Judge grants grace to Rock Hill community activist who led police on chase in Fort Mill’s Baxter Village

jmcfadden@heraldonline.comOctober 24, 2013 

Kwasi Barber was arrested in February.

— Kwasi Barber felt like crying on Thursday. For the second – maybe third – time in his life, he experienced grace in a courtroom.

He walked into York’s Moss Justice Center – his wife and an entourage of supporters at his side – facing three years in prison. After pleading guilty, he walked out with a 30-day sentence that he’ll be able to serve on the weekends with three years of probation to follow.

In February, York County Sheriff’s deputies tried to stop Barber, 32, in his white Jaguar because he followed too closely behind another car on Interstate 77. He exited the interstate in Fort Mill at S.C. 160 and pulled into the Chick-fil-A parking lot across from Baxter Village, said Marina Hamilton, the assistant 16th Circuit solicitor who prosecuted Barber.

Barber drove through the restaurant’s parking lot in the wrong direction before he stopped, jumped out of the car and ran, Hamilton said. He fled on foot across S.C. 160, “causing cars to stop to avoid hitting him.”

Authorities chased Barber into Baxter Village as he ran behind Starbuck’s, Hamilton said. Eventually, deputies took him into custody at Beef O’Brady’s restaurant and pub. Barber was charged with failure to stop for blue lights and driving under suspension after police learned he did not have a license on him. Deputies found a small amount of marijuana in the car. Barber was released the next day on a more than $7,000 bond.

More than a week earlier, Barber had been charged with possession of marijuana. He was out on bond during his Baxter Village arrest. That charge is still pending in magistrate’s court, and court records indicate Barber has requested a jury trial for his charge of driving under suspension.

Since his arrest, Barber has worked to change his life by enrolling in college and continues to hold down his job at Peak Home Improvement, said Chris Wellborn, his Rock Hill attorney.

Wellborn told Circuit Court Judge John Hayes III that Barber was driving through Fort Mill after leaving Charlotte so he could pick up his son from football practice. His wife was hospitalized after kidney surgery.

Wellborn said Barber made a “stupid” decision when he drove without a license and “did not stop for police.” Parked at the Chick-fil-A, he panicked because he did not have a license, Wellborn said, and then made another bad choice when he ran.

Community activity

Wellborn gave Hayes photographs of Barber working with youths in the community and volunteering. In May, Barber started the Stop the Violence campaign, a community group that holds events in Rock Hill neighborhoods with hopes of giving young people alternatives to gangs and drugs. During a Stop the Violence event last month, Barber, a convicted felon, said he uses his brushes with the law as a “testimony.”

“For the first time in my life, I’m proud of the direction I’m going in,” Barber told Hayes on Thursday. “I’ve never been so proud of my life.”

His wife, Sandra Barber, said after Thursday’s hearing: “He has made a big, big change in his life ... in the 12 years I’ve been knowing him.”

Three influential leaders in Rock Hill also spoke on Barber’s behalf in court. York County Councilman Bump Roddey told Hayes he’s known Barber at least since 1998. They reconnected recently during the Stop the Violence campaign tour.

“He’s gotten on track,” Roddey said, and is trying to “change that course he may or may not have been on.”

Bishop Seth Crosby, of TLC Ministries, said he’s worked with Barber in a program that reaches out to juvenile offenders. He’s counseled Barber on how to turn his “past mistakes” into something positive that will “change people’s lives.”

Twelve years ago, the Rev. C.T. Kirk, pastor of Sanctuary of Life Outreach Center, stood before Hayes when he was “reckless” and misguided. Hayes gave him the opportunity to “better myself.” He asked the judge to do the same for Barber.

“I’ve been rehabilitated because of what you’ve done for me,” Kirk told Hayes.

‘Third chance’

“You have a violent past,” Hayes said to Barber.

That past includes convictions for: unlawful weapons carrying, possession of a stolen pistol and resisting arrest in 1999; two counts of simple assault and battery in 2000; driving while intoxicated in North Carolina in 2002; two counts of being a habitual traffic offender and resisting arrest in 2007; and several crack cocaine charges in 2010, court records show.

He’s served probation or days in jail for many of those crimes, aside from the latter charge in which he was sentenced to, but did not serve all of, five years in prison.

In 2009, Barber was injured in a shooting in which one teen was killed and another lost his eyesight.

Hamilton, the solicitor, did not offer to lessen the possible three-year sentence for Barber as part of a plea deal. Still, Hayes sentenced Barber to 30 days in jail. He told him he can begin serving his sentence, on the weekends, starting the first week of November.

After the hearing, Barber said he felt like crying.

“I’m blessed,” he said about the “third chance ... most guys don’t get.” The sentence motivates him to keep making an impact in the community.

Stop the Violence “has changed lives,” he said. He and his wife plan to start “Mirror the Mentor,” a mentoring program for boys and girls ages 7 to 17. It will be held at the York County Library, they said, and starts next month.

Jonathan McFadden •  803-329-4082

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