BLM attorney demands $50,000 from sheriff, police over Oct. 31 pepper spray

Attorney Jamie Paulen of Hillsborough is demanding that Alamance County sheriff Terry Johnson and Graham police chief Kristy Cole pay her $50,000 for damages she claims to have incurred during the “I Am Change Legacy March to the Polls” in downtown Graham on October 31, 2020.

Paulen has defended a number of those charged at more than five dozen protests held in downtown Graham during the second half of last year. She is now claiming to have been “pepper sprayed directly in the face” during the march and rally on Halloween Day and demanding that she be paid for her injuries, based on a letter she sent Johnson and Cole on June 21, a copy of which was obtained by The Alamance News.

Paulen points to video recorded by a photographer for The (Raleigh) News & Observer that depicted the attorney, wearing a red hooded sweatshirt that reads, “Paper Gods,” leaving the area, as several other marchers appear to help her clear her eyes, as she described it. The attorney describes herself in her letter as a Black Lives Matter activist who has attended protests “all over North Carolina” and in Charlottesville, Virginia. She also acknowledges that she actively participated in the march and rally in Graham that ended in pepper spray on October 31.

Paulen on Oct. 31. Photo Credit: Tony Crider.

Paulen recalls that she had been “caught in the melee” surrounding a gas-powered generator and two gas cans that had been brought onto the grounds of Alamance County’s Historic Court House that afternoon, violating the permit that Drumwright had obtained for the event. “I wasn’t there when the incident began and came upon it completely [by] accident as I was walking through the courthouse square,” she elaborates in her letter to the sheriff and police chief.

Paulen in red sweat shirt on a Gator where fire and rescue staff were assisting those affected by the pepper spray.
Paulen after being affected by the pepper spray. Police and sheriff’s officials have denied that pepper spray was used on anyone being sprayed directly in the face, as Paulen claims. Photo Credit: Tony Crider.

The gas generator, concealed inside a cloth beach wagon and running at the time, was deemed a safety hazard to the march’s participants, prompting Alamance County sheriff’s deputy Pete Triolo to instruct the crowd three times, via bullhorn, to leave the area immediately, based on testimony that Triolo gave at several protesters’ trials this spring.

After 15 minutes, sheriff’s deputies deployed pepper spray, mostly aimed at the ground, to force the crowd to disperse.

Paulen contends in her letter that she was pepper sprayed by Alamance County sheriff’s deputies during the scuffle over the generator; by a Graham police officer as she crossed the street; and then while getting her eyes rinsed out at Sesquicentennial Park. “I continued to be sprayed while I was trying to leave the courthouse square,” the attorney claims in her demand for payment of $50,000 in damages.

“I was not charged in relation to the incident, yet I was pepper sprayed multiple times for no reason other than supporting the voting rights of black Americans,” Paulen asserts. The psychological trauma – from being pepper-sprayed and from seeing her friends and young children get pepper-sprayed – has caused her nightmares ever since, as well as weeks of physical pain, Paulen claims in her letter. “I was in severe pain for several days after the incident,” she writes. “I coughed for weeks after this incident. Every time I see law enforcement officers, I have a fear response.” She cites an article published online that discusses the use of pepper spray, adding that there’s “some evidence of long-term impact on menstruation in women from even brief exposure to pepper spray.”

Paulen acknowledges that she was not involved in the permitting process for the October 31 event and was unaware that Drumwright and his lawyers had been told that people could not be in the street, which prompted the first use of pepper spray by Graham police. Nor was she apparently aware that the conditions of the facilities use permit for the Historic Court House prohibited the use of gas-powered generators and/or sound equipment.

Graham police were the first to use pepper spray to clear the crowd of approximately 200 marchers from the roadway around Court Square, once they had finished kneeling, silently, in the middle of the street for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in memory of George Floyd, based on testimony given during protesters’ trials earlier this year.

“Law enforcement had escorted us in the street from [Wayman Chapel A.M.E. Church on North Main Street] and it was my understanding that law enforcement was still assisting in keeping the road closed for the benefit of [demonstrators],” Paulen writes in her letter to Johnson and Cole.

The attorney notes in her letter that she’d attended a march Drumwright held in Greensboro the night before, on October 30, and those participants had kneeled in the intersection of Market and Dudley streets – which Paulen describes as a “major intersection in that city” – nearly 9 minutes, without incident, in memory of Floyd.

The Alamance County sheriff’s office is responsible for issuing permits for events on county property, including the Historic Court House; the Graham police department is generally responsible for issuing permits that require the use of any city-owned streets.

However, closing the streets along the intended march route that Drumwright had sought in mid-October would’ve required approval by the Graham city council and state Department of Transportation. Prior to the October 31 march, Drumwright took issue with the fact that no such approvals were needed to close the streets for another march he held in downtown Graham on July 11, 2020.

However, as a result of federal litigation that Drumwright and several other plaintiffs filed last summer, Graham repealed its parade/demonstration ordinance that had governed the process for street closures. That repeal meant any requested closures for state-owned roads – including N.C. Highway 87, which also serves as Graham’s Main Street – were governed by an existing state law when Drumwright held his march and rally on October 31.

In addition to the alleged damages, Paulen also demands in her letter to Johnson and Cole “an admission of responsibility by both the Graham police department and the Alamance County sheriff’s office.” She has given both agencies a June 30 deadline to agree to her terms, or she will seek additional remedies. Paulen’s letter does not specify whether she is seeking a total of $50,000 or $50,000 each from the sheriff and police chief.