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CAPE FEAR MEMORIAL BRIDGE: Updates, resources, and context

Update: Wilmington police arrest top PCU employee in connection with Houston Moore shooting

Port City United leadership circa April 2023.
New Hanover County
Port City United leadership circa April 2023.

On Monday evening, the Wilmington Police Department and New Hanover County both confirmed Stephen Barnett, who has helped lead the county's Port City United department since it was founded in 2022, had been arrested in relation to last week's shooting.

Update: On Tuesday morning, New Hanover County confirmed at Stephen Barnett had been "separated from his position." The county has also announced, "the Mediation and Outreach function of Port City United has been suspended effective immediately. This decision has been made to allow for a thorough review of its protocols and practices. Current Employees of the Mediation and Outreach division have been placed on paid administrative leave." 

On Monday evening, New Hanover County Chief Communications Officer Josh Smith confirmed Stephen Barnett had been placed on administrative leave after the shooting on Thursday last week and that he had been arrested today.

The shooting at Houston Moore sent one person to the hospital in critical condition. As part of the investigation, WPD detained and questioned a PCU employee — likely Barnett — but later released him. WPD also seized a New Hanover County vehicle and later released it, as well.

Related: Wilmington Police Department seizes Port City United vehicle as part of Houston Moore investigation

"On Monday evening, March 25, Stephen Barnett, Supervisor for Mediation and Outreach at Port City United, was arrested and charged with accessory after the fact in connection with the shooting incident that occurred at Houston Moore on March 21," Smith wrote.

"Mr. Barnett has been on administrative leave since Thursday, March 21, and remains so pending final county action. New Hanover County is fully cooperating with the Wilmington Police Department in its investigation," Smith added. "In keeping with our dedication to transparency, we will provide updates when possible, respecting the integrity of the ongoing investigation."

WPD spokesperson Greg Willet confirmed Barnett had been arrested as an accessory to attempted murder after the fact, a felony charge.

"On March 25th, 2024 investigators with the Wilmington Police Department charged Stephen Michael Barnett, a 37-year-old Wilmington man with accessory after the fact to attempted murder. This is in relation to the shooting incident that occurred Thursday March 21st , around 5:15pm. Additional arrests are expected. Barnett will be taken to the New Hanover County Detention Facility. His bond has not yet been released. As additional information becomes available it will be released."

WPD later arrested a 17-year-old male suspect who is charged with first degree murder. WPD confirmed that Barnett's charge stemmed from giving the juvenile suspect a ride away from the shooting at Houston Moore on Thursday.

Barnett was later given a $250,000 secured bond. He is due in court for a first appearance on Tuesday.

PCU's Mediation Outreach Team, based on the Cure Violence Global model, is aimed at "meeting people where they are to build trust and mediate conflict in an effort to stop violence before it starts."

While PCU is its own program, it shares some elements and employees with a similar mediation program run by Tru Colors, the troubled for-profit brewery that sought to decrease violence by hiring active gang members with the credibility and connections to effectively seek out discord and preempt lethal violence. Barnett was a longtime Tru Colors employee, having served as the director of communications.

Barnett joined a gang as a young teenager and in 2007 confessed in a manslaughter case. But he was widely lauded in the community, including by Tru Colors and county officials, for having turned his life around.

New Hanover County hired Barnett in March of 2022 as it was ramping up Port City United. The effort was in large part in response to public outcry over a shooting at New Hanover High School. As of this month, Barnett's salary was $79,590.68, not including the county's benefits package.

Ben Schachtman is a journalist and editor with a focus on local government accountability. He began reporting for Port City Daily in the Wilmington area in 2016 and took over as managing editor there in 2018. He’s a graduate of Rutgers College and later received his MA from NYU and his PhD from SUNY-Stony Brook, both in English Literature. He loves spending time with his wife and playing rock'n'roll very loudly. You can reach him at BSchachtman@whqr.org and find him on Twitter @Ben_Schachtman.