Cooper ignores Smith backers

Cooper ignores Smith backers
March 10
00:00 2016
Submitted photo
Leaders of the Concerned Students for Kalvin Michael Smith show a banner outside Attorney General Roy Cooper’s office at the Department of Justice in Raleigh on Monday, March 7. In the photo (L-R) are Jaylon Herbin of Winston Salem State University, Virginia Parnell of Salem College and Hayden Abene of Wake Forest University.



Student organizers from Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem State University and Salem College went to the offices of N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper on Monday to deliver a letter and a banner, imploring Cooper to help free Kalvin Michael Smith.

Smith is a 44-year-old black man many say was falsely tried and convicted of the Dec. 1995 brutal beating of the manager at the Silk Plant Forest store. Smith was nowhere near the store at the time of the crime, his supporters and subsequent reviews have shown, and police, who did have a white male suspect, inexplicably arrested and charged Smith. He has served 19 of a 29-year sentence. On Monday, student organizers unveiled a long banner in front of the N.C. Department of Justice that had the signatures of over 200 students from all three schools, several from the Winston-Salem community, plus the signature of Alicia Garza, a founder of the Black Lives Matter movement.

A letter accompanied the banner, asking Attorney General Cooper to join with Kalvin Smith’s defense team in asking the court to vacate his previous conviction and petition for a new trial. The demonstrators also want Attorney General Cooper to personally meet with former FBI Assistant Director Chris Swecker, who looked into the case at the request of the Silk Plant Forest Committee, and wrote in his report that it was one of the “sloppiest” police investigations he’d ever seen in his experience.

Swecker told The Chronicle exclusively a few weeks ago that a member of Cooper’s staff did briefly speak with him by phone about his report after it was released in 2012, but beyond that, no face-to-face meetings were had.

“The report’s so detailed, and it speaks for itself that … if [the Attorney General’s Office] read the report they should have read the report and dissected it …  I still find it hard to believe that it wasn’t compelling enough for them to exercise their discretion that they have on appeal,” the former FBI director told The Chronicle. “So I don’t buy that idea that they don’t have any discretion whatsoever on deciding whether to appeal or not to appeal, or oppose an appeal for example,” Swecker said.

On Monday, the student organizers took both their banner and a letter with them into the N.C. Dept. of Justice building in an effort to meet with Attorney General Cooper. According to the students, they were refused entry by the security guard, and despite numerous phone calls to the office, were refused having the attorney general’s personal assistant to come out and retrieve the banner, letter and other materials.

“Ultimately, we left the banner, the letter, and the other documents with the security officer at the front desk, but had no visual confirmation that the materials made it to Mr. Cooper’s office,” a subsequent press statement by the student organizers said.

In the past, the Attorney General’s Office has said it “understands the community’s concerns and we want to work with them on systematic issues in the criminal justice system. But at this point in the legal process, only a court of law can overturn Kalvin Smith’s conviction and release him from prison,” later adding, “… our office has a duty to represent the state in this particular matter.”

But the Free Kalvin Smith student organizers see it differently.

“The refusal of Attorney General Cooper’s office to take just 60 seconds to meet with us and receive a banner signed by over 200 students demonstrates Mr. Cooper’s utter disregard for the concerns of students and North Carolina citizens,” the group said in a press release.

“Though Mr. Cooper’s office demonstrated cowardice and irresponsibility by refusing to listen to the concerns of hundreds of North Carolinian students, we hope Mr. Cooper will have the courage to publicly respond to his previous inaction, which has upheld Kalvin’s wrongful conviction, and will ultimately join the Defense in petitioning the Superior Court to vacate the conviction.”

The statement goes on to say that the injustice Smith is facing directly exhibits how Cooper has continued to ignore the issues facing the African-American community which has largely remained supportive in the past.

Last month Winston-Salem State junior Jaylon Herbin told The Chronicle that he and other students

shave been studying evidence in the case for months. Herbin said as an African-American male, the evidence in the case is terrifying.

“It’s hard to believe that Attorney General Cooper can look at this evidence and not even think about doing the right thing,” Herbie said.

Wake Forest student Corrine Sugino noted that what has happened to Smith could very well hap-pen to anyone. She also said the students will continue to do everything in their power to ensure justice is served and that Cooper, who is running for governor, does the right thing.

“We have an innocent black man sitting in jail and somehow Cooper mysteriously doesn’t have the power to do anything,” said Sugino. “We will not stop until Kalvin is free.” Other local organizations and community groups have joined the fight to free Smith as well. The president of the Ministers’ Conference of Winston-Salem and Vicinity, Bishop Todd Fulton said he stands in solidarity with those standing solid for justice.

Darryl Hunt, who served 19 years in prison for a murder he did not commit, said he was delighted to see the students fight for what’s right.

“Kalvin gets his strength from you,” he said. “We must continue this fight against racial bias and injustice.”

Chronicle staff writer Tevin Stinson contributed to this report.

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