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Public airs concerns over Sumter mother's killing, child's disappearance to council

BY SHELBIE GOULDING
shelbie@theitem.com
Posted 8/22/19

Sumter residents and their friends are saying there is a lack of compassion and effort from city officials about the case of a slain mother and her missing 5-year-old daughter.

A crowd that mostly filled the room attended the public comment …

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Public airs concerns over Sumter mother's killing, child's disappearance to council

Posted

Sumter residents and their friends are saying there is a lack of compassion and effort from city officials about the case of a slain mother and her missing 5-year-old daughter.

A crowd that mostly filled the room attended the public comment portion of Tuesday's Sumter City Council meeting to voice concerns, but some who tried to speak were not allowed because they did not meet the city's criteria for being eligible to.

With no other significant items on the agenda, most of the hour-long meeting - which includes a 10-minute executive session to start - was spent on the public comments, which focused on the investigation into the death of Sharee Bradley, 29, who was found dead by a family member inside her Lantana Apartments residence off Carolina Avenue on Aug. 5.

Bradley's 5-year-old daughter, Nevaeh Adams, has been missing since.

A suspect, 28-year-old Daunte Johnson, has been charged with murder in the case after being spotted at the scene. Sumter police officers have said Johnson, an acquaintance to Bradley, told them he killed both the mother and daughter and disposed of the child's body in a Dumpster at the apartment complex, which is owned by the City of Sumter.

That statement led to officers searching 230 tons of garbage at two county landfills. They, along with community members, have also searched the area around the apartments looking for the girl.

The family of Bradley and community members gathered for vigils and to bury the mother on Saturday. They also have started a petition calling for an Amber Alert to be issued for the missing girl.

Mayor Joe McElveen said before opening the public comment period on Tuesday that council can't comment on an open investigation. He said anyone wishing to speak has to meet two qualifications: The speaker must live in the city limits of Sumter and must limit comments to no more than three minutes.

Four of the eight people who tried to speak were not allowed, including the father of the missing girl, because he does not reside within the city limits.

"I'm not here to elaborate or reference to the crime itself, but I'd like more closure for my family," said a woman who said she is Bradley's first cousin.

She said she is concerned about council members not reaching out to the family to show they are concerned for their loss or the missing girl.

"It's like nobody's taking initiative to make this serious. This is serious for me and my family," she said. "This is coming close to home for everybody."

The scene began to escalate when a man tried to talk without saying where he lives, only that his "mother paid taxes here." He ignored the mayor's attempts to stop him from speaking, and McElveen said he would have to "do more" the next time someone who didn't qualify to speak tried to.

The next speaker, who didn't give her name or address, said she is concerned about child safety, specifically missing children, referencing her concern with an Amber Alert not being placed for Adams.

Officers ruled out abduction after Johnson's statement, meaning there could not be an Amber Alert placed based on federal and state guidelines that determine eligibility for an alert. To have one, the child must have been abducted, and a vehicle/license plate is needed, among other criteria. The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division also stated the case did not match the criteria to issue an Amber Alert.

Sabrina Belcher, who recently took the lead among a group that has been calling for an Amber Alert by starting a petition that has more than 3,900 signatures on Change.org, said there has been a lack of regard for the affected family.

She said she and everyone attending the meeting will be at every council meeting until there is someone in office to act "justly in favor of everyone instead of being racist and biracial on the subject matter."

When the mayor said Belcher reached her time limit of three minutes, she said she did not think she had reached the limit, and the situation escalated more as she began to argue that council wasn't listening to her concerns. A community member stood up to pull her from the podium before security was called.

After she sat, McElveen asked if anyone else who lives in the city limits wanted to speak. No one approached, and he closed the public comment period.

"There's not a person in this council that is not personally grieving from what has happened here," McElveen said before continuing the meeting. "They were members of our community."

Most of the crowd left after public comments. As they were walking out, Adams' father unsuccessfully tried to talk to the mayor while the meeting was still in session.

The rest of the meeting consisted of a public hearing for a justice assistance grant from the Department of Justice.

McElveen said he has full confidence in the Sumter Police Department and the work it's doing in making sure the city has justice, safety and peace in all communities.

There has been no public update to the case or the possible whereabouts of Adams since the days after she went missing.

"The biggest thing is trying to make sure we follow our policies and procedures correctly, and it's always unfortunate when people do not abide by the rules. And I think that's what was most unusual [about the meeting]," City Manager Deron McCormick told The Sumter Item on Wednesday. "People were reminded what the rules are, and they still don't comply."

McCormick said the council is going to do business professionally and orderly, and they're going to do it that way no matter what.

"Public input is always important for the public process," he said. "We're very proud of how our mayor and council handles themselves professionally to get legitimate input."