But found not guilty of assaulting a counter-protester
A Black Lives Matter activist who was arrested in downtown Graham in September 2020 was convicted of resisting an officer but found not guilty of simple assault during his trial in Alamance County district court this week.
Kani Adon Bynum, 24, black male, of 605 Martin Street in Greensboro, was arrested in downtown Graham for simple assault, for allegedly assaulting a white counter-protester during a demonstration at the Historic Court House on September 23, 2020. He was also charged the same night with resisting an officer, when approached by police – instead fleeing to his car, which he had backed into a parking space directly in front of The Alamance News office along West Elm Street. Both are Class 2 misdemeanors under state law. Bynum pleaded not guilty to the charges at his trial in district court Wednesday afternoon.
At the outset of his trial, Bynum’s attorney, Meredith Cairo of Gibson Law in Wake County, had asked retired visiting district court judge Lunsford Long, III of Orange County, who has agreed to hear all of the cases related to the 2020 protests in Graham, to recuse himself, saying she had perceived some bias on his part during another protest trial he presided over last week. “Several times I was cut off from my arguments,” Cairo told Long.
Long agreed to review the transcript from the earlier trial, but told the defense attorney, “The court has a right to limit argument. We have a lot of cases…We need to speed things up. Case law says the court does not have to even permit argument at all.” The judge returned to the courtroom a few minutes later and informed the attorney, “I read the materials, and I find that your motion is denied.”
The alleged assault victim in the case, Ryan Michael Evans, 35, white male, 1332 Stonewall Avenue, Burlington, testified this week about why he had come to downtown Graham that night. Evans said he’d been “videoing things going on” outside the Alamance County Historic Court House, when Bynum supposedly struck him with a flag was been carrying.
‘I was there to protect my county; protect the statue; protect our officers’
“I was there to protect my county; I was there to protect the [Confederate] statue; I was there to protect our officers [from] BLM people – people that come from other counties and start trouble,” Evans testified. “They’re here to rip down the statue and cause harm to our officers. I was there to help our officers…in any way necessary.”
“You’re not a fan of BLM?” Cairo asked Evans.
“I am not,” Evans responded. “I feel they should stay in their counties. I don’t go to Orange County; I don’t go to Chapel Hill; I don’t go to Guilford County.”
Asked by Cairo whether he had ever been charged with a crime, Evans admitted he had been charged with possession of marijuana in 2007 and completed his probation as required. “That was over, and that’s irrelevant to this. I had a man assault me; I defended myself and was charged with disorderly conduct [at a separate protest]. He put his hands on me first – I have it all on video.”
Although he was not questioned about during his testimony, two nights earlier, on September 21, Evans was charged with disorderly conduct, for allegedly harassing marchers during an anti-racism protest in downtown Graham, based on a copy of the citation that the Graham police department subsequently furnished to the newspaper. Evans’ case remains pending in Alamance County district court; it is currently scheduled to be heard Thursday, May 27.
Prior to his initial encounter with Bynum on September 23, Evans said he was “just walking around the courthouse” and “two gentlemen started making remarks. They said ‘the police ain’t going to be able to protect me.’ I said, ‘I know that.’ [Then the two men said something else] and I said, ‘yes, God already handled me.’ I was walking around the historical courthouse; I was getting ready to make my way over to the news place – that’s where I was headed. I didn’t approach nobody; I was walking on the sidewalk like I am freely allowed to do. He struck me in the face and took off running. That’s all I know about this gentleman.”
“I did not strike him with my flag,” Bynum testified. “That was not my intention. I tried to move to my left, and his phone was there.”
“You said you think he was there to agitate…it’s not unusual to be filming other people at these events?” Alamance County assistant district attorney Kevin Harrison asked Bynum.
‘Let’s talk behind the building’
Protesters and counter-protesters regularly film people on the opposing side of an issue during demonstrations but “It was unusual, the manner” in which it was done here, Bynum responded. Before he took off running down the street – about 100 yards from the courthouse, to where his silver Honda Civic was parked, midway down the 100 block of West Elm Street – all he heard was a Graham police officer saying, “’Let’s talk behind the building,’” Bynum testified, adding that other people had told him stories about alleged police brutality by members of the Graham police department.
Earlier during his trial Wednesday afternoon, Bynum said he thought that Evans had been trying to “dox” protesters, which he described as taking their photographs and disseminating personal information, with the intent of bringing harm to them. Bynum said he had used the flag he had been carrying that night – identical to the American flag but red, green, and black in place of the traditional red, white, and blue – to cover the faces of two women who were standing on his right-hand side because he was “afraid they were going to get doxxed.
“My intention was never to hurt him,” Bynum said, referring to Evans. He said he had been holding his flag as far to his right-hand side as he could get it without striking the two women, while Evans kept jerking it from the left-hand side. “It was like a bait; I fell right into it,” he testified. Bynum acknowledged that his initial reaction was to jerk the flag – but “nowhere near” Evans’ face, as the victim had alleged. “I have no hard feelings for him or anyone. I don’t come in violence.”
Bynum testified that he initially saw Graham police Cpl. John Hodge, who also testified Wednesday about the events surrounding the arrest, and another Graham police officer “break through, violently” a crowd of protesters that had gathered around him. He started walking backwards, to where he had parked his car, as “things started getting hectic,” Bynum testified. “I realized I was the cause of the escalation, and I needed to leave.” He said was not aware that the Graham police department was investigating an alleged assault that Evans had reported to the three officers only moments before.
“When they were coming toward me, I noticed they were coming very aggressively,” Bynum recalled. “The only thing I heard was ‘let’s talk behind the building’…I believed my life was in danger. I swear on my life, I did not hear any officer speak to me as I was running.”
Once he reached his car, he got inside, locked the doors, took a “few seconds to breathe and gather” his thoughts, Bynum testified. I felt if I were to get out of there, everything would be calm and still. I got in the car and realized it wasn’t a good idea to leave – there could be a chase. [There] was a lot of adrenaline; I wasn’t thinking.” By the time he looked up, he was surrounded by police vehicles.
“The police officers had guns pointed at me,” Bynum recalled. “I got out of my car and said, “‘I am not resisting arrest.’”
Judge: ‘I don’t think there was any assault’
Long repeatedly studied the first of two videos that Evans recorded the night of September 23. Evans said he had furnished the first video to three Graham police officers, who had been standing on the corner of Court Square, in front of The Verdict restaurant, that night. In the video, Evans can be heard telling the protesters, “Getting it all, getting it all,” followed by a cracking noise after some back and forth with protesters.
“What was the noise – from the flag?” Long asked Evans. He told the visiting judge that had been the sound of the flag striking him in the face, leaving him with a black eye for two days.
After watching the video that Evans recorded of the alleged assault by Bynum, he agreed with Cairo’s assertion that the state had failed to meet its burden of proof. “They haven’t been able to show what Mr. Bynum did was willful,” she said.
“I think you are right,” Long concluded. “I think the sound I heard was a flagpole hitting a phone; I don’t think there was any assault.”
Bynum was arrested a few feet from the front door of the The Alamance News office at 114 West Elm Street during a protest that appeared to have sprung up spontaneously the evening of September 23, 2020, several hours after a grand jury in Kentucky elected not to indict two of three Louisville police officers who had been involved in Breonna Taylor’s death earlier that year, while a third officer was indicted on three counts of wanton endangerment.
In an interview with The Alamance News during a break in the proceedings Wednesday afternoon, Bynum acknowledged that he had raced into downtown Graham that night in hopes of defusing what he’d been told were mounting tensions between BLM protesters and counter-protesters. Bynum backed his car into a parking space directly in front of the newspaper office, and made his way toward the crowd, he recalled during the interview and under oath Wednesday afternoon.
After Long suggested that Cairo might want to ask her client some background questions, Bynum broke down in tears, recounting how he’d begun his professional life as a teacher at one of the first schools in Greensboro to be desegregated. “I wanted to help the world become a better place,” he told the judge. Today, he works as a racial equity trainer, working with “police officers, lawyers, politicians,” for REI (the Racial Equity Institute), a nonprofit in Greensboro, Bynum told the judge. “I work with anyone to help people understand the problems with this world,” he said Wednesday.
As part of his role with REI, he attends racial justice protests, he said, in order to try to deescalate confrontations between demonstrators and counter-demonstrators. “Usually I go there to speak peacefully to protesters,” Bynum told the judge Wednesday afternoon.
Byron White, who is black and described himself as a Burlington resident and business owner, testified that he works with Bynum to deescalate and “try to bring some level-headedness” to prevent protests from turning violent. White recounted under oath that he had been standing “right next to” Bynum the night of September 23, when Evans “came directly toward us and started calling us names and agitating us.”
White characterized that encounter as a teachable moment, saying Bynum kept urging him to ignore Evans. “He said, ‘he’s trying to get you riled up,” White recalled of the conversation with Bynum that night. “He just kept trying to film stuff,” Bynum testified, referring to Evans, who had been recording the protest with his cell phone. “All of a sudden, he kept his focus on us – kept cursing, saying racial stuff. He kept trying to get us to fight.”
White’s testimony corroborated the same chain of events that Bynum had outlined, before dissolving into tears as he reflected on the events he witnessed the night of September 23.
‘Adrenaline was running’
Bynum’s attorney was less successful in arguing that “intent is an issue as well” in determining whether he was guilty of resisting an officer. “He was under the impression he was in danger; Mr. Bynum did feel endangered – the time frame’s going very fast for Mr. Bynum,” she told the judge Wednesday afternoon. Bynum cooperated fully and complied with the officers as soon as he realized why they were standing outside of his car, Cairo argued. “He works with police officers. Because of what he’s seen at other protests, he believed he was in danger; the adrenaline was running.”
Harrison, however, countered that Bynum had previously testified about seeing the officers “approaching him aggressively,” that “instead of leaving he should’ve stayed there.” Hodge had identified himself as a law enforcement officer, but Bynum kept running. “Certainly more than two times they tried to get him out of the car. Saying he doesn’t hear the officers, doesn’t hear any commands, doesn’t make any sense. He contradicted himself multiple times.”
“I agree with you,” Long told the assistant D.A. “It’s not a major crime, but I do think it happened, and I think it’s my duty to find him guilty. I think he couldn’t process it – but he should’ve. Good people make bad decisions, and I think he made a bad decision, and he needs to be held accountable.”
Long entered a prayer for judgment against Bynum – meaning the charge will be dismissed if he has no additional charges or convictions within the next 12 months – and fined him $100, plus court costs.