Sunday, September 26, 2021

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Both felony charges dropped against organizer of Halloween march & rally

Felony charge for obstruction of justice dismissed, and grand jury won’t indict for assault on officer against Rev. Gregory Drumwright; D.A. considering options.

Two felony charges against the organizer of a march and rally in downtown Graham on October 31, 2020 that ended with pepper spray being used to break up the event have been dropped, although the district attorney is “exploring options” on dealing with one of the charges – an assault on one of the deputies at the rally for which a grand jury declined to  indict him.

The organizer of the “I Am Change Legacy March to the Polls,” Rev. Gregory Drumwright of Greensboro, was among 23 people who were arrested on Halloween day.  Drumwright, 41, black male, of 4 Clubview Court in Greensboro, was initially charged that afternoon with misdemeanor failure to disperse.

 

Deputies order the rally to cease, protesters to disperse

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Sheriff’s deputies had emerged from the courthouse, instructing the crowd gathered in front of the courthouse to disperse when two gasoline cans and a gasoline-powered generator were discovered to be in use at the courthouse rally – in violation of the permit Drumwright had obtained for the event.  (Deputies did not explain at the time the basis for terminating the event, but later provided that explanation, as well as photographs and videos, of the gas cans and gas-powered generator on the courthouse grounds.)

The gas-powered generator that was discovered by the sheriff’s office during the rally. They were led to the generator when they observed two gas cans on site.

This photo shows the gas can in close proximity to the generator, which the sheriff’s office said made the situation unsafe and potentially dangerous to the rally participants.

A second photo of a gas can on the courthouse grounds.

This page of the “facilities use permit” specifies that if a generator is to be used in connection with amplification at the rally, it must be a battery-powered one. The violation of this provision, the sheriff’s office contends, is what warranted shutting down the rally and dispersing the crowd.

After three instructions via bullhorn for the crowd to disperse, deputies began using pepper spray (in most instances aimed at the ground) to force the crowd to disband and disperse.

Alamance County Sheriff deputies pepper spray protesters at the I Am Change march in front of the Alamance County Courthouse in Graham, N.C. Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020. Several arrests were made. By Carli Brosseau
Video here: http://bit.ly/3nhGpL2

When they didn’t, the deputies began arresting those who remained, including Drumwright and more than a dozen of his associates, charging them with the misdemeanor charge of failing to disperse.

 

Felony charges against Drumwright added weeks later

Subsequently, additional charges – felony obstruction of justice and felony assault on a law enforcement officer – were filed against Drumwright, as well as additional misdemeanor charges against him and two others. The two felony charges against Drumwright are the charges that have been dropped.

On Wednesday, November 18, the Alamance County sheriff’s department filed several additional charges against Drumwright in connection with his October 31 march and rally: felony obstruction of justice; felony assault on a law enforcement officer inflicting physical injury; misdemeanor resisting a public officer; and misdemeanor public disturbance, based on warrants that were issued for the subsequent charges.

Rev. Greg Drumwright during the October 31 march in Graham that preceded the rally at the courthouse.

Alamance County sheriff Terry Johnson told The Alamance News at the time that he had advised Drumwright of the new charges by phone and was attempting to coordinate with him to turn himself in to law enforcement in Guilford County, where he lives.  Drumwright turned himself in at the Guilford County jail on November 20 and was released the same day on a $10,000 unsecured bond, according to his pretrial release order.

 

Felony charges have now been dismissed

Those two subsequent felony charges have now been dropped – one by dismissal, the other by the failure of the grand jury to return an indictment – Alamance County court documents reveal.

Even though the assistant district attorney who is handling the protester cases told The Alamance News  earlier this month, “I don’t know what’s going on with that case (about the subsequent charges filed against Drumwright),” assistant district attorney Kevin Harrison had, in fact, already signed both court documents (the dismissal and the “no true bill” from the grand jury), according to public records discovered and reviewed by an Alamance News reporter on Tuesday.

“based on the satate of the current case law and the relevant facts of this case, The state does not believe it can meet its burden of proof [on the felony obstruction of justice charge] beyond a reasonable doubt.”  – Assistant district attorney Kevin Harrison

Harrison – who is also prosecuting all of the cases stemming from a series of racial justice protests held in Graham during the second half of 2020 – filed a notice dismissing the felony charge for obstructing justice on January 28, which states that, after reviewing the facts of the case, “Based on the state of the current case law and the relevant facts of this case, the state does not believe it can meet its burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”  The  December 2020 court of appeals decision was cited in the dismissal, and a copy of the court’s opinion was attached.

The dismissal notice that Harrison filed for the felony obstruction charge gives no indication that the charge may be re-filed at a later date.   The standard dismissal form used for criminal offenses committed on or after December 1, 2013 lists an option for re-filing the charge at a later date (termed a “dismissal with leave”); the notice that Harrison filed for the obstruction charge against Drumwright contained no such notation.

However, in a subsequent interview with The Alamance News, district attorney Sean Boone said, “We’re exploring our options as to how to proceed [on the assault on an officer charge for which the grand jury did not return a true bill].”

The dismissal notice that Harrison filed for the felony obstruction charge against Drumwright also cited a December 2020 ruling by the North Carolina Court of Appeals.  In that case, the Appeals Court overturned former Person County D.A. Wallace Bradsher’s conviction of felony obstruction of justice (as well as one related charge), concluding that the state had failed to provide sufficient evidence to support the conviction, according to the December 2020 ruling.  (The Appeals Court upheld two related charges on which Bradsher was convicted in 2018, for conspiring with former Rockingham county D.A. Craig Blitzer to hire each others’ wives to get around state ethics rules, based on multiple news reports.)

District attorney Sean Boone emphasized that his office had little leeway except to dismiss the obstruction charge when a ruling from a higher court (the state’s court of appeals) issued a ruling that restricted an interpretation of the obstruction of justice statute.

Early last month, an Alamance County grand jury was asked to consider the evidence for the felony charge of assault on a law enforcement officer that had been filed against Drumwright in mid-November.  The grand jury returned the bill of indictment as “not a true bill” on February 2, according to the court file.

State law provides a process for reinstating a case in which a grand jury had decided not to indict a defendant (legally termed as “a finding of not a true bill”).  A judge “may defer action . . . for a reasonable period, not to extend past the end of that session of superior court, to allow the institution of a new charge,” with the request that the prosecutor submit a bill of indictment to a lesser or related offense, under the state law that governs reinstatement.

For his part, sheriff Terry Johnson expressed disappointment in the outcome of the felony cases.   Especially with regard to the failure to obtain a grand jury indictment in one of the cases, Johnson said, “The grand jury is set up to view all the evidence,” adding, “and from all the evidence bring an indictment.

“They say ‘a picture’s worth a thousand words,’ and video evidence should be worth even more, but for some reason, the video of the incident was not shown to the grand jury.”

– sheriff Terry Johnson

“Probable cause,” he said, is supposed to be the standard, saying he was disappointed that video evidence of Drumwright’s action was not shown to the grand jury, which heard instead only from witness testimony, specifically, sheriff’s major David Sykes.

“They say ‘a picture’s worth a thousand words,’ and video evidence should be worth even more, but for some reason, the video of the incident was not shown to the grand jury,” Johnson summarized.

The status of the two misdemeanor charges that were filed against Drumwright in November is unclear from Alamance County court files.

The original charge for which he was arrested October 31, failure to disperse, remains pending, according to the court file for that charge.

 

Other protest cases still pending

Nearly five dozen “racial justice” protests were held in downtown Graham during the second half of 2020, following the May 25 killing of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody.

Harrison has been assigned to prosecute all of the cases stemming from protests held in Graham during the second half of 2020.  Most of those cases remain pending in Alamance County district court.  (Editor’s Note: also arrested on October 31 was Alamance News staff writer Tomas Murawski, who was reporting on and photographing the protest.  His case is also still pending.)

Last Wednesday’s scheduled cases regarding various protesters were postponed when all criminal court cases in the county were canceled (Wednesday through Friday) due to COVID cases at the criminal courts building.

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