A lawsuit that was originally filed last summer in Orange County against the Alamance County sheriff’s department and city of Graham has been transferred by a superior court judge to Alamance County.
Attorney Jamie Paulen of Hillsborough filed the suit seeking more than $25,000 in damages under each of six alleged claims for relief for injuries she said she sustained during the “I Am Change Legacy March to the Polls” in downtown Graham on October 31, 2020.
Visiting superior court judge Rebecca W. Holt of Wake County directed the lawsuit to be transferred because Paulen had failed to show that she could not obtain a fair trial in Alamance County, based on an order entered two weeks ago in Orange County superior court.
A defense attorney for numerous Black Lives Matter activists charged during protests in downtown Graham in 2020, Paulen claims she was pepper-sprayed in the face by law enforcement during the march to the polls, a use of force that she contends was unlawful and unjustified.
Alamance County sheriff’s deputies testified at protesters’ trials in district court last year that pepper spray was used to disperse the crowd after several attendees attempted to stop them from seizing a gas-powered generator and gas can that had been brought onto the Historic Court House grounds, violating the terms of the permit that had been granted for the event.
For her part, Paulen has not been charged with any criminal offenses in connection with any of the racial justice demonstrations held in Graham following George Floyd’s murder while in Minneapolis police custody on May 25, 2020.
Paulen alleges in her suit that she was “hit by the spray” when “the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office deployed its capsaicin containing fluid on the crowd,” which she contends was “directed at eye level, not at foot level.”
Paulen “was unable to breathe for several moments [and] experienced severe burning in her eyes, throat, and mouth,” which caused her to begin panicking, according to her suit.
“Paulen continues to have a panic response when she sees law enforcement officers,” the attorney asserts in her suit, adding that the potential long-term effects on her health “cannot currently be ascertained.”
Video footage recorded by police body-cams and released last year revealed that Graham police had been the first to deploy pepper spray earlier in the day. Graham police testified at trials last year that pepper spray had been used to move the crowd out of the roadway – N.C. Highway 87, which also serves as the city’s Main Street – once demonstrators had finished kneeling 8 minutes and 46 seconds as a silent tribute in Floyd’s memory.
Holt also granted a motion to dismiss one of the individual defendants, former Graham police officer Eric Jordan, who later took a position with the Alamance County sheriff’s office, for lack of proper service and lack of personal jurisdiction.
To read the judge’s order, click HERE
Paulen claims in her suit that she couldn’t receive treatment for her injuries because “Jordan and others from the Graham Police Department continued to spray Paulen to force her” away from the historic court house.
The attorney is seeking more than $25,000 in damages under each of six alleged claims. Paulen filed the suit in Orange County superior court on July 6 of last year, about eight months after the event.