Demands include dropping cases against Drumwright & his top aide, having sheriff prohibit officers from testifying at next trial; wants settlement structured to be tax-exempt for plaintiffs
One of the law firms representing the 19 plaintiffs in the long-running lawsuit against the Alamance County sheriff’s office and Graham police department has offered to settle the suit in exchange for a $351,500 payment and numerous other conditions.
The proposed settlement would require the city and county to pay a total $351,500 (or $18,500 for each of the 19 plaintiffs) and meet several other conditions, based on the terms of a proposed settlement offer sent to the defendants’ attorneys last week and obtained by The Alamance News. The plaintiffs include 13 adults, four minor children, and two racial justice organizations led by several of the individual plaintiffs.
However, the letter proffering the settlement states that the terms are still being negotiated with the plaintiffs. “I believe we can get to ‘yes’ on these terms if we understand that [the defendants] are willing to agree to them,” Stephen M. Medlock of the Mayer Brown law firm wrote in a March 28 letter offering the settlement.
The proposed settlement terms would also require Graham police chief Kristy Cole to have an “on-the-record in-person meeting lasting at least 60 minutes within 60 days of the effective settlement agreement” with the plaintiffs.
Alamance County sheriff Terry Johnson would be required to have an “off-the-record meeting lasting at least 60 minutes” with the plaintiffs within 60 days of the settlement date. The proposed settlement agreement also carries a stipulation that the meeting “may not be recorded using audio and/or visual recording methods, but note taking is allowed.”
Both Johnson and Cole would be allowed to bring any representatives from their departments to the meeting with the plaintiffs, under the proposed settlement.
The terms of the proposed settlement would also require the sheriff to ask the Alamance County district attorney’s office to dismiss the pending criminal charges against Drumwright and his assistant, Brenden Kee. If the D.A.’s office refused to dismiss the charges, then Johnson would be required to prohibit his personnel from testifying at Drumwright’s and Kee’s trials on appeal in Alamance County superior court.
In September 2021, a retired visiting district court judge from Orange County found Drumwright guilty of misdemeanor charges of resisting a public officer and failure to disperse on command but not guilty of a misdemeanor riot charge stemming from his refusal to leave the Alamance County Historic Court House grounds on October 31, 2020.
The same judge found Kee, who described himself as a minister and co-outreach director for Drumwright’s church in Greensboro, guilty in September 2021 of misdemeanor resisting a public officer; public disturbance; and failure to disperse on command in connection with the October 31 march and rally in downtown Graham. Both men announced at the conclusion of their trials in district court last fall that they would appeal their convictions to superior court.
If approved, the payment to the plaintiffs would be tax-exempt.
The proposed settlement agreement includes a provision, stating, “For tax purposes, Plaintiffs ask that the agreement specify that this payment shall constitute only compensation for alleged physical injury and pain and suffering, including alleged emotional harm arising from the physical injury.” Compensatory awards for alleged personal injuries are not taxable under federal tax regulations.
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Photo collage from October 31, 2020 march and rally in downtown Graham:
In exchange for payment of the $351,500 and agreeing to the other terms of the proposed terms, the plaintiffs would cease any further filings in the suit in order to focus on finalizing the agreement, according to the March 28 settlement offer. The two sides in the litigation attempted to negotiate a mediated settlement in the dispute early last month but couldn’t reach an agreement, based on federal court filings.
The proposed $351,500 settlement would cover the attorney fees and court costs for the 19 plaintiffs, according to the letter sent to the city’s and county’s attorneys last week.
However, the city and county defendants would be required to pay their costs for defending against the lawsuit, as well as to withdraw an order entered by a federal magistrate judge that requires the plaintiffs to pay 20 percent of the defendants’ expenses for depositions in the case, under the terms of the proposed settlement.
The lawsuit was originally filed in federal court by Rev. Gregory Drumwright of Greensboro, on November 2, 2020, two days after law enforcement used pepper spray to clear the roadway around Alamance County’s Historic Court House and to disperse the crowd of about 200 from the grounds of the county’s Historic Court House.
Graham police officers testified last year that they had deployed pepper spray, which they directed toward the ground, when marchers refused to leave the roadway around Court Square following an 8-minute, 46-second silent tribute for George Floyd at the end of the march down Main Street and prior to the rally at the Historic Court House.
Law enforcement testified at numerous trials in Alamance County district court last year that the event was declared an unlawful assembly and terminated following the discovery of a gas generator and two gas cans that had been brought onto the courthouse grounds, violating a facilities use permit that Drumwright had been granted and gave him exclusive use of the property that day.
Alamance County sheriff’s deputies testified at multiple trials in district court last year that three verbal warnings had been delivered, over a bullhorn during a 16-minute time span, before pepper spray was deployed.
In his suit, Drumwright contended that the use of pepper spray – to disperse the crowd, after the march had been declared an unlawful assembly – was a “planned and orchestrated violent dispersal of a peaceful and nonpartisan march to a polling place” on the last day of early voting, which the plaintiffs claim violated their constitutional rights. The lawsuit lists more than three dozen defendants, including: approximately 30 Graham police officers and Alamance County sheriff’s deputies; Alamance County sheriff Terry Johnson; Graham police chief Kristy Cole; and the city of Graham.
Mayer Brown, a civil litigation firm headquartered in Chicago that has an office in Washington, D.C., is one of four law firms representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. The defendants are being represented by three law firms based in Raleigh, Greensboro, and Charlotte.
The city and county agreed last year to pay $60,000 each to settle a parallel suit over alleged personal injury claims and alleged constitutional violations stemming from the same march and rally in downtown Graham on October 31, 2020.
Drumwright is currently a Democratic candidate for an at-large seat on Guilford County’s board of commissioners, running against Democratic incumbent commissioner Katie (“Kay”) Cashion in the May 17 primary.