Tuesday, June 22, 2021

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Charges against Alamance News reporter dropped

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The district attorney’s office on Wednesday dismissed a case against Alamance News reporter Tomas Murawski, who was arrested October 31, 2020 while covering a march and demonstration in downtown Graham.   Murawski had been photographing the arrest of a protester when he, himself, was arrested.

He was one of 23 individuals arrested that day, some by Graham police, as Murawski was, and others by the Alamance County’s sheriff’s office.  Those cases and other “protest cases” from the second half of 2020 have been scheduled for successive Wednesdays since mid-February with visiting district court judge Lunsford Long presiding.

Murawski  was told he would be charged with failing to obey a lawful command from police who said that they had instructed him and others to clear out of the roadway around Court Square.

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The charge actually filed was for delaying, resisting, and obstructing a police officer, because he allegedly pulled away from the arresting officer. [Video footage taken by another media outlet, however, shows no resistance on his part.]


See video footage of the arrest from The (Raleigh) News & Observer here: https://www.newsobserver.com/article246866352.html


Three photos above courtesy of Anthony Crider.

Alamance News reporter Tomas Murawski being led away to be booked at the Alamance County jail. In the background is the first person arrested, William Traynor, whose photo Murawski had taken just prior to his own arrest.

Murawski had been photographing the march and protest;  he had just taken a photograph of the arrest of a protester when he, himself, was arrested.

Murawski’s arrest took place shortly after Graham police had used pepper spray to clear marchers out of the roadway around the courthouse.

[Editor’s Note: A second, more widely-reported instance of pepper spray would be deployed by the Alamance County sheriff’s office later that day after the demonstration on courthouse grounds, for which protesters had a permit, was cancelled by the sheriff’s office due to what officials said was a violation of that permit.

[A sound system used by the protest leaders was powered by a gas-powered generator; according to the permit that had been issued, only battery-powered generators were to be allowed in order to prevent a safety hazard.  When sheriff’s deputies discovered two gas cans and the gas-powered generator on the grounds of the courthouse, they declared the rally over and ordered the crowd to disperse.  After three warnings via a bullhorn, deputies deployed pepper spray to force the crowd to leave the courthouse grounds.]

Murawski was one of 23 individuals arrested that day, some by Graham police, as Murawski was, and others by the Alamance County’s sheriff’s office.  Those cases and other “protest cases” from the second half of 2020 have been scheduled for trial on successive Wednesdays since mid-February with visiting district court judge Lunsford Long presiding.

Murawski is a 17-year veteran reporter with the newspaper, has won numerous state and national press awards for his incisive writing and quality photographs.

Alamance News Publisher Tom Boney, Jr. expressed concerns after his reporter’s arrest over why Murawski could have been arrested “simply for covering the event.”

“Tomas has been an outstanding reporter and photographer for many years, and has always demonstrated strict professionalism in all his work,” the publisher said at the time. “I cannot imagine that he did anything warranting his treatment at the Graham rally.

“Police had their hands full, but I cannot imagine that Tomas’ actions would have risen to a level warranting arrest, and I look forward to hearing some explanation for arresting a reporter for simply doing his job.

“Video recordings of the arrest do not show Tomas ‘jerking away,’ as alleged by police,” Boney said, “further adding to our dissatisfaction with the way he was treated on that Halloween Day Saturday.

In a statement Wednesday, publisher Boney amplified his comments. “In the six months since his arrest, police have not offered any explanation or more detailed reasons for the circumstances of the arrest other than that contained in the formal charge.”

He “had been asked several times to move,” the magistrate’s order states, “but refused. At the time, the officer was discharging and attempting to discharge a duty of his office by clearing the roadway.”

Nor was any explanation provided Wednesday as to why the charge was dismissed.

“While we’d always like, and hope for, an explanation or even an apology for the way our reporter was treated that day, I guess we’re at least grateful that the charges were, finally, dismissed,” Boney added Wednesday afternoon after learning of the dismissal.

On October 31, after a 3-hour processing period at a magistrate’s office at the county jail, Murawski was released on his own recognizance with the further proviso, given to all those arrested that day at the march and rally, that he not return to Graham for 72 hours (other than for work-related reasons).

He was at work within that 72 hour window: Monday morning, covering a county commissioners’ meeting; Monday night in Burlington at that city council’s meeting; and Tuesday again at the news office; and later, after the 72-hour limit, for another Burlington city council meeting.

An Alamance News reporter who covered trials on Wednesday sought more detail about the circumstances of the D.A.’s dismissal of Murawski’s case.  In looking at his court file on Wednesday, there is a notation stating that the charge had been voluntarily dismissed with the reason listed as “deferral period successful.”

Alamance County assistant district attorney Kevin Harrison, who is prosecuting most of the 2020 protest cases and voluntarily dismissed Murawski’s charge, elaborated that the reporter was “given a period to not have any new criminal charges,” in keeping with an agreement that Harrison said his attorney, Todd Allen Smith, had worked out.

Asked why it had taken so long to resolve the case, Harrison said, “Many, many cases have taken quite a long time to resolve.”

The assistant D.A. said “something was attempted to be worked out quite a while [in Murawski’s case] to reach a resolution without trying to cause negative effects for people’s futures.”

For his part, Murawski said he was unaware of any provision, stipulation, understanding, or other condition associated with his case other than a simple and straightforward dropping of the charges – and that he had not agreed to any.


See the newspaper’s editorial opinion on the dismissal here: https://alamancenews.com/the-first-amendment-prevails/

See also outcome of other May 27 court trials and cases:  https://alamancenews.com/one-protester-convicted-of-offenses-on-two-dates-another-convicted-of-one-not-guilty-on-others-several-dismissed-altogether/

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