The organizer of an October 31, 2020 march and rally in Graham prior to last year’s general election was found guilty Wednesday on two of three charges he faced in Alamance County district court.
Law enforcement officials ultimately resorted to using pepper spray to force the crowd to disperse after the rally was terminated because organizers brought a prohibited gas-powered generator (and two gas cans) onto courthouse grounds in violation of the permit for the event.
Rev. Gregory Drumwright, 41, black, male, 4 Clubview Court, Greensboro, was found guilty of misdemeanor charges of resisting a public officer and failure to disperse on command but not guilty of a misdemeanor riot charge.
Drumwright’s trial started on July 28 and continued Wednesday, an unorthodox move for a case in district court but one necessitated by the prospective number of witnesses, originally estimated at upwards of two dozen, who could be called to testify. In the end, Alamance County assistant district attorney Kevin Harrison called seven Alamance County sheriff’s deputies in all and just one sheriff’s detective Wednesday, though the assistant D.A. called a rebuttal witness later in the day.
The discovery of a gas can and a running gas generator inside a cloth beach wagon – which had been brought onto the courthouse grounds, in violation of a permit Drumwright had been granted in order to have exclusive use of the courthouse grounds on October 31 – ultimately prompted the sheriff’s department to declare the event an illegal assembly and order the crowd to disperse.
At issue since then has been the decision by law enforcement to deploy pepper fog to clear the courthouse grounds that afternoon, following a struggle that began when deputies attempted to seize the generator, resulting in a struggle that left sheriff’s corporal Barbara Tomey injured.
Tomey described her injuries as “bruising from her elbow to her armpit” during a separate trial last Wednesday for one of Drumwright’s assistants, who was among the total of 23 people arrested on October 31.
Drumwright testified Wednesday that the red Honda gas generator had been in plain view and placed inside the wagon to transport it from the starting point for the march, at Wayman Chapel AME Church at 592 North Main Street, to the Historic Court House in Court Square.
Alamance County sheriff’s detective Danotric Nash testified Wednesday that Drumwright had been standing on the stage that his group had erected at the north entrance to the historic court house when the dispersal orders were given.
The defendant, Nash recalled on the witness stand, was holding a microphone , telling the d “Y’all caused this” and “We ain’t going nowhere,” after three dispersal orders had been given, instructing the crowd of about 200 to leave the courthouse grounds.
‘The skirmish’ over the gas-powered generator
After the skirmish over deputies attempting to seize the generator, the crowd began “cussing, fussing – like normal when you try to end something,” the sheriff’s detective testified. He estimated several minutes had passed between the struggle over the generator and when the dispersal orders were given. “Everybody was bunched up around the stage, around him,” Nash recalled, referring to Drumwright.
Drumwright’s defense team – consisting of Elizabeth Haddix of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; Jason Keith of Keith Attorneys in Greensboro; and Christopher Knight, an attorney with the Mayer Brown firm in Chicago, Illinois who specializes in civil litigation – called just one witness: the defendant himself.
A fourth attorney, famed civil rights attorney Ben Crump of Lumberton had been present for the first day of the trial in July, but was not present this week.
Much of the second day of Drumwright’s trial centered on his attempts to coordinate the march and rally with Graham police chief Kristy Cole (then-interim chief) and representatives for the sheriff’s department. Drumwright later spent approximately 3½ hours on the witness stand, testifying about his personal and professional background; his work organizing similar marches elsewhere; and the chain of events that preceded his arrest on October 31.
Drumwright’s attorney Knight argued that use of the courthouse grounds is governed by the county’s facilities use policy – as multiple representatives from the sheriff’s office had testified during the first day of his trial on July 28. Knight tried, repeatedly, to point to what he considered discrepancies in the policy versus its implementation that Saturday prior to the November 5 election.
First use of pepper spray by Graham police
The plan that afternoon was to march to the courthouse for a brief rally before individual voters could proceed on to an early voting site that had been set up about a block away.
Drumwright tried to paint a picture of a morning clouded by confusion – over his contention that he intended to use a public address system and stage on city property at Sesquicentennial Park, rather than on courthouse grounds, as his permit issued by the sheriff allowed. City police govern the streets, sidewalks, and city property, such as the park, while the sheriff’s office is responsible for the courthouse grounds.
“I was confused because the P.A. system we had used in July [2020 at a previous march in Graham] was never there,” he testified. “It was my understanding that, as long as we were on city property, we were allowed to use our equipment.” As he worked to get his teams in position and to assemble the stage, “within 10 seconds, we were pepper sprayed – everything was just chaos,” Drumwright recalled.
Drumwright claimed the use of pepper spray had been used quickly, while Graham police have previously indicated that they deployed pepper spray when marchers did not vacate the city streets after a period of silence kneeling in the roadway for 8 minutes and 46 seconds to honor George Floyd.
Body cam footage recorded by Graham police immediately before and after the first use of pepper spray – which was shown during the trial Wednesday – captured marchers waving flags and chanting slogans such as, “Whose streets? Our Streets,” as they continued to stay in the streets despite the verbal orders from police to proceed to the courthouse grounds after the tribute to George Floyd.
Cloud of confusion
In addition to complaining about Graham police officers’ quick reaction to wanting to clear the streets, Drumwright also testified to what he considered the aggressive actions of sheriff’s deputies . Drumwright testified that sheriff’s deputies “started charging us; they started taking us down – in some instances throwing us.”
“They could’ve said, ‘put your hands behind your back,’” Drumwright testified. “They decided to start dragging me, with clothes. My clothes actually got ripped, part of my sweatshirt got ripped – just roughhousing to put us in handcuffs.” [That characterization was not corroborated by any other testimony on either day of his trial.]
As for his prior criminal record, Drumwright said he had been arrested in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where he had traveled last summer following the August 2020 shooting of a 29-year-old black man, Jacob Blake, by police. “It was said it was because we were violating a curfew,” he recalled on the witness stand Wednesday. Drumwright also recalled having been arrested, “maybe 10 or 12 years prior,” for driving without a license. “I had never been arrested like this,” Drumwright said, referring to his arrest during his march and rally on Halloween day. “It was always, ‘put your hands behind your back,’ and I complied,” he said.
Drumwright said he wasn’t told why he was being arrested until he was taken to a processing area that had been set up on the ground floor inside the Historic Court House.
Drumwright acknowledged during cross-examination that he had “just kind of zipped through” the permit application without reading it closely.
However, he said he remembered intentionally leaving a check box on the application blank – beside a question asking whether sound amplification would be used and states, “If yes, sound amplification must be battery powered.”
“All the rest of that, you kind of drew [a vertical line through] to show that you requested all of that, correct?” Harrison asked the organizer, referring to the permit application he’d submitted to the sheriff’s department on October 20. “Did you actually read that provision at all?”
“I believe so,” Drumwright responded, adding that Sykes had advised him to apply for “for everything” to deter counter-protesters from submitting an application to use another portion of the courthouse grounds.
Drumwright repeatedly testified that he “eventually” came to understand that his gas-powered generator and P.A. system were prohibited on the courthouse grounds on October 31 but hadn’t realized it when he submitted his permit application to the sheriff’s department.
“When did you come to understand that, Rev. Drumwright?” he was asked Wednesday.
“Maybe the day before,” he recalled, saying there had been a lot of communication, back and forth, between Cole, his attorneys, and him in trying to finalize the details for the event.
He acknowledged that he’d exchanged multiple emails with Cole about possible alternate locations for the stage – in lieu of the courthouse grounds – that would allow the use of a gas generator for sound amplification. “The topic came up because it wasn’t clear what the new ordinances were and what their procedures were,” Drumwright testified.
The evening of October 30, Cole informed Drumwright through an email to his attorney Haddix that he would be permitted to set up his trailer and public address system in the northwest corner of Sesquicentennial Park, and he and other speakers could address the crowd from there.
The police department, however, never wavered on their denial of Drumwright’s request to close Court Square to vehicular traffic between 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. on October 31, based on email exchanges between Cole, Sykes, Drumwright, his attorneys, and city officials that were furnished last fall in response to a public records request by The Alamance News.
Harrison presented Drumwright – over multiple objections by his attorneys – with an email that Sykes had sent him on October 29, in which the sheriff’s lieutenant (now a captain for the department) reiterated that any sound amplification equipment must be battery-powered.
Drumwright said he couldn’t remember that specific email, given the flurry of last-minute preparations, but didn’t dispute having received it.
Sykes returned to testify as a rebuttal witness for the prosecution shortly before the conclusion of the trial Wednesday afternoon. He confirmed the details that had been outlined in the emails exchanged with Cole, Drumwright and his attorneys, as well as himself and other city and county officials while planning for the event throughout much of last October.
“I believe you testified that [the morning of your event] you were not allowed to have a gas-powered generator on the courthouse grounds,” Harrison reminded Drumwright on cross-examination.
Drumwright pointed out that he’d been using the generator for at least an hour on October 31.
“Until it was noticed,” Harrison countered. “If you have a bullhorn throughout the proceedings, why not just use that to amplify your voice?”
“There were people gathered on all four corners, approximately 75 yards from where we were,” the organizer said. “When you have cars coming between, people on the other side of the street would not be able to hear – that’s what I know.”
Long subsequently found Drumwright guilty of the failure to disperse on command and resisting a public officer but not guilty of participating in a riot, ordering him to pay $500 in fines and court costs. Drumwright’s attorneys gave notice of their intention to appeal the convictions to superior court.
See story on the conviction last week of Drumwright’s assistant, Brenden Jamar Kee, on three out of four charges at the same Oct. 31 event: https://alamancenews.com/organizers-assistant-found-guilty-of-3-of-4-oct-31-protest-charges/
Read testimony from first day of trial in July: https://alamancenews.com/drumwright-trial-underway-but-not-finished-to-be-continued-sept-8/