This is Part 2 of an ongoing series focusing on the role our Police and Sheriff departments play, as we quest for solutions to failing communities, severely depressed economies and a rising tide of violent crime.
We were in the neighborhood the other day and decided to stop by the Vance Convenience Store to see if we could learn more about this important unfolding story. The Laurinburg Police Department (LPD) recently conducted a drug bust there due to the alleged sale of Synthetic Marijuana, known as Spice.
The Vance Convenience Store is located several hundred feet from the Laurinburg Housing Authority’s ‘Morris Apartments’.
It was early afternoon and a group of about twenty adult males were standing out front. A steady stream of customers came and went, on foot, by bike and car.
Walking inside, we immediately recognized Yassar Alssiady, one of those recently arrested. We introduced ourselves and asked for an interview. Yassar was warm, friendly, engaging and obliging. We went outside so as not to interrupt customer traffic.
Yassar, a university educated Civil Engineer, worked for the World Bank in his native Yemen before emigrating to the the United States about seven years ago. He’s bright, articulate and while conversant in English, he’s definitely not fluent. We and he had to listen carefully to each other and frequently ask for clarification.
During the 40 minute conversation, Yassar never became evasive, non responsive, nor was he afraid to look us in the eye. He clearly wanted his story told.
Yassar manages the Vance Convenience Store, plus another in a neighboring town, so he can’t be present at all times, especially given that the store is a 24/7 operation.
When present owners purchased the store things were not going well, so it’s taken a lot of effort to try and turn things around. The neighbourhood’s shallow pool of prospective employees, plus it being in a high crime area and that it’s open 24/7 has made hiring and retaining good help challenging.
Some employees have in the past been discharged, including several just prior to the ‘bust’, when video surveillance and other means revealed undesirable and possibly illegal activity. Yassar stated that, given the often close relationship between employees and customers, disgruntled former employees have ample opportunity to work behind the scenes to keep things stirred up. Managing the Vance Store is clearly not for the faint of heart.
Yassar said he’s had a constructive, cooperative relationship with LPD in the past and is surprised and puzzled that this latest incident culminated in his arrest. According to Yassar, LPD discovered ‘Spice’ in an employee backpack located in the store.
We asked what ‘in-store’ surveillance video footage showed and questioned why LPD would arrest him. Yassar responded that some videos showed employees going outside with customers and then returning to their duties. He acknowledged that such behavior is suspicious. He went on to say that LPD has not inquired about or asked for the surveillance videos, which he said could readily be made available.
Throughout the conversation Yassar insisted that his story, if allowed to be told, along with evidence, if properly presented, would firmly establish his innocence. He further stated that neither he nor owners would risk reputations or the business by participating in or knowingly permitting illegal activities to take place.
Yassar appeared unfamiliar with the legal process and the current status of the case. He has retained legal counsel and remains optimistic regarding the police, our judicial system and his eventual outcome.
Numerous attempts were made to speak with Laurinburg Police Chief Darwin Williams and Sargent Campbell regarding this case, but no response has been received.
We’ll keep you posted.
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