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County nixes major contract for project

GUILFORD COUNTY — Leaders of Guilford County have canceled a contract with Samet Corp. to demolish the old jail in downtown Greensboro and build a new law enforcement center on the site because of what Samet says is a dispute over minority- and women-owned business participation, though county officials are being cryptic about the reasons.

Late Thursday night, the Guilford County Board of Commissioners announced that the board voted to terminate the contract with Samet for the project, which is underway and was budgeted by the county for $23.9 million. The action was announced at the end of the commissioners’ regularly scheduled meeting.

In its two-paragraph statement, the county cites a pair of provisions in the lengthy contract. The provisions give the county and Samet each the authority to terminate the agreement if the two parties fail to reach an agreement on a guaranteed maximum price.

Guilford County Board of Commissioners Chairman Skip Alston told The High Point Enterprise on Friday that he wouldn’t elaborate.

Samet was in the midst of demolition of the old county jail to make way for the new law enforcement center when the work was paused last month.

Samet provided a statement to The Enterprise on Friday saying the termination of the contract stems from a dispute over the level of minority- and women-owned business participation, though Samet defended the levels of participation among subcontractors.

“Samet has a longstanding and deep commitment to Guilford County and to equity, inclusion and diversity on its construction work for the county,” the company said.

Samet said that Guilford County officials acted improperly by instructing Samet to identify and hire additional Black-owned subcontractors outside of the bid process after the subcontractor bid process was completed in compliance with all laws and county policies.

Samet says it achieved over 40% minority- and women-owned business enterprise participation for the project. Of the total participation, 15.9% was from Black-owned enterprises, which exceeded participation by any other minority group, Samet said.

“As a result, we are deeply disappointed the county unreasonably terminated our contract,” the company says.

Samet said that it fired a company employee for making inappropriate remarks about the situation. Samet said that the employee expressed frustration with the request and openly questioned the validity of the county’s directive.

“The tenor of the employee’s remarks were inconsistent with Samet’s values and commitments,” the company said.

The dispute with Samet takes place as the commissioners are adopting policies for minority- and women-owned enterprises doing business with the county. Earlier this year a consultant completed a disparity study showing that minority- and woman-owned enterprises don’t receive county contracts at a level proportionate to their presence in the area’s business community.

Before the termination of the Samet contract Thursday, the board adopted policies and recommendations from the disparity study authorizing the county manager to implement the study’s recommendations.

In its statement about the termination of the contract, the county said it will conduct a competitive bid process for the remaining phases of the new law enforcement center project.

Samet said that one consequence of the terminated contract is that subcontractors, including minority- and women-owned businesses, have lost cash flow because of the delay in the project.

“Furthermore, every trade-package bid is now public record, making it extremely difficult for those subcontractors that were determined the lowest responsible bidder for their respective bid package to rebid and win under a new general contractor or construction manager,” Samet said.

Trailblazing officer set to retire

HIGH POINT — Maj. Petula Sellars has prided herself on a career with the High Point Police Department in which she feels she has made a positive difference in people’s lives and blazed trails in law enforcement.

After 21 years with the department, rising to become the first Black female assistant chief in the department’s history, she’s ready to pass the mantle so that someone else can have the opportunity to lead.

Sellars recently announced that she will retire. Her last day on the job will be June 1.

At 54, Sellars plans to tackle a new but still-undetermined career after taking some time off. She’s not tired of the job but believes she should make way for another officer with a fresh perspective on keeping the community safe.

“I like to say everyone has a shelf life,” Sellars said last week in her office decorated with mementoes and honors received during her career.

Sellars serves as a major over the community engagement division, meaning that she has become a familiar face for the department with the public. Her outreach ranges from representing the police at community events such as the annual National Night Out to dancing last weekend as a contestant in the Dancing with the High Point Stars fundraiser.

Sellars took on the community engagement role two years ago following a restructuring of the department and quickly made it into an integral part of policing, Chief Travis Stroud said.

“This was a difficult task not only because it was something new, but also because it was being done during a very tumultuous climate for law enforcement,” Stroud said. “Her efforts, along with many others, have helped make this a solid pillar in our HPPD operational model.”

Sellars actually grew up with no interest in a law enforcement career, but her perspective changed because of a tragedy that engulfed her family.

More than 25 years ago, one of her cousins was driving along Interstate 40-85 near the Orange-Durham County line when someone threw a large stone from a bridge and it smashed into her cousin’s car, leading to a crash that cost her life.

At the time Sellars was working in retail management. But an investigator came to the family’s church regularly to talk about the status of her cousin’s case, and Sellars began to develop an interest in righting wrongs and bringing victims of crime a measure of justice.

“It captivated my whole attention,” Sellars told The High Point Enterprise.

Sellars went back to college to study criminal justice, worked for several years as a deputy clerk in her native Orange County, then worked in the jail for the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office for a year. She joined the High Point Police Department as a patrol officer after hearing positive reports about working there.

In her more than two decades with the police, it would be easier to cite the roles she hasn’t held than the long list of jobs she’s handled. After serving at the outset in patrol, Sellars worked as a field training officer, recruiter, violent crimes detective, patrol supervisor, patrol commander and school resource officers supervisor. Sellars has served as a major for the past two and a half years.

Sellars recognizes that she’s an atypical leader as a Black woman in a field historically dominated by white men. But throughout her police career she said that she hasn’t experienced prejudice within the walls of the department.

“I don’t have the horror stories that some of my other colleagues have,” Sellars said. “I have been fortunate.”

Sellars said that she hopes part of her legacy is serving as an example for other Black women to branch into law enforcement.

“I hope there are others out here that want to get into this profession from seeing me in my role,” she said. | 336-888-3528 | @HPEpaul

Reparations board picks experts

HIGH POINT — The city commission studying slavery reparations has selected a team of academic experts it wants to help guide its work.

The One High Point Commission plans to enlist professors from High Point University and UNC-Greensboro, as well as the services of the National Institute of Minority Economic Development.

The City Council has appropriated $45,000 to hire outside experts to assist the commission with compiling a report on the history and impacts of slavery and segregation on Black residents and recommending possible policy changes.

The commission chose Paul Ringel, professor of history at HPU, and Virginia Summey, historian and faculty fellow at UNCG, to “build on the work of (local historian) Glenn Chavis” in delving into certain aspects of High Point’s history, according to the commission.

Ringel and Summey will work with the commission “to document potential discrimination and segregation practices” by the former High Point City Schools Board of Education from 1915 to until the system merged with Guilford County Schools in 1993.

The team will also examine city of High Point ordinances since 1960 for the same purpose.

The commission plans to enlist UNCG Professor of Global African Diaspora History Omar Ali to lead another aspect of its work.

His team “will author a report on the transatlantic slave trade, how Africans helped build wealth in our area, Black resistance to enslavement and other forms of discrimination, how Black people created their lives amid myriad institutional, legal and societal challenges, and some recent history of African Americans in the city of High Point,” according to the commission.

The National Institute of Minority Economic Development will assist with recommending “restorative” policies in areas such as housing, health care, transportation, economic development and education.

HIGH POINT CONFIDENTIAL: The pseudo-killer: Who was buried behind Highland Cotton Mill in 1952?

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first story in a two-part High Point Confidential series.


A murderer he was not.

Or was he?

By the time he was 20, Ray Hilton Jessup had quite a rap sheet — auto theft, breaking and entering, larceny, assault with a deadly weapon — and even at that young age, he had developed a reputation as a prison escape artist. But nowhere on Jessup’s rap sheet was there any suggestion the young, habitual convict might be a murderer.

That changed in the fall of 1953, when Jessup — a Guilford County native whose criminal exploits were well known to High Point police — confessed to the September 1952 slaying of a young female dope dealer in the city, after a drug deal with the woman had gone bad.

Apparently riddled with guilt, Jessup made his confession while locked up in solitary confinement at Craggy Prison Camp in Buncombe County, where he was serving time for assault and a previous prison escape. Detail by grisly detail, Jessup gave prison officials a hair-raising account of the killing, which he said had been troubling his conscience for more than a year.

According to Jessup’s confession, he had come to High Point in September 1952 with a traveling carnival. He met a young dope dealer from Chicago and gave her $35 to buy some drugs for a friend of his, a dope addict, but the woman took the money and disappeared.

Several nights later, Jessup said, he happened upon the woman in a cafe on English Street, and lured her into his car to go for a ride. They drove to a secluded spot off the old Greensboro Highway, where Jessup stopped the car, accused the woman of fleecing him, and slapped her.

She promptly slapped him back.

This so enraged Jessup, he told authorities, that he began choking the woman, until she slumped in the front seat beside him. He thought the woman had merely passed out, but after driving her back to town, he discovered she was dead, and he panicked.

“I couldn’t face the music,” Jessup told prison officials.

Frantic to dispose of the woman’s body, Jessup continued, he drove to the Highland Cotton Mill property. Behind the mill, in a thickly overgrown area, Jessup used tire tools from his trunk to dig a shallow grave and bury the woman. It took him nearly three hours. Then he skipped town.

Jessup added that he couldn’t remember his victim’s name, but he was able to describe her.

Naturally, when High Point police learned of Jessup’s confession, Chief C.C. Stoker had the inmate transferred to Guilford County so he could be interrogated and, presumably, charged with the woman’s murder. Also, the police needed Jessup in town so he could point them to the gravesite behind the mill.

“ ‘Behind the mill’ covers a lot of ground,” Stoker told The High Point Enterprise. “It would be useless to dig for the body (without Jessup’s guidance).”

Meanwhile, police searched their records from September 1952 to see if there were any reports of a missing person. They found none, but that wasn’t necessarily a red flag. It wasn’t that far-fetched to think that a missing drug dealer from Chicago might go unreported in little ol’ High Point.

Jessup arrived back in High Point on Oct. 6, and officers began interrogating him about his murder confession. The convict repeated his story and agreed to take officers to the spot where he had buried his victim.

That must’ve made for quite a scene out behind Highland Cotton Mill that fall day, as officers spent most of the afternoon digging for the remains of a murder victim … a murder victim who wasn’t there.

When Jessup and the excavation team failed to find the woman’s remains, police became suspicious of a hoax and began grilling the convict again the next morning. After about three hours, Jessup finally broke and confessed, “I made up the whole thing.”

His explanation was that he had been mistreated at Craggy Prison Camp — guards wouldn’t even let him write to his mother, he said — so he concocted the murder story to get himself transferred to High Point, where his mother lived, so he could get word to her to find him an attorney.

“There isn’t one word of truth in it,” Jessup told police in the presence of a High Point Enterprise reporter, “but it was a pretty good story, wasn’t it?”

Indeed, it was — so good, in fact, that The Enterprise described Jessup as a “prevaricator extraordinaire.”

Which made us wonder … with Jessup’s life of crime, his reputation as an escape artist, and his obvious lying skills, whatever became of High Point’s notorious pseudo-killer? | 336-888-3579

EDITOR’S NOTE: Part two of “The Pseudo-Killer” will be published in Tuesday’s High Point Enterprise.


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