home. The 25-year-old was shot while trying to close the door during a home invasion.

Investigators said there appears to be no connection between Turner and the suspect, Witt Darnell Alexander Jr.

On Aug. 29, Brandon Hodges was believed to be impaired when he bludgeoned 67-year-old Wanda Upright Kennedy to death in her Kannapolis home and beat her grandson with a baseball bat. Kennedy had no connection to Hodges other than that he lived a few yards from her home in the same neighborhood.

When a murder in Rowan County occurs, regardless of whether it’s a domestic incident or a drug deal that turns violent, Moose said all detectives report to the scene. As the case continues, it’s assigned to a detective who acts as lead investigator.

“If it’s a murder, it’s all hands on deck,” Moose said.

The core group of investigators with the Sheriff’s Office have been with the agency for 13 years or more.

Moose said each year, the department has been able to add more resources that help investigators. This year, it was a fingerprint machine. Before acquiring the new equipment, the agency could input fingerprints from crime scenes but could only compare fingerprints against its own database. All other fingerprints had to be sent to a state lab to obtain comparisons beyond Rowan County.

Alternatively, investigators compared fingerprints by hand.

The Salisbury Police Department has given the Sheriff’s Office access to its fingerprint system, which gives the agency a much wider index, with 21,000 fingerprints on record.

Moose said the Sheriff’s Office has already received two “hits” from identifiable fingerprints using shared information.

Rowan detectives also investigated the following homicides in 2018:

• Gregory Yarborough, 21, who was killed Feb. 9 at a home on Gheen Road.

A woman called 911 and said a man had been shot and hung up the phone. A deputy in the area found Yarborough had been shot multiple times. The deputy performed CPR, and EMS was called, but Yarborough died at the scene. Taedrin DaShawn Sanders, 22, remains in the jail under a half-million-dollar bond awaiting trial for murder.

• Melanie Anita Clark, 62, was shot and killed March 26 at her Dulin Avenue home, authorities said, by her grandson, 25-year-old Joshua Dimitri Clark.

Joshua Clark was arrested at a drug house in Rockwell less than 24 hours after Melanie Clark’s body was discovered. He shot his grandmother, stole her purse and went with two acquaintances to a couple of ATMs to use her debit cards, authorities said. Clark remains in the Rowan County jail without bond.

• April Parker Anglin, 43, was shot multiple times July 24 by her husband, Raymond “Ray” Anglin, inside the Jackson Road home they shared. Authorities said Ray Anglin then turned the gun on himself.

• Tyjuan “TJ” Gibson, 19, was shot at a Spencer home on Thanksgiving Day where officials said people were gathered.

Gibson was dropped off at the emergency room. There were several people at the home and several firearms present. A gun being handled by 17-year-old Talib Latrell Kelly discharged, and Gibson was hit.

Kelly was charged with felony involuntary manslaughter.

Another man, Joseph Daquan Scott, 20, was charged with making a false police report. He reported his vehicle, which was used to take Gibson to the hospital, as stolen. The vehicle was found abandoned near one of his relative’s home, and the gun used had been ditched in the woods near the home where the shooting occurred.

Salisbury Police Department

The Salisbury Police Department solved all homicides it investigated in 2018. That’s a result of partnerships with federal law enforcement and state and local authorities, including the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office, says Police Chief Jerry Stokes.

This year, Salisbury police investigated six homicides, while in 2017 it investigated 10.

Stokes said through Project Safe Neighborhoods, which is funded by the county and city, the Police Department, Rowan County Sheriff’s Office and other law enforcement agencies have made some impactful arrests. That program is coming to the end of its first full year of being reinvigorated.

A task force that includes the Police Department and Sheriff’s Office has played a part in targeting the right people, Stokes said.

“Our partnership with FBI and the safe-streets initiatives, the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office Crime Reduction Unit (CRU) and other deputies, SPD officers, and a number of state agencies participated in those enforcement focused efforts throughout the year,” Stokes said. “All those enforcement-related efforts have served us by reducing violence in the community.”

He said the department has also worked hard to build the relationship with Rowan County District Attorney Brandy Cook, and his officers bring her office into the mix early on in cases.

“Our partners, SBI and Rowan County Sheriff’s Office, have been a significant asset to our efforts in times when we were stretched thin and without their assistance, we would not be where we are today,” he said.

He added that the Police Department is seeing greater cooperation from victims in nonfatal shootings and more important, from witnesses.

“I’ve mentioned customer satisfaction suffered for SPD because we couldn’t solve violent crimes in past years as efficiently. People didn’t see any benefit from cooperating, therefore, they were less likely to do so. Through some hard work by SPD detectives, assisted by SBI and many times RCSO, we made some strong headway on cases, increasing our clearances,” he said.

Stokes said he also feels the department’s community outreach has boosted that satisfaction as well. And it’s not just foot patrols but all of the department’s efforts in that area.

Since the department has nearly recovered from staffing shortages, it’s been able to put many more problem-oriented policing tactics into play, and those tactics are aimed at reducing crime by fixing what’s at the root of neighborhood issues that generate the criminal activity, Stokes said.

The department will roll out two internal working groups, with officers assigned from all aspects of the department — from patrol to detectives and command staff — who will focus on identifying problems and finding solutions.

A U.S. Department of Justice assessment the Police Department received this year indicated it needs to communicate better.

“This is an internal step we are taking that we hope, once we’ve got that working well, to expand to include our partners like the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office and SBI who can help our efforts in the city,” Stokes said.

This year, the Salisbury Police Department was able to increase staffing in its Criminal Investigations Unit by filling vacant spots and adding positions. It has restructured to allow detectives to focus work and training on specific cases. There are a number of detectives whose primary focus is property crimes or violent crimes.

“We are still building, but our crime scene capabilities are increasing and in early steps of specialized equipment and training acquisition. We now have two detectives assigned to that function. All that has helped with making cases and arrests,” Stokes said.

Salisbury Police Department detectives investigated the following homicides in 2018:

• Eugene Milton Chunn, 75, was found beaten to death in his East Franklin Street home on April 19.

Authorities say his son Juan Chunn, who was found in September in Georgia, is responsible for the death. Family members had said the elder Chunn lived alone, but his son had been staying with him for a number of weeks. Chunn’s death marked Salisbury’s first murder of 2018.

• James Christopher Davis, 45, was shot April 21 while working at Fishzilla Arcade. Police charged Dedric Michelle Mason with second-degree murder.

Davis’ family said he died as a result of an altercation that occurred inside the business, and he tried to defend himself. He died from a gunshot wound to the chest.

• Quavist Diwaun Phillips, 20, was shot May 1 inside a vehicle at the corner of Ackert Avenue and Tillman Street by a woman identified as his cousin, Doreen Tamara Richardson.

A family member who was in a Rowan County courtroom during Richardson’s first-appearance hearing said the shooting was an accident and the result of a dispute among family members. Police did not confirm a motive.

• No motive was ever given for the shooting death of Michael Duren Faulk, 44, who was shot at a home on North Shaver Street on May 28.

Police arrested Tracy Maurice Pruitt in July. Faulk’s body was found lying in the driveway about two blocks from where he lived. Faulk died of multiple gunshot wounds and was shot while riding his bicycle.

• Police said Sabrina Annette Pinkston Curzi, 40, and her boyfriend, Darryl Allen Wright, 34, were shot while at Town Creek Park on Aug. 3.

The two had gone to the park after Curzi’s son, a known gang member, was beaten and robbed. Willie Earl Williams was arrested in September in Pitt County and faces two counts of murder. Two others are charged with common law robbery in connection with the shooting.

Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.