What happened to Tough on Crime?


By Jeff Linville - [email protected]



Every time you pick up the newspaper or turn on a news channel, you hear about HB 2 and all the complaining on one side or the other.

Politicians are all weighing their options, trying to decide which stance will win more votes.

When the governor recommends a pay raise for educators, teachers jump up and say that this raise is only coming because it’s an election year.

Do you remember just a few years ago when politicians ran for office on a platform of being tougher on crime? What happened to that idea?

Am I worried about my daughter being accosted by a man in a public restroom? No more than I have been since she started kindergarten.

But what I do worry about is someone breaking into my house when I’m at work or someone slamming into my car because he is drunk.

These are real concerns. This isn’t some one-in-a-million occurrence. These crimes happen every week in Surry County. Sometimes multiple times a week.

Remember those TV spots where the Highway Patrol warns that if you drink and drive, you will be caught? Well, what about the follow-through afterward?

There are lots of examples I could bring up, but let’s look at three court cases from just the past week.

• On Friday, William Keith Roberts, 61, was in court facing charges of two counts of first-degree sexual assault on a child. Testimony revealed that there was sexual contact with a minor including fellatio and sodomy.

Was this the first offense for the former nurse at Baptist Hospital? No. According to state records, he was convicted of four previous counts of sexual battery from 2007, 2010 and 2011. The case in 2011 included taking indecent liberties with children who came to the Winston-Salem hospital for tests.

In a plea deal, Roberts admitted only to solicitation. He admits to asking the child for sex, not for engaging in the activity.

And this plea deal was approved by the district attorney and the presiding judge, who gave the man 73 to 148 months in prison, minus credit for time served. That’s as little as five years for a repeat offender getting busted for the fifth time.

Sure, other states have had problems with their “three strikes” rule, but surely there should be some long-lasting punishment for a man who has been convicted five times. How many other offenses have occurred without discovery?

• On that topic, Walter Columbus Simmons, 49, was in court this week for several charges related to drunk driving. Last week, the prosecutor said that Simmons had a whopping 10 DWI convictions already on his record.

He was convicted of being a habitual drunk driver in 1999.

Yet the man continued to drive for several years with no license and often without insurance or tags on his vehicle.

In 2012 he crossed the center line, ran off the far side of the road and struck a treee, killing a passenger, his cousin Odell France.

Crossing the center line could very well have caused a head-on collision with an innocent family.

His blood-alcohol level was more than three times the legal limit.

In a plea deal, Simmons admitted to causing the accident and was charged with felony death by vehicle.

However, charges of DWI and being a habitual felon were dropped, along with driving left of center and driving without a license. An additional case of driving without a license from 2015 also was dropped.

This was the third time he has been charged with being a habitual felon, and each time it has been dropped in a plea deal (2007, 2009 and 2016).

Simmons was given 108 to 142 months, but could have been put away for a much, much longer time without all the plea deals.

• A five-month-old baby died because of abuse and neglect, bringing up charges against the mother and her boyfriend.

An autopsy of the infant showed eight broken ribs and severe burns that appeared to be “classic immersion burns” from having scalding water poured over the skin.

Even still, the baby didn’t die from the injuries or the burns. Instead, the baby was kept at home for days and died of massive infection from the burns.

Justin Wayne Barker pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and negligent child abuse — freeing himself of a second-degree murder charge. He was sentenced to 68 to 104 months, or less than nine years at the most.

The mother, Billie Jo Floyd, said she never hurt the child, but the medical evidence suggested that the child could have lived if she had taken little Angel Rain Floyd to the hospital.

The mother also was charged with second-degree murder, but plea-bargained that down to the same involuntary manslaughter and negligent child abuse as Barker. She was given a sentence of only 23 to 40 months. Since she had been waiting trial for three years, she was released on time served.

So killing an infant gets less than nine years in jail, and letting the child die results in just three years served.

Each of these criminals was arrested and charged with serious crimes, but in every case a plea deal let them avoid the worst punishment.

We need to stop worrying about bathrooms and imagined threats and instead worry about all the plea deals giving real, known criminals a slap on the wrist.

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By Jeff Linville

[email protected]

Jeff is the associate editor and can be reached at 415-4692.

Jeff is the associate editor and can be reached at 415-4692.

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