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Local sheriff’s deputies answer call to help pacify UNC’s campus

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Neither deputies nor Bearcat armored personnel carrier ended up being needed

The eyes of the nation were on UNC-Chapel Hill on Tuesday as police officers in tactical gear clashed with student protesters who had tested the university’s “liberal” temperament through their zealous advocacy for a free Palestinian state.

This crackdown, which ended in 36 arrests, was reportedly touched off when demonstrators swapped a Palestinian banner for the American flag that flies in front of the chancellor’s office.

The university’s response to this symbolic provocation ultimately drew in law enforcement officers from well beyond Chapel Hill’s immediate sphere of influence.

Among the agencies which got the call to help quell the demonstration was the office of Alamance County’s sheriff, which dispatched roughly two dozen deputies to the university’s campus.

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According to Jackie Fortner, the chief deputy under sheriff Terry Johnson, the all-points bulletin to assist with this matter came in through the N.C. Division of Criminal Investigations.

“We got a DCI message to come to their assistance,” Fortner recalled in an interview Wednesday. “[The message] was not just for us but for other agencies in this part of the state. We responded with our mobile field force and our special response team. There was also a response from the Graham Police Department and from Gibsonville.”

Fortner recalled that between 20 and 25 deputies were ultimately mobilized for this operation, along with the sheriff’s eye-catching Bearcat – an armored personnel carrier that has made appearances in many law enforcement crises closer to home.

“Once we checked in at the command post,” he added, “they staged us in a safe enforcement area until we were needed.”

As it turned out, neither the sheriff’s personnel nor their imposing Bearcat were needed to clear out the protesters who had dug in on the university’s main quad.

Other agencies were ultimately able to restore calm to UNC’s campus and subdue the demonstrators who had allegedly engaged in unruly behavior.

In any event, Fortner insists that his agency’s presence at Tuesday’s tumult was an important gesture that underscores the commitment to mutual assistance within the law enforcement profession.

“We don’t get into the politics,” he added. “We simply respond to the mutual aid request to assist.”

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