The latest filings in an ongoing federal lawsuit against the Alamance County sheriff’s office and Graham police department reveal that only one of 19 plaintiffs was unable to vote, which they claim to have been prevented from doing when law enforcement deployed pepper spray at a march and rally in downtown Graham on Halloween day of last year, coinciding with the last day of the early voting period for the 2020 general election.
Rev. Gregory Drumwright of Greensboro, who organized the “I Am Change Legacy March to the Polls” in downtown Graham on October 31, 2020, filed the federal suit two days later against Alamance County sheriff Terry Johnson, Graham police chief Kristy Cole, and 30 their respective subordinates. The lawsuit alleges that the use of pepper spray “planned and orchestrated violent dispersal of a peaceful and nonpartisan march to a polling place” and ultimately prevented participants from exercising their constitutional rights to free speech and to vote.
Graham police were the first to deploy pepper fog that afternoon to clear marchers from the middle of the roadway, where they had kneeled in the middle of Court Square for eight minutes and 46 seconds as a silent tribute to George Floyd.
Sheriff’s deputies later used pepper spray to clear the grounds of the Alamance County Historic Court House, after the rally was terminated and sheriff’s corporal Barbara Tomey
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was injured during a struggle over a gas-powered generator and gas can that had been brought onto the courthouse grounds illegally.
The permit that Drumwright had been granted gave him exclusive use of the courthouse grounds but prohibited the use of any gas-powered equipment for sound amplification.
Tomey and other Alamance County sheriff’s deputies testified at trials in district court earlier this year that a crowd surrounded them and attempted to stop them from removing the generator and gas can, which had been deemed a safety hazard to the estimated 200 people in attendance that day. Alamance County sheriff’s deputy Pete Triolo used a bullhorn to issue three dispersal orders, giving marchers approximately 16 minutes to leave the property, he testified at several trials earlier this year.
Graham police and Alamance County sheriff’s deputies eventually charged 23 people for failing to comply with the instructions there were given that day.
The lawsuit lists 19 plaintiffs who attended the “I Am Change” march and rally in downtown Graham on Halloween day in 2020: 13 plaintiffs are adults; four are minors; and two are organizations, which include Drumwright’s group, “Justice 4 the Next Generation,” and Alamance Alliance 4 Justice.
Seven adult plaintiffs and all four minor children live in Alamance County; four plaintiffs, including Drumwright, live in Guilford County; and one lives in Orange County, according to documents that were filed last week in federal court.
One plaintiff hadn’t voted since 2012
As part of the initial phase of discovery in the suit, the city and county defendants asked each plaintiff to disclose his or her “voting status” in 2020, including whether and where they were registered to vote, as well as whether and when each plaintiff voted in the 2020 general election. The plaintiffs’ responses were filed last week in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina.
“Plaintiff Harvey further states that throughout 2020, his voter registration was ‘Inactive’ within Guilford County, North Carolina, where [he] no longer maintained his residence,’” according to the plaintiffs’ responses to to the defendants’ initial interrogatory. “Plaintiff Harvey intended to register to vote in his county of residence, Alamance County, on the last day of one-stop early voting on October 31, 2020 [but was unable to do so] because of Defendants’ actions and, as such, Plaintiff Harvey was not able to vote in the 2020 General Election.”
Harvey had previously voted in-person on Election Day in 2012 in Guilford County and in-person on Election Day in 2008 in Guilford County, according to the state Board of Elections. He registered as a Democrat in Alamance County on August 9, 2021, according to the state elections board.
Harvey became one of the most prolific protesters during the nearly five dozen protests held in downtown Graham during the second half of 2020. He was charged five times at four separate protests in Graham between September and December 2020; a separate charge of assaulting a female, for which he was arrested on September 5, 2020, appeared unrelated to his participation at BLM protests in Graham, based on his court file.
This spring, Harvey was found guilty of only one charge, misdemeanor impeding traffic at a protest on September 26, 2020. His other charges were dismissed by Alamance County assistant district attorney Kevin Harrison, who prosecuted the cases, and/or the retired visiting district court judge, Lunsford Long, III of Orange County, who presided over the “2020 protest trials” in Alamance County district court earlier this year.
This summer, a grand jury indicted Harvey on a felony charge of possession of cocaine, stemming from an arrest by the Graham police department in February of this year; that case remains pending, as well as a misdemeanor charge of defacing a public building for which he was arrested on May 5, 2021, according to his Alamance County court files.
Two cast their ballots the same day they say law enforcement prevented them from voting
Most of the other adult plaintiffs in the suit had cast their ballots prior to the October 31 protest, where law enforcement are alleged to have “unlawfully prevented and/or intimidated Plaintiffs from voting and encouraging others to vote,” according to amended supplemental responses that the plaintiffs filed in federal court last week.
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Two plaintiffs voted in Alamance County one the last day of one-stop early voting in 2020 – the same day on which they were allegedly prevented from doing so, according to their suit. The latest court filings reveal that Faith Cook and Janet Nesbitt voted on October 31, 2020.
Two of the plaintiffs who were eligible to vote last year waited until Election Day on November 3, 2020 to do so: Edith Ann Jones of Alamance County and Ashley Reed Batten of Orange County.
Five plaintiffs, including Drumwright, were among a total of 23 arrested on misdemeanor charges, such as failure to disperse on command and resisting an officer, at the march and rally on October 31, 2020. Four plaintiffs were found guilty of the original and/or reduced charges; two have said they will appeal their convictions to superior court.
Originally, the suit targeted just three named defendants: Alamance County sheriff Terry Johnson; Graham police chief Kristy Cole; and Joaquin Velez, who was described as the lieutenant over the patrol division for the Graham police department. The defendants were originally listed as “Graham police officers John and Jane Does #1-15” and “Alamance County deputy sheriffs John and Jane Does #16-30.”
The plaintiffs have since filed an amended complaint that lists the names of each of the police officers and sheriff’s deputies. The plaintiffs are seeking an award for an unspecified amount of monetary damages under multiple alleged claims, for what they contend was an “indiscriminate deployment of pepper spray” and “unlawful uses of force.”