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Sunshine Week: Half of Wake County’s recent legal settlements involve sheriff’s office

The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun, along with several other North Carolina news organizations, participated in a project exploring how government agencies handle various public records requests for Sunshine Week, a celebration of transparent and open government led by the N.C. Open Government Coalition. This year’s project involved requesting settlement agreements with third parties by government entities from Jan. 1, 2014 to Dec. 31, 2018.

In Raleigh, requests for settlements from the City of Raleigh and Wake County were sent on Jan. 15. The county responded by March 6, with documents from the county attorney’s office. After a follow-up email from The News & Observer, the city responded on March 5, apologizing for the delay and stating it would provide the information shortly. A portion of the documents were sent on March 8, and this story will be updated once all the city’s settlements have been received.

Between 2014 and 2018, Wake County entered into nine financial settlements, ranging from $1,310 to $250,000. Of those, five involved the Wake County Sheriff’s Office. The total payout was more than $560,000.

The largest settlement — $250,000 — was to the estate of Ralph Madison Stockton IV in April 2016.

The 19-year-old died in his sleep at the Wake County Detention Center from an overdose, The News & Observer reported. A Wake County sheriff’s deputy had pulled Stockton over and searched his trunk. He swallowed a “stash of pills” so they wouldn’t be discovered, The News & Observer reported.

Inmates suspected of being impaired are supposed to be checked on four times per hour. State health officials determined Stockton had not been monitored at the minimum standards, The News & Observer reported.

Wake County is self-funded up to $1 million and has insurance for cases that exceed that amount, Wake County Communications Director Dara Demi said. Most of the settlements during the five-year time span would fall in that category.

Here are the remaining county settlements, with the amounts paid in descending order:

$150,000 to the estate of Shon D. McClain, which claimed McClain “suffered damages and died” from an incident at the Wake County Detention Center and there was a “breach of legal duty” by the Wake County Sheriff’s Office. In 2013, The News & Observer reported a detention officer pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter for the beating death of McClain. Settled July 2016.

$80,000 to Mark Fogel, who claims he suffered damage from an incident at the Wake County Detention Center and those damages came from a “breach of a legal duty” from the Wake County Sheriff’s Office. Settled May 2016.

$50,000 to the estate of Adam Wade Carter, which claimed Carter died “from the breach of a legal duty” by members of the Wake County Sheriff’s Office. In 2012, WRAL reported that Carter was shot and killed by Wake County sheriff’s deputies. Carter was reportedly holding a knife and authorities were called because he was trying to kill himself. Settled January 2017.

$20,000 to the estate of Eddie Urieta-Yanez. The 19-year-old was pulled over by a Wake County sheriff’s deputy on Interstate 40 and ticketed forspeeding and underage consumption of alcohol, WRAL reported. He pulled off the ramp and called his cousin to come and pick him up. His vehicle wasn’t reportedly out of the lane and he was struck and killed by a box truck, according to WRAL. Settled on August 2017.

$11,000 to Steven Snelling, who claimed Wake County discriminated against him. He is a former employee. Settled February 2017.

$2,500 to Ana Cabanas, who claimed Wake County terminated her rental housing assistance voucher with a letter in English, failed to provide a Spanish interpreter during a housing hearing and discriminated against her. Cabanas received an interpreter in future meetings. Wake County also agreed to update its policies to include “local legal aid” that can be used by residents during hearings. Settled in June 2017.

$1,310 to Montecito, who claimed Wake County owed it back rent. Settled December 2015.

One settlement involved no money. Voter Integrity Project claimed that Wake County failed to maintain accurate voter rolls. Wake County will provide “inactive” voter rolls to VIP and increase the number of times Wake County compares its information to the state database, The News & Observer reported. There was no financial settlement. Settled June 2017.

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Anna Johnson covers Raleigh and Wake County for the News & Observer. She has previously covered city government, crime and business for newspapers across North Carolina and received many North Carolina Press Association awards, including first place for investigative reporting. She is a 2012 alumna of Elon University.
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