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Jury trial starts for Halloween 2020 protest organizer

Opening arguments began Wednesday in the Alamance County superior court trial for the organizer of a march and rally in downtown Graham that ended with pepper spray on October 31, 2020.

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.
Drumwright had been convicted of the two charges at the close of a bench trial in Alamance County district court in September 2021.

Drumwright outside the Judge J.B. Allen, Jr. Court House during an earlier court proceeding.

[Story continues below photos from the October 31, 2020 march and rally.]


 

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The march originally came down North Main Street, stopping here in the intersection with Harden Street, and then proceeding to the Historic Court House.

Rev. Greg Drumwright on October 31, 2020 in front of the Historic Court House – prior to the rally’s termination by Alamance County sheriff’s deputies.
Drumwright and other protesters were arrested when they failed to leave courthouse grounds after the sheriff’s office declared the rally over because Drumwright’s group had brought a gas-powered generator and gas cans onto the grounds, in violation of their permit. He charged with failure to disperse on command and resisting a public officer, both Class 2 misdemeanors. He was found guilty in district court, but his appeal is in a format in which there is a new trial, and this time with his fate to be determined by a jury.


However, Drumwright has been granted a trial de novo, a route of appeal that provides for a new trial in a case and prohibits evidence from earlier proceedings from being introduced.

Alamance County assistant district attorney Kevin Harrison is the prosecutor; Drumwright is being represented by Greensboro attorney Jason Keith. Alamance County senior resident superior court judge Tom Lambeth, Jr. is presiding over the trial, which is expected to continue through the end of the week.

Jurors were seated following 1½ days of questioning earlier this week. Including two alternates, the jury is comprised of: two black males; one black female; one Hispanic female and one Hispanic male; six white females; and three white males.

Jurors heard opening arguments Wednesday morning, followed by testimony from Alamance County sheriff’s deputies who had been stationed at the county’s Historic Court House on Halloween day to provide security for the event, based on testimony given Wednesday afternoon.

Harrison introduced Wednesday afternoon two separate 20-minute clips from drone footage recorded that afternoon, as well as 27 still photographs taken from the drone footage, to show the events that proceeded and followed a scuffle over a gas-powered generator and gas can that had been brought onto the Historic Court House grounds, violating a facilties use permit that Drumwright had obtained from the sheriff’s office to reserve the property for his event.

The discovery of a gas can and a running gas generator inside a cloth beach wagon prompted the sheriff’s department to declare the event an illegal assembly and order the crowd to disperse, based on testimony given in superior court Wednesday afternoon.

Deputies attempted to seize the generator and gas can, leading to a subsequent struggle during which one deputy, Alamance County sheriff’s corporal Barbara Tomey, was injured, based on a brief description given Wednesday.

Drumwright, for his part, is accused of interfering with the attempt to seize the generator and gas can and not leaving the Court House grounds after three dispersal orders were given by a sheriff’s deputy using a bullhorn, multiple news outlets have reported.


Photos of the gas cans and gas-powered generator at the rally

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.
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.
A second photo of a gas can on the courthouse grounds.

Most of the 40-some minutes of video footage that jurors watched Wednesday showed various speakers – including Drumwright and then-Burlington mayor Ian Baltutis – addressing the crowd from a makeshift stage that had been set up at the base of the stairs at the north entrance into the Historic Court House.

Lt. Chad Martin and Cpl. Daniel Nichols of the Alamance County sheriff’s office, who said they were part of a team dispatched to provide security for the event at the Historic Court House that afternoon, testified that they had been informed that the Graham police department had deployed pepper fog earlier in the day to clear marchers from the roadway around the Historic Court House.

Martin and Nichols testified under cross-examination by Keith that they had not witnessed the initial use of pepper fog by the Graham police department, which was described as having followed a silent tribute in honor of George Floyd in which marchers kneeled in the middle of the roadway for 8 minutes and 46 seconds – symbolizing how long Derek Chauvin, then a Minneapolis police officer who was later convicted of murdering Floyd, held his knee on Floyd’s neck until he died on May 25, 2020, sparking hundreds of protests nationwide.

Part of the October 31, 2020 protest in downtown Graham included marchers kneeling for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, representing the amount of time a Minneapolis police officer had his foot on George Floyd’s neck before he died earlier that year in police custody.
     While plans called for the protesters to move out of the roadway onto courthouse grounds for a subsequent rally, many initially stayed in the road and did not respond to police directives to move out of Main Street and the traffic circle around the Historic Court House.


 

Martin confirmed under direct examination by Harrison that he had been part of a team dispatched to retrieve the generator and gas can, which had been deemed a safety hazard by his command staff. “I made contact with an individual who was standing at the generator to try to find out [who it belonged to],” Martin testified, before he attempted to power it down, and the scuffle began.

 

Defense: Deputies deployed pepper spray and fogger nine times
Keith later countered that Martin, Nichols, and other deputies knew Drumwright organized the event – and had voluntarily gone through the process of obtaining a permit, though no law required him to do so. Rather than speak with Drumwright and ask him to remove the equipment, Keith argued, the two teams of deputies stationed outside the Court House that afternoon deployed pepper spray and fogger nine times during the course of the struggle.

Using video footage that the state’s prosecutor, Harrison, had introduced earlier in the day, Keith pointed to a “lady in a wheelchair,” telling Martin, “There’s a reaction that occurs. She rubs her eyes, rubs her eyes, and at this point, there’s a reaction.”

Martin confirmed under cross-examination that, by that point, there was no aggression by those in the crowd, but the deputies continued to disperse fogger.

“At this point, is anybody a threat?” Keith asked Martin.

“Not to me, no,” the sheriff’s lieutenant replied.

“At this point, was the generator a point of contention?” Keith asked.

“No,” Martin testified, “it wasn’t.” He also confirmed, under cross-examination, that he had not “explained or communicated with anybody with any authority over this event that there was an issue with the generator,” as the defense attorney summarized it.

During redirect examination by Harrison, Martin testified that Drumwright had interfered with the seizure of the generator because “he just prevented us from seizing the generator.”

Nichols testified under direct examination that he had been part of a team of deputies who were told to retrieve the generator and gas can. “They thought it was a safety hazard due to the generator being inside the cloth wagon,” he said. “We started getting people approaching us…yelling. Yelling’s fine; it’s understandable people are going to be agitated in a situation like that. When you have different people start to grab you, that can be problematic.”

Photos and videos shown to the jury Wednesday depicted Drumwright and numerous other individuals – including Nichols, Martin, and Tomey – grabbing at or reaching toward one another amid the struggle over the generator.

Nichols testified that the pepper spray and pepper fog had been used to create and maintain space between the deputies and the crowd.

Once Tomey deployed her “belt-worn” pepper spray and other deputies deployed foggers, that’s when they were able to “make some space,” and the crowd stopped pushing forward, Nichols testified, adding that’s when he was told the rally was to be terminated.

 

‘It was an agreement between the parties’
“There is no law being broken,” Keith contended. “It was an agreement between the parties. When there’s a violation of an agreement, you have to look to the policy for how you are to act.” That policy states that violators are to be notified of a violation, given an explanation, and in a case such as this, asked to remove or relocate the prohibited device.

Both Nichols and Martin testified that they were following the orders they’d been given by their superiors, and the situation escalated so quickly, they didn’t have time to ask Drumwright to remove the equipment, in keeping with procedures prescribed in the facilities use policy.

“You guys took that generator,” Keith said during cross-examining Nichols. “Did you know about three separate incidents where individuals had been pepper-sprayed in the street [by Graham police officers]? [It was] a very salty and intense situation.”

“The gas can was on fire?” Keith asked Nichols. “You could’ve asked someone to remove that generator, and you did not, [correct]?”

“No sir,” said Nichols.

The trial is scheduled to resume at 9:30 a.m. today in the superior courtroom at the Judge J.B. Allen, Jr. Courthouse.

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