The editorial voice of this newspaper, as expressed on the editorial page is usually done in the plural – “we,” as in the newspaper or its management, itself – rather than the more personal or individual “I.”
However, I, as editor and publisher, want to make a few more personal observations about my experiences this week. As noted elsewhere, I found the attitude, demeanor, and statements of district court judge Fred Wilkins to lack respect, decorum, or any substantive responsiveness. Instead he manifested an uncharacteristic (for a judge) tone with comments that were rude, condescending, as well as insulting and threatening.
But I also regret to need to comment on the behavior and attitude of some of the sheriff’s deputies who were charged with removing me from the courtroom.
Once the judge had made his ruling, deputies surrounded me to force me from the courtroom.
So far, not unreasonable, given the fundamental unreasonableness of the judge’s refusal to follow the Constitution and keep the courtroom open to the press. They took the papers, notebook, and folder out of my hands and grabbed my arms to whisk me from judge Wilkins’ presence.
But what followed in my treatment by two of the deputies was disturbing, indeed.
I paid close attention to their name tags, which only had last names, because I soon realized that I may need to know them for follow-up action, such as these comments.
The unnecessarily rough treatment I received from two of the deputies should not be used on anyone – except in a situation of arresting a violent or potentially violent or dangerous criminal – but especially not on someone following a courtroom appearance where my only sin was trying to talk to the judge.
I had no weapon. I was not a physical threat – not to the judge and not to the deputies. My only “weapon,” as it were, was the sheath of papers I had, which they’d already taken.
Nonetheless, once in the hallway outside the courtroom, I was forced against the wall – thrown would not be much, if any, exaggeration.
A deputy on each arm had twisted my arms, and my wrists, to the side in such a fashion that I couldn’t “put them behind my back” to be handcuffed.
In what certainly seemed like a very deliberate effort, deputies Andrew Carter and Mark Johnson manhandled me. What made it seem all the more deliberate is that as I squirmed from the pain, Johnson claimed I was “resisting arrest,” charges he would add if I didn’t stop, he said. That threat sounded to my ears to be an almost too casual a line – as though he had used it before when employing the same harsh treatment on others.
A word of disclaimer. A Congressman I once worked for in Washington, D.C., who was himself a former FBI agent, once cautioned me to be careful about attributing motive, advice I have largely attempted to follow.
But there is no good motive that can be put on the harsh arrest procedures I received from deputies Carter and Johnson. And I can, in fact, think of a number of unfavorable ones, including all sorts of pop psychology about the motives of the officers who resembled two ruffians in their approach.
Now, as anyone reading this page will know, I have had high regard for law enforcement generally, and Sheriff Terry Johnson and his department in particular. I could probably name dozens of outstanding officers within his department and other local municipal police departments whom I’ve known over the years.
But if the kind of treatment I received outside judge Wilkins’ courtroom from these two deputies is what is employed on other accused people arrested under any other circumstances, my devout defense of sheriff’s deputies will have to become tempered.
I would previously have said any suspect or defendant would have been be exaggerating to claim the sheriff’s deputies would deliberately try to hurt him (or her) during an arrest.
But, quite frankly, that’s exactly what these two officers did – in the seeming privacy and seclusion of a hallway outside a courtroom. No prying eyes, no phone or other cameras, and no witnesses – other than other, more professional deputies who took no part in such excesses.
I thought one of my wrists might be broken from the angle at which they held it, but it was only swollen and painful for the rest of Tuesday, and responded to pain medication overnight to reduce the swelling.
This aspect of the day was almost as saddening and disappointing as the judge’s ill treatment of me a few minutes earlier.
A third deputy, Sean Bermel, seemed to play little role, other than as a bystander or supervisor, not sure which.
A fourth deputy, a long-time veteran of courthouse duty, Harold Overby, seemed to be the one to relay the judge’s change of heart – that I should be commanded to leave the courthouse building, but not be taken to jail. Overby I have seen for years, without knowing his name, and have always found him to be professional and kind, in a blending of two wonderful traits for a public servant in law enforcement or any other public service.
Lastly, let me commend my dear friend, Dwayne M. Janey, who serves on a security detail at a different courthouse, the Alamance County Civil Courts Building, which is adjacent to the county office building and our own news office.
Janey was up at the courthouse on what I took to be an unrelated matter, but came out of the courthouse about the same time the other deputies took off the handcuffs and released me.
Janey walked with me back toward his post a few doors down, which therefore passed the news office. He was not “escorting” me; I was not in his “custody.” He was serving simply as a friend walking back with me toward his post and my office.
His kind pat on the back on the half-block walk back to the news office has been interpreted by some online commentators as “preferential” treatment. But he had no official role he was playing. He had had no role whatsoever in my treatment upstairs at the Historic Court House. We were simply walking together in the same direction.
In fact, in terms of misinterpretations, the internet is apparently full of people who think I was “let off easy” for having been “turned loose” without being booked into the jail. It was not my decision to be charged with contempt of court in the first place, to be handcuffed, nor to be forced out of the courthouse (but without being jailed). But we guess such are the excesses (and fictitious comments) of social media these days.
At any rate, officers Overby and Janey represented bright spots of public service and professionalism within the sheriff’s office, which others in any law enforcement agency would do well to emulate.
– Tom Boney, Jr., Editor & Publisher
The Alamance News