The NC Press Association and the NC Association of Broadcasters have filed a “friend of the court” brief with the NC Supreme Court in support of the city of Winston-Salem’s petition for a review of a decision by the NC Court of Appeals last month that reversed a decision by Superior Court Judge Richard Stone to release statements made by a number of current and former Winston-Salem police officers to the Silk Plant Forest Citizens Review Committee.
The NCPA and NCAB both cite “serious concerns” about the Court of Appeals’ interpretation of state statute regarding the release of personnel files of government employees. They argue the court’s interpretation of the statute “constitutes legal error” and that access to personnel files of government employees under state law is a matter of significant public interest. The brief characterizes the court’s decision as a threat to the First Amendment that undermines the public’s right to access information that has been ordered released by a court of “competent jurisdiction.”
The Silk Plant Forest Citizens Committee interviewed current and former Winston-Salem police officers involved in the criminal investigation of the 1995 Jill Marker-Silk Plant Forest assault case. Kalvin Michael Smith was convicted by a Forsyth County jury of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill and armed robbery. He has steadfastly proclaimed his innocence.
The citizens committee concluded in its 2009 report that there was no credible evidence to link Smith to the crime. The committee also stated it did not have confidence in the Winston-Salem Police Department’s investigation or the result of the investigation and that investigators failed to follow proper procedures.