Charged with “impeding traffic,” judge finds they weren’t even in the road
The current president of Alamance County’s chapter of the NAACP has been cleared of charges that he and three members of his organization were arrested on last summer, during a protest over the Confederate monument at the north side of the Historic Court House in downtown Graham (see related stories, this edition).
All four defendants had been charged with resisting an officer and impeding traffic, and were tried collectively in district court Wednesday morning. Arrested at the protest on July 25, 2020 were:
· NAACP president Barrett Lee Brown, 48, black male, of 1045 Camelot Lane in Graham;
· Rev. Walter Clinton Allison, Sr., 67, black male, of 315 Cobb Avenue in Burlington;
· Amie Christina Harrison, 58, white female, of 5127 Mount Olive Church Road in Pittsboro;
· Noah Wilson Read, 50, white male of 2439 Glencoe Street in Burlington.
Retired visiting district court judge Lunsford Long, III concluded, after hearing testimony and reviewing video footage presented Wednesday morning, that none of the four defendants had impeded traffic.
“I have a problem with your case,” Long told Alamance County assistant district attorney Kevin Harrison, who has been assigned to handle all of the 2020 protest cases in Graham. “How does this impede the flow of traffic? You have a problem…I think this is a fatal defect unless you can persuade me now.”
Harrison said that he’d planned to address later a ruling by a federal district court judge, Catherine Eagles, which enjoined the city of Graham and Alamance County from imposing restrictions – beyond reasonable limits on time and place – that infringe upon constitutional rights to free expression in “traditional public forums,” such as sidewalks.
Harrison argued unsuccessfully that the protesters had been in a red brick area, between the sidewalk and directly beside the monument, that is considered part of the roadway.
Alamance County sheriff’s deputy Jim Giannotti testified Wednesday morning that he was stationed on the north side of the Historic Court House that day, when the four protesters took up positions directly beside the monument, which deputies had been told was “part of the roadway” and needed to remain clear so traffic could move freely. He was instructed by sheriff’s major David Sykes (who he said at the time had been a captain in the department) to “make sure they keep out of the road…and be very professional,” Giannotti testified.
Long noted, after reviewing footage captured by a camera on the roof top of the Historic Court House, that Brown had seemingly come out of nowhere. He was joined by the other three members of his organization shortly afterward, based on the video footage presented.
Giannotti testified that he’d asked Allison “seven or eight times” to move back across the street beside the Sesquicentenial Park, where an area had been blocked off for the protesters, but he didn’t budge. Not long after that, Sykes “gave the order to arrest,” Giannotti recalled on the witness stand.
Read was represented by Brian L. Crawford of the Sanford Holshouser law firm; the other three defendants were represented by Elizabeth Haddix of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, though she ultimately made the arguments in all four cases.
“These officers had to have probable cause [to believe] a law was being broken,” Haddix argued Wednesday morning. “There had to be a reason. That’s in our criminal statute. They were in violation of an unconstitutional county policy that barred them from protesting racism.”
After reviewing legal memorandums that Crawford and Haddix presented Wednesday morning, Long announced that he was allowing their motions to dismiss the charges against all four defendants.