Wednesday, February 28, 2024

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Jury begins deliberations in Drumwright trial; sends two sets of questions within first hour

Evidence and testimony, as well as defense and prosecution closing statements, concluded Friday in the superior court trial of Rev. Gregory Drumwright.

Rev. Gregory Drumwright, 43, black male, of 4 Clubview Court, Greensboro, is charged with failure to disperse on command and resisting a public officer, both Class 2 misdemeanors, stemming from an October 31, 2020 march and rally in downtown Graham, culminating in protest speeches on the grounds of the Historic Court House. He had been found not guilty of a misdemeanor riot charge in district court.

Drumwright was found guilty of the two charges by a district court judge in 2021, but his appeal to superior court, pending for more than one year, is de novo, in other words starting from scratch.

UPDATE: On Friday, the charge of failure to disperse was dismissed by superior court judge Tom Lambeth.

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Drumwright’s defense attorney, Jason Keith of Greensboro, spent a half-hour Friday afternoon re-showing to the jury some of the video from the October 31, 2020 protest and rally at the Historic Court House, and arguing that Drumwright had done nothing wrong, merely exercising his freedom of speech during the rally. (The video included no audio.)

Keith also dwelt repeatedly on the actions earlier in the day of the Graham Police Department’s use of pepper spray to clear protesters out of the traffic circle around the courthouse after the march had stopped for an 8 minute-46 second pause when protesters knelt to honor George Floyd, the black man whose death at the hands of a white Minneapolis policeman came after that same time period of having a knee on his neck.

The  Graham police had used pepper spray earlier – between the march and rally – in order to force protesters out of the streets around the traffic circle that goes around the Historic Court House.  Defense attorney Jason Keith dwelt heavily on that action during his closing arguments.

Drumwright, and most other protesters, were arrested by the Alamance County sheriff’s office, based on their actions on the courthouse grounds.  (The sheriff’s office arrested Drumwright and 14 other protesters, while the Graham police arrested 8 during the day.)

Graham police had law enforcement jurisdiction over city streets and sidewalks next to the courthouse and insisted that protesters needed to move out of the roadway after the George Floyd tribute.

(Editor’s note: An Alamance News reporter, Tomas Murawski, present to cover the march and rally, was also arrested by Graham police, following the initial pepper spray use to clear the traffic circle. The charge was later dropped.)

Keith argued that Drumwright didn’t need a permit to hold the rally.

Later, however, assistant district attorney Kevin Harrison, during his own closing argument, pointed out why Drumwright had sought, agreed to, and signed the permit at the Alamance County sheriff’s office: doing so would keep counter-protesters away inasmuch as the permit would allow exclusive use of the courthouse grounds by Drumwright and his supporters.

(During an earlier march and protest organized and led by Drumwright in July, a band of counter-protesters yelled at Drumwright during his remarks at the courthouse.)

Keith returned several times during his closing argument to the “three times” he insisted Graham police had already used pepper spray – although Keith never included an explanation as to why the pepper spray had been used (i.e., police said to clear the roadway) – as providing the context for the later rally.

Keith insisted that the prosecution did not want to give “the full picture” of the day’s events.

But Harrison noted that Keith had not exercised his ability to subpoena anyone from the Graham Police Department if the defense attorney had really wanted to explore fully the events prior to the rally on courthouse grounds.

He also insisted that once the sheriff’s deputies discovered the two gas cans and an electric-powered generator, which were prohibited by the demonstration permit, they had an obligation to discuss the issue with Drumwright, rather than simply attempting to confiscate the generator.

Sheriff’s deputies had not given Drumwright the “basic common courtesy” of explaining the reasons they were taking the generator – an action Keith characterized as “acting unlawfully.”

“This case is bigger than just Mr. Drumwright reaching for a generator,” Keith insisted.

“Who polices police?” he questioned, suggesting that jurors find his client not guilty.

For his part, assistant district attorney Harrison insisted that law enforcement “didn’t start out with a sinister agenda,” as Keith had implied in his closing argument, which also lasted about half an hour.

“The defendant broke his agreement,” Harrison emphasized, and in doing so, broke his “promise of peace.”

Harrison characterized Drumwright’s own testimony as full of “equivocation” and “trying to shift the blame,” never answering directly some of the prosecutor’s questions about his actions that day.

While Keith had argued that seizing the generator, which powered the loud speaker, would effectively end the rally – “he can’t speak without sound amplification,” Keith said – Harrison said Drumwright had a bullhorn, which he could have used to continue speaking.  About 125-150 people marched down Main Street and were at the rally afterwards.

Harrison stressed that Drumwright’s action of “grabbing” sheriff’s deputy, Lieutenant Chad Martin, was the essence of the charge of Drumwright having resisted a public officer.

After each side spent about 30 minutes putting their spin on what jurors should consider in reaching their verdict, resident superior court judge Tom Lambeth spent almost 10 minutes giving the jurors instructions that it was within their power to believe “all, any part of, or none” of the witness testimony they had heard in the course of the trial.

Senior resident superior court judge Tom Lambeth after court Friday.

About 19 people, including Drumwright’s mother, were in the courtroom to support him and went with Drumwright and his attorney into a conference room adjacent to the courtroom during one recess after jurors had left the courtroom.

About 22 minutes after being led out of the courtroom to begin deliberations, the jury sent a written message to judge Lambeth saying they wanted to see the video of the generator seizure again and also still photos of the event.

In consultation with Keith and Harrison, Lambeth decided that the jury would view the video back in the courtroom, rather than the jury room – and would also view the 36 still photographs in the courtroom.  (Keith had insisted that the photo review take place in the courtroom, and Lambeth noted that procedures required him to concede to objection from either the defense or prosecution on the issue.)

Much of the jury’s early attention is focused on the precise moments when sheriff’s deputies tried to take a gas-powered generator and Drumwright and some of his supporters tried to prevent it.

The jury watched the portion of the video focusing on the attempts by sheriff’s deputies to take the generator and viewed the photos as they were passed, one at a time, down the back row and then front row for the 12 jurors to review.

The 12-member jury is comprised of: one black male; one black female; one Hispanic female; one Hispanic male; three white males; and five white females. A black male and a white female are the two alternates. A white female had been selected as the juror foreman; she signaled to the judge when the portion the jury wanted to see again was over.

The two alternate jurors were not included in the deliberations.  Judge Lambeth explained to the newspaper during a brief interview in between court sessions, that a state law enacted during the Covid pandemic allowed for the seating of alternate jurors who could fill in if any regular juror became ill during the deliberations.

Just as jurors were expected back in the courtroom at the end of the day, they sent another written message to judge Lambeth, asking whether the whole event was to be taken into account in considering the charges against Drumwright or only those in connection with the removal of the generator.

After the jury (and alternates) were led back into the courtroom, Lambeth said he would save responding to their latest question until 9:30 Monday morning when proceedings in the case will resume.

Lambeth admonished jurors not to talk with one another or anyone else about the case over the weekend.  He urged them to wear their juror badges to their cars Friday afternoon so that no one would approach them and to put them on Monday morning for the same reason.

The case is being heard in the upstairs courtroom of the Judge J.B. Allen, Jr. Court House.

Read story on earlier coverage of the trial from this week:

See 2021 coverage of district court trial:

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