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A win for civil rights; Hatgate resolved

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Justice for Brandy Creek: The UNC Center for Civil Rights, attorney Bettina Roberts-Flood and 19 residents of the Brandy Creek neighborhood in Halifax County scored a major legal victory last month. The Halifax Board of Commissioners approved a settlement with Brandy Creek, an African-American neighborhood situated in the shadow of the failed $21.5 million Roanoke Rapids Theatre.

Because of the planned development of the nearby theater and the Carolina Crossroads Entertainment Center, which also failed, Brandy Creek land values—and property taxes—skyrocketed an average of 800 percent, with the highest being 1,400 percent. Meanwhile, the rest of Halifax County valuations increased only 20 percent.

According to the UNC Center for Civil Rights, the tax increase hurt residents already living on the economic margins. "Those who had retired went back to work, paychecks and bank accounts were garnished by the county, and several had to take out high interest rate loans to pay the tax bills to avoid losing their homes," the center stated in a press release.

As the INDY's Bob Geary reported in September 2012, Brandy Creek residents sued Halifax County, asking to be refunded $60,000 they paid in property taxes because of the inflated land assessments. They settled for $42,000.

As if the property tax hike weren't enough, in 2005, Roanoke Rapids annexed the Brandy Creek area without a public hearing or notice. The town did so by appealing to the General Assembly, which passed a law permitting the annexation.

Shortly after the annexation, the INDY reported, a real estate development company, Rock River Falls LLC, paid $2.87 million for 32 lots in Brandy Creek. The previous landowners had leased the lots to tenants who lived on them in manufactured homes. Soon, those tenants and their homes were gone. Today, the lots remain vacant.—Lisa Sorg

The punishment did not fit the crime: In late December, the North Carolina Court of Appeals issued an opinion siding with a fired Highway Patrol trooper who, after losing his hat, gave a misleading story to his superiors about how he lost it.

The INDY reported on the hat flap in the Oct. 23 edition, following oral arguments at the Court of Appeals.

During a traffic stop on a gusty evening in 2009, Trooper Thomas Wetherington lost his department-issued hat. Although he couldn't remember how he lost it, he later told his superiors that a gust of wind had lifted it off his head and that an 18-wheeler rolling down the highway had crushed it. The hat was discovered nearly a month later fully intact, and Wetherington was fired for violating the Highway Patrol's truthfulness policy.

The judges' unanimous opinion, filed Dec. 17, claimed that Wetherington's punishment (termination) did not fit his offense (fibbing). The court cited a previous case noting that, "Just cause, like justice itself, is not susceptible of precise definition. It is a flexible concept, embodying the notions of equity and fairness that can only be determined upon an examination of the facts and circumstances of each individual case."

The state attorney general's office can decide whether to appeal the case to the state Supreme Court. Wetherington reportedly wants to rejoin the Highway Patrol.—John Tucker

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