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Crime
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BSG officer shooting suspect indicted on murder charge
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WISE — More details on the Nov. 13 shooting of a Big Stone Gap police officer have emerged after Monday’s indictment of a South Carolina man on murder charges.

Michael Donivan White, 33, of Cross, South Carolina, faces 13 counts from a Wise County special grand jury in the death of Michael D. Chandler, including aggravated murder, felony murder, three drug charges, seven firearm charges and misdemeanor disorderly conduct.

Virginia State Police spokesperson Corrine Geller said Monday that Chandler was responding to a 4 a.m. 911 call from a town resident who was concerned about the welfare of a female acquaintance.

Chandler, who was on patrol at the time, met and talked with the male caller on 8th Street in Big Stone Gap, Geller said. From there, Chandler went to a vacant house in the 2500 block of Orr Street and just outside town limits.

Geller said Chandler found White at the house’s driveway, where White allegedly shot him and fled on foot.

A Wise County sheriff’s deputy arrived at the scene and found Chandler unconscious in a ditch by the house’s driveway. He died about 15 hours later at Johnson City Medical Center.

The man who met Chandler before the welfare check is cooperating with investigators, Geller said.

The manhunt for White included the Wise County Sheriff’s Department, Virginia State Police, U.S. Marshals Service and the Kingsport Police Department before he was arrested in a Kingsport motel on Virginia and South Carolina probation charges about an hour after Chandler’s death.

Sullivan County Jail officials confirmed Nov. 14 that White was the man arrested in Kingsport.

White has been held without bond at the Abingdon Regional Jail since his extradition to Virginia on Nov. 15.

The aggravated murder charge against White carries a mandatory life sentence upon conviction. The Virginia General Assembly abolished the death penalty in 2021. White also faces a felony murder charge, which carries a prison term of five to 40 years.

White is scheduled for arraignment in Wise County Circuit Court at 9 a.m. on Tuesday for probation violation.

Wise County Commonwealth’s Attorney Chuck Slemp III said Monday that no additional details are being released about the case.

According to Wise County court records, White was on two years’ probation for concurrent 10-year suspended sentences on grand larceny and conspiracy to commit grand larceny. According to a July 2020 Wise County grand jury indictment, White was accused of trying to cash a fake $598 check at a Wise County supermarket in August 2019.

White pleaded guilty to the charges in August 2021 and started probation then.

In addition to the two murder counts, White faces charges of possession of a schedule I or II substance with intent to distribute; possessing a firearm while possessing a schedule I or II substance; and shooting while possessing a schedule I or II substance with intent to distribute.

The grand jury’s firearm charges include shooting in commission of murder; use of a firearm in commission of aggravated murder; possession of a firearm by a convicted felon; possession of ammunition by a convicted felon; misdemeanor brandishing a firearm; reckless handling of a firearm; and discharging a firearm in a public place.

Aside from the two murder counts, the remaining 11 charges carry a total of up to 80 years on conviction.

Dozens of law enforcement and emergency services agencies joined in three days of mourning Chandler’s death last week.

A motorcade escorted Chandler’s remains back to Big Stone Gap on Nov. 15, followed by a funeral service at UVA Wise’s David J. Prior Convocation Center that saw approximately 2,000 people pay respects during a five-hour visitation and funeral service. On Thursday, dozens of first-responder agencies from three states escorted Chandler’s casket and his family to a private graveside service.

In addition to being a firefighter, Chandler was a member of the Big Stone Gap Fire Department.

The State Police is continuing its investigation into the shooting, Geller said, and anyone with information related to this incident is asked to call the State Police at (276) 228-3131 or email at questions@vsp.virginia.gov.


Local-news
centerpiece
Watch now: Harshbarger tackles supply chain, vaccine mandate issues

KINGSPORT — Congresswoman Diana Harshbarger’s luncheon in Kingsport on Monday included more than just full plates of Food City ham, carrots, potatoes and desserts — it also featured hearty portions of topics such as supply chain issues and vaccine mandates.

The luncheon — hosted by the Greeneville County Partnership, the Johnson City Chamber and the Kingsport Chamber — centered around the congresswoman’s take on recent issues, namely recent shipping delays.

Kingsport City Schools Superintendent Jeff Moorhouse voiced his concern over supply chain issues.

The system, he said, looks to reroof Dobyns-Bennett High School through its Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds.

“You don’t know when the materials will come or what the expense will be added to that because things are still sitting in the shipping containers,” Harshbarger said. “We don’t have a shipping container shortage. They are stacked on the ships. They’re all full. There’s a shortage of truckers. It’s chaos … . We are working on that.”

The other issue in the supply chain, she said, is the ongoing labor shortage that has impacted each sector of American business. At the event, Harshbarger asked local business leaders to raise a hand if they need employees. Well over half of the room’s attendees raised a hand.

“The labor shortage is falling right into the delays in the supply chain,” Harshbarger said. “If you think we’ve got problems with supply chains, it’s going to get worse with some of the mandates coming down.”

While the labor force shrinks, inflation grows.

Inflation has hit a 31-year high, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Prices have increased by 6.2% over the past year, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, and by 0.9% between September and October of 2021 alone.

“Thanksgiving is going to be the most expensive Thanksgiving in history,” Harshbarger said. “Is anybody paying more for gas lately? It’s up 64% because we have to buy it from Russia or OPEC … . We’ve got some problems.”

Harshbarger also spoke on the country’s need for infrastructure, saying, “We need infrastructure but we don’t want it to the demise of our grandchildren’s grandchildren.”

Brince Manning, the manager of the Southeastern Region for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, also spoke at the Monday luncheon. Manning said the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that became law last Monday pays $387 billion for highways and bridges, $96 billion for transit, $66 billion for rail, $65 billion for broadband, $54 billion per energy grid infrastructure and $48 billion for water and wastewater infrastructure.

“This is all stuff the U.S. Chamber has been fighting for for decades. We were years and years overdue on infrastructure. This is the biggest piece of legislation for that since the Eisenhower interstate bill. We are on board with that.”

One business leader at the luncheon also asked Harshbarger her thoughts on OSHA’s mandate requiring employers with 100 or more employees to have a fully vaccinated staff.

“I think it’s unconstitutional,” Harshbarger said. “It’s unscientific and it’s overreach. OSHA was formed in Congress to take care of safety programs for the workplace. It never was meant to mandate vaccines and that’s a problem. If they think they have a shortage in workers now, you just wait. It’s an infringement upon your freedoms. It’s your individual right (to make health decisions). The government should not mandate that.

“There’s a lot of questions I’ve got and I’m not getting a lot of answers. But you know what? You keep asking. You keep probing.”


Honors-awards
featured
Four area school systems win part of $800,000 in Tenn. grants

NASHVILLE — Four Tri-Cities school districts are among nearly 40 systems across the state to win grants from the Tennessee Department of Education.

Hawkins County led the way with the highest number of grants and highest overall dollar amount.

‘’This funding will be used to purchase VEX IQ robots for each school and teacher professional development and training,” Debbi Pressnell, grant writer for Hawkins County Schools, said Monday afternoon.

The other three systems are Washington County with two grants for the same school — giving it the most grant money of any single school in the region, followed by Johnson City and Bristol, Tennessee, each with one grant.

“This (middle schools) grant will allow teachers to address coding standards in a hands-on and engaging manner,” said Brittney Rhoton, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) academic coach for the school system.

STATE AWARDS More Than $800,000 IN GRANTS

The TDE Monday announced more than $800,000 in grant funding has been awarded to 38 districts for STEM education, middle school career and technical education (CTE) and high school school-based enterprise (SBE) projects.

In the middle school start-up and expansion category in Hawkins County, Bulls Gap School, Church Hill Intermediate and Rogersville Middle received $6,197 each, and Clinch School, a pre-K-12, received $3,948. That makes for a total of $22,539 among the four schools.

Pressnell said the lesser amount for Clinch versus the other three schools reflects the smaller size of the school.

“We are proud of each person that was involved in getting this funding for our district,” Hawkins County Director of Schools Matt Hixson said. “Any STEM training for our students prepares them for the future and makes them a competitive force within a college or career path.”

Elsewhere in the region, the new Tennessee Middle School in Bristol got $10,000 in the same category, while Sulphur Springs Elementary School in Washington County got $9,251 in that category.

In the middle school CTE career exploration grants, Johnson City’s Indian Trail Middle won $9,418 and Washington County’s Sulphur Springs Elementary got $9,251.53.

No Tri-Cities school won in the high school category.

GRANTS PART OF FUTURE WORKFORCE INITIATIVE

Funding is being provided through Gov. Bill Lee’s Future Workforce Initiative, which is aimed at increasing access to CTE, STEM and Work-Based Learning (WBL) in the classroom. For the past two years, the department has awarded start-up funding for middle school STEM and CTE programs.

This year, in addition to start-up grants, schools that previously received funding were eligible to apply for expansion STEM and CTE grants, while high schools had the opportunity to qualify for SBE funding to increase enrollment in WBL courses.

To view a list of all grant recipients, visit https://www.tn.gov/content/dam/tn/education/ccte/FY22_MS_and_HS_Grant_Awards_upd.pdf.

”Ensuring our students have access to high-quality work-based learning opportunities, STEM, and career and technical education is essential to building college and career readiness,” Commissioner Penny Schwinn said in a news release. “Tennessee has worked diligently to align STEM and CTE coursework that provides students with clearer pathways when transitioning from middle to high school. We are thrilled to now provide high school school-based learning to further improve students’ transition from high school into postsecondary education and the workforce.”

For the past three years, middle school grants have directly supported the goal of the Future Workforce Initiative to add an additional 100 new middle school STEM programs by 2022, a news release stated. Adding high school SBE grants will help eliminate barriers for students who can’t participate in off-campus WBL placements due to transportation and scheduling challenges, it said.

Districts were allowed to apply for all three grants this year. In their applications, grant recipients demonstrated ability to align courses from middle school to high school, provide meaningful career guidance and advisement and expand upon employer partnerships to create pathways for students. Grant funds will be available to districts Dec. 1.

For more information about the Middle School STEM Start-Up Grants, CTE Career Exploration Grants, or High School School-Based Enterprise Grants, visit the department’s website at https://www.tn.gov/education/career-and-technical-education/career-clusters/cte-cluster-middle-school-cte-coursework.html.

To learn more about the Governor’s Future Workforce Initiative go online to https://www.tn.gov/education/news/2021/11/18/governor-lee-s-future-workforce-initiative-impacts-nearly-400-000-tennessee-students---2-000--educators-.html. It already has impacted nearly 400,000 Tennessee students and more than 2,000 educators.

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Health-care
featured
New, active COVID-19 cases continue climb for Northeast Tennessee region

Active cases of COVID-19 continued to climb across Northeast Tennessee over the past week, according to numbers published online Monday by the Tennessee Department of Health.

Active cases in the region increased in five of eight counties, week over week, and totaled 1,928 on Sunday, an increase of 386, or 25%, compared to the 1,542 active cases reported in the region a week earlier.

Twenty COVID-19 deaths were reported in eight Northeast Tennessee counties in the seven-day period ending Sunday, Nov. 21.

New cases of the virus increased in all eight counties during the period, and at a faster pace, compared to the prior week, in all but two counties.

1,318 new cases were reported across the eight counties between Nov. 15-21, an increase of 312 over the 1,006 new cases reported in the region for the prior seven-day period of Nov. 8-14.

New cases by county: Carter, 107; Greene, 140; Hancock, 10; Hawkins, 159; Johnson, 85; Sullivan, 378; Unicoi, 18; and Washington, 421.

Six of the deaths reported Nov. 15-21 were in Washington County.

Other deaths reported during the period, by county: five in Sullivan, four in Carter, four in Hawkins, and one in Greene.


Local-news
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Testimony begins in Hunger First director trial

KINGSPORT — Testimony began Monday afternoon in the trial of Michael Gillis — the director of Hunger First who was charged with disorderly conduct after a heated exchange with a Kingsport police officer.

The trial is taking place in Sullivan County General Sessions Court before Judge Mark Toohey. On Monday, four Kingsport police officers gave testimony for more than three hours about what took place between them and Gillis on Aug. 20, 2020, outside the Hunger First office (829 Myrtle St.).

Following the testimony, Assistant District Attorney Joshua Parsons rested the state’s case. Toohey continued the trial to Feb. 9.

According to testimony from Officer Joseph Malone, he was at Hunger First the morning of Aug. 20 in reference to a code violation, and he had just cited someone for sleeping on the stoop of Hunger First. Officer Aaron Grimes soon after arrived as backup and Malone said he was “about to wrap up” and leave.

While Malone was talking to Grimes, a Kia Sorento showed up, parked by a yellow-painted curb and blocked part of the roadway, Malone said. “It was pretty much a traffic hazard,” Grimes testified.

“(Gillis) jumped out of his car and asked what we were doing on his property and to stop harassing the homeless,” Malone said. “I told him to move his car and he didn’t. I asked him again and he continued to argue and raise his voice.”

According to a witness video posted to social media, Gillis got back in his vehicle. Eventually, officers approached and asked him multiple times to step out of the car. Gillis refused and was eventually pulled out of the car, taken to the ground and arrested.

“When he refused ID, I made the decision to take him into custody and charge him with disorderly conduct,” Malone testified.

As Gillis was removed from his vehicle, several of the officers testified that Gillis attempted to pull away and once outside the vehicle, he “flexed up” as the officers were attempting to handcuff him.

Under cross- examination, Gillis’ attorney Matthew Spivey pointed out that Gillis did return to his vehicle after he was ordered to by Malone. Spivey said no vehicles were impeded by Gillis’ vehicle and noted there’s nothing illegal about asking questions of or cursing at police officers.

“(Gillis) started to open his car door and an officer was in front of the car as he was trying to get in,” Spivey said. “He did get in the car and close the door. What is he not obeying?”

Spivey also questioned Malone about his history as a Kingsport police officer, noting he had only been a certified officer for about four to five months when this incident took place.

Gillis has filed a $1 million federal lawsuit against Kingsport and three of the officers involved in the August 2020 incident, claiming his 4th Amendment rights were violated through an unlawful seizure, the use of excessive force and with inadequate training.

Gillis claims he gave two men permission to rest on the stoop of Hunger First and then left to serve lunches to homeless people elsewhere in town. When Gillis returned, he said he found police ordering the two men to leave because they were supposedly causing a fire hazard.

The lawsuit argues that Gillis did not resist arrest and was attempting to comply with officers at the time of his arrest.

Gillis was ultimately charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, illegal parking and failure to obey a lawful order.


Director Michael Gillis is seen here in this file photo behind the counter of Hunger First. The free food pantry and clothing store was founded in 1996 by his mother, Cindy Risk. Gillis took over the organization when Risk died as the result of a car wreck in 2014.


Volunteer’s Jacey Begley (11) dribbles against West Ridge’s Rachel Niebruegge (15) during Monday’s matchup.


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