By JESSICA WEBB
Smoky Mountain Times Editor
It’s been a frustrating week here at Smoky Mountain Times because despite our efforts, we have come up short on getting more information as to what happened at El Camino Motel this past Thursday. We know from trusted sources, namely Swain County Schools, that beloved educator Lambert Wilson was shot and killed at the motel he owned and operated.
Cherokee Indian Police Department, the lead investigative agency into the matter has only provided one Facebook post stating they were investigating “an incident” at El Camino Motel along with NC State Bureau of Investigations.
Numerous attempts via email, phone, Facebook messenger and in person by Smoky Mountain Times along with neighboring papers The Sylva Herald and Cherokee One Feather have provided no further details from law enforcement. They have failed to provide any further details about the “incident” including what time it occurred or what was believed to have caused the shooting.
They have also failed to release any information regarding if there is a suspect in custody or is someone is still at a large.
Attempts to get more information from NC SBI were also unsatisfactory. The SBI information officer said they assisted in the investigation and that any questions had to be directed to Cherokee.
We believe CIPD has a duty to the community to release the basic facts of this case. Someone has been shot and killed and the individual was a pillar of our community. Regardless of who it was, CIPD should feel an obligation to the public to release information as to the circumstances of such a tragic event.
As it currently stands, with a sweeping policy of “no comment,” CIPD is failing to provide reason for the public to have full confidence in the agency.
Instead of believing that CIPD is doing all it can, people are left to wonder: Why aren’t they releasing any information? Is there something they are hiding? Do they just not know what happened and think people will forget about the case? Are they protecting someone?
While SMT doesn’t believe there is any suspicious activity behind the closed-lip approach, we do believe they are failing to live up to community expectations.
We understand CIPD doesn’t fall under the same North Carolina Public Records Laws as other local law enforcement agencies, but even those are quite generous when it comes to withholding details from an ongoing investigation.
We encourage the public, particularly members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and tribal leaders, to press for more accountability and transparency from its law enforcement agency. The public has the right to know.