Durham candidates grilled on arrests

Eight seeking election to the City Council have been convicted of criminal charges.

Staff WriterSeptember 28, 2005 

Of the 17 candidates on the primary ballot for mayor and City Council in Durham, at least eight have been convicted of criminal charges.

The chairman of the Durham County Republican Party moved on Tuesday to withdraw GOP support from mayoral candidate Vincent Brown, whose extensive criminal record was the subject of an article in Sunday's editions of The News & Observer.

The story recounted Brown's felony convictions for forgery and larceny, as well as a stretch served in state prison. Brown vehemently denied that he has ever been arrested.

"Based upon my conversation with Mr. Brown, the research of The News & Observer, my own independent investigation and discussion with others, I am going to ask the Durham County Republican Party Executive Committee not endorse Vince Brown's candidacy," GOP Chairman Steve Monks said in a written statement. "Furthermore, Mr. Brown will not be welcome to attend the upcoming political events of the Republican Party."

Durham's city elections are technically nonpartisan, but the major political parties often weigh in with organizational support and fund-raising assistance.

Brown was a no-show at a meet-the-candidate forum sponsored by the local Democratic Party on Tuesday. A sign with his name on it sat before the only empty chair on the stage.

In light of Brown's rap sheet, every candidate in attendance was asked before a crowd of about 75 people if they had ever been arrested on a criminal charge or had been to jail.

Shawn R. Cunningham, a candidate for the council in Ward 3, said only that he had been charged with speeding.

Criminal records from Guilford County show Cunningham was arrested on a felony count of embezzlement in 1996 and a misdemeanor count of carrying a concealed weapon in 1992.

The records show he pleaded guilty to both, with the felony embezzlement charge being lowered to a misdemeanor count as part of a deal with prosecutors. Cunningham, whose resume says he has worked for banks and mortgage companies, also has been charged with at least 15 misdemeanor counts of writing worthless checks over an eight-year span.

Asked about the charges after the forum, Cunningham said the weapons charge resulted from an incident involving his service pistol while he was serving in the Marine Corps. He said the felony embezzlement charge resulted from his stealing a book from Borders while he was working as an employee of the store.

When it was his turn to answer Tuesday, Ward 1 council candidate Joe Williams said: "I don't have any skeletons in my closet."

Records show Williams was convicted in a 1986 trial for a single misdemeanor count of assault on a female. He was ordered by a judge to "pay for damages to teeth" in an amount to be determined by the clerk of court. When asked about the charge after the event, Williams said it resulted from an altercation with his sister.

"Everybody has fights with their sister," said Williams, who was 44 when he was convicted.

An hour in jail

John Holmes, a candidate for the council in Ward 2, told the crowd that he had been arrested once for driving with a revoked license, spending about an hour in jail before his wife bailed him out. A preacher who ministers to low-income youth, Holmes said the warrant for his arrest had been issued after he failed to show up for court to answer for a traffic violation.

Court records show Holmes has been charged for driving with a revoked license nine times since 1992, most recently last year. He pleaded guilty to those charges on four occasions. Holmes could not be reached Tuesday night to answer about the discrepancy.

Victoria Peterson, a candidate in Ward 1, said she had been arrested for trespassing while protesting at abortion clinics. Records show five second-degree trespassing charges filed against Peterson in North Carolina between 1989 and 2001. She pleaded not guilty on three of the counts, but the records indicate she was found guilty at trial.

"That's my badge of honor for standing up for the unborn," Brown said in an interview Tuesday. "As far as I know, those cases are still on appeal."

Ward 3 candidate Steven Matherly recounted his recent acquittal on disorderly conduct and trespassing charges from his actions at a Durham school board meeting.

However, Matherly did not mention five charges for writing worthless checks between 1990 and 1995, or a 1993 charge for driving with a revoked license. Records show Matherly pleaded guilty to two of the misdemeanor check charges, as well as the license charge.

Asked about the charges, Matherly said: "They are what they are, and that is all I have to say."

Legal trouble

The legal troubles of council member John Best and mayoral candidate Jackie Wagstaff have been extensively reported in the past.

Best was sent to jail for two days by a judge earlier this year for his failure to pay child support and alimony. According to the Durham County clerk of court, Best now owes his ex-wife $18,546. The council member has repeatedly said that the outstanding balance is alimony and that he has always paid his child support. But according to the clerk's office, $1,707 in child support is owed.

Best also pleaded guilty to driving while impaired in 1998. Best said Tuesday that the conviction resulted from a "mistake in judgment" that had not affected his performance on the council over the past four years.

In 2002, Wagstaff was charged with two felony counts of obtaining property by false pretense for doctoring city check requests from North East Central Durham Reinvestment Inc., a city-financed social services organization she ran. She later pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts in a deal with prosecutors.

(Staff writer Benjamin Niolet and news researcher Brooke Cain contributed to this report.)

Staff writer Michael Biesecker can be reached at 956-2421 or mbieseck@newsobserver.com.

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service