Monday, June 24, 2024

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Graham, NC 27253
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Graham settles with protesters, no wrongdoing admitted

County also to agree to settlement; between the two governments, $120,000 to be paid to plaintiffs

Attorneys for Alamance County and the city of Graham have struck a six-figure deal to resolve one of the federal lawsuits that has recently raged over the law enforcement response to racial equity protests that the county seat witnessed last year.

This settlement, which received a cursory nod from Graham’s city council on Tuesday, calls on the defendants to pay out $120,000 between them in order to close the books on a case known to the federal courts as Allen et al. vs. City of Graham et al.

The complaints raised in this case concern the allegedly heavy-handed response against a “march to the polls” which racial equity advocates held in Graham on October 31.

Although the march itself went off without a hitch, things took a turn for the worse after members of Graham’s police force unleashed pepper spray ahead of a permitted rally on the grounds of the county’s historic courthouse. This use of pepper spray occurred after the marchers paused in the road near a county-owned Confederate monument for a nine minute moment of silence in honor of George Floyd, who had died at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer that May.

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The marchers on North Main Street at the courthouse when they paused to remember George Floyd.

The city’s police officers ostensibly deployed the pepper spray to clear the roadway around the courthouse, which was supposed to be open to traffic during the rally under an agreement between the city and the event’s organizer Gregory Drumwright.

(Story continues below photographs)

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.
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:

Sheriff’s deputies later released additional pepper spray after they announced the rally’s cancellation, which followed the discovery of a gas powered generator that Drumwright had apparently mobilized in violation of his permit to hold the event.

As the stage-managed event descended into chaos, 23 people were arrested – including Tomas Murawski, a reporter with The Alamance News who was assigned to cover the march.

Charges against Alamance News reporter dropped by D.A.’s office:

Several participants in the march ultimately filed a legal complaint on December 11 that accuses the city and county of various violations of the First Amendment and the Voting Act. These claims were eventually hashed out in an “attorneys-only” conference on May 10 that reportedly gave rise to the proposed settlement.

According to the text of the settlement, the city and county are each obligated to pay $60,000 to cover “claims for personal physical injuries” that the plaintiffs have lodged against the defendants. The settlement directs the payments to be sent to the NAACP’s Legal Defense & Educational Fund for their eventual distribution to the plaintiffs – who are identified as Sylvester Allen, Dejuana Bigelow, Olivia Davis, Tabatha Davis, Angela Willis, and Talaun Woods, as well as the organization Future Alamance.

The terms of the settlement stipulate that the defendants “deny wrongdoing” in spite of the agreed-upon payments, adding that both sets of litigants “agree [that] this settlement is not an admission of wrongdoing by any party.”

In return for the proffered payments, the settlement obliges the plaintiffs to dismiss their complaints against the defendants. In addition to the city and county, these parties include several law enforcement officials, which the settlement identifies as Alamance County’s sheriff Terry Johnson, Graham’s police chief Kristy Cole, and Joaquin Velez, a lieutenant in charge of Graham’s patrol division. The settlement instructs the plaintiffs to “release, acquit, and forever discharge” each of these defendants “from all claims whatsoever arising from or related to the march.”

The terms of this settlement also require a formal nod of approval from both Graham’s city council and the county’s board of commissioners for the agreement to take effect. The city council fulfilled this obligation on Tuesday when its members unanimously accepted the deal after a half-hour closed session between them and their attorneys. In the wake of this huddle, Graham’s mayor Jerry Peterman shared a short statement to explain the council’s forthcoming decision to the community’s residents.

“All defendants deny wrongdoing,” Peterman said as he echoed the text of the settlement, “and the parties agree this settlement is not an admission of wrongdoing by any party.

“It is our conclusion,” he added, “that continuing litigation would multiply the legal cost to our citizens.”

At this point, the county’s board of commissioners hasn’t yet followed suit with its own ratification of the proposed settlement. Yet, the terms of deal don’t seem to have caused much consternation for either John Paisley, Jr., the chairman of Alamance County’s commissioners, or for the commissioners’ vice chairman Steve Carter.

In a brief conversation on Wednesday, Paisley and Carter attributed the impetus for the proposed settlement to Travelers Insurance, which provides the county’s coverage against legal liability.

“This is the one where Travelers settled the case,” Carter recalled as he scoured his memory for the right lawsuit to match up with the settlement.

“They didn’t want to spend the money to fight the claim,” Paisley went on to concur. “So the insurance carrier is paying the money, and there is no money coming from the county.”

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