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Graham files appeal over judge’s order to provide police protest videos

An attorney for Graham’s chief of police has asked an Alamance County judge to hold off on enforcing an order he issued last month to force local law enforcement to release video recordings they made during a so-called “march to the polls” that they broke up in October.

Adam P. Banks, a lawyer for Graham’s police chief Kristy Cole, has asked Superior Court Judge Andy Hanford to hold a hearing on July 7 to consider staying his order, which had directed Graham’s police department and the office of Alamance County’s sheriff release their recordings of the march “without redaction or alteration.”

Hanford signed this order on June 15 in response to a request from a coalition of news outlets, which had petitioned him for body-camera footage and other recordings to help reconcile the widely divergent accounts of the march that have come from law enforcement and its participants.

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.

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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. Both photos were presumably made from video footage recorded by the sheriff’s department.

The ill-fated event, which passed through Graham on October 31, lapsed into chaos after police officers deployed pepper spray against the marchers as they prepared for a rally on the grounds of the county’s historic courthouse. According to the Graham police department, officers used the pepper spray when the marchers failed to clear the streets ahead of the rally as stipulated in an agreement with the event’s lead organizers. Yet, many of those present that day were not privy to this arrangement and were taken aback when an officer rushed through the crowd with a canister of olfactory irritant. The release of this spray was followed in short order by the first of 23 arrests that occurred in the ensuing commotion.

The law enforcement response to the event ultimately involved both members of Graham’s municipal police force and deputies from the office of Alamance County’s sheriff. Although each agency recorded some of its interactions with the event’s participants, only Graham’s police department produced body-cam footage since body-worn cameras are not part of the panoply of equipment that the sheriff’s office uses. The sheriff’s office nevertheless recorded much of the event with video cameras and a camera drone that provided a bird’s eye view of the fracas.

Snippets of body-cam footage and other recordings have already surfaced during the trials of individuals who were arrested in the aftermath of the march. Even so, a coalition of news outlets led by the McClatchy newspaper chain has filed a request for the full collection of law enforcement recordings from the event.

In his order on June 15, Hanford conceded that the requested recordings could “harm the reputation or jeopardize the safety” of some of the people depicted. The judge nevertheless deemed their release to be conducive “to the fair, impartial, and orderly administration of justice,” and he instructed the two law enforcement agencies to make all the requested materials available “without redaction or alteration” by 2:00 p.m. on Friday, June 25.

Anthony J. Billings, another lawyer for Graham’s municipal police chief, filed a notice of appeal on June 16 that declared he would challenge Hanford’s directive before the N.C. Court of Appeals. Banks has presumably asked the local judge to stay his order in anticipation of a hearing before the state court of appeals, although his request for an audience with Hanford is dated June 29 – a full four days after the judge’s deadline for the release of the requested materials.

In an interview earlier this week, Alamance County’s attorney Clyde Albright conceded that he wasn’t aware of any additional appeal that has been lodged in this case specifically on behalf of the sheriff’s office.

“Graham filed the appeal,” the county attorney went on to add in a conversation on Monday, “and I just got a copy of it this morning.”

A day later, Albright added that Banks’ request for a stay had effectively stopped the clock on the enforcement of Hanford’s order against both the sheriff’s office and Graham’s police department.

According to Michelle Mills, a spokeswoman for Alamance County’s sheriff Terry Johnson, the sheriff’s office is awaiting an all-clear from the county’s legal department before it releases its full inventory of recordings from the event. Mills noted, however, that her agency has these materials ready to go at a moment’s notice should it receive the county attorney’s clearance.

“We’ve tried to be as transparent as possible in light of the cases,” the sheriff’s representative added. “But most of it is uploaded on YouTube anyway.”

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