Retired visiting district court judge William “Lunsford” Long, III of Orange County this week dismissed outright another case against a protester charged with resisting a public officer, for allegedly pulling away from a Graham police officer who was trying to clear protesters from the roadway around Court Square during a march and rally on October 31, 2020.
The trial for William Joseph Traynor, 63, white male, of 5768 Church Road, Graham, had originally been set for Wednesday morning but was postponed until the afternoon session in Alamance County district court after a key witness in the case sent word that he was unavailable to testify.
Long has agreed to hear all of the cases stemming from a series of racial protests held in downtown Graham last year; Alamance County assistant district attorney Kevin Harrison has been assigned to prosecute.The assistant D.A. told Long shortly before noon Wednesday that he had been unable to reach officer Eric Jordan of the Graham police department. Harrison said that Jordan had worked the night shift on Tuesday, had a meeting scheduled for Wednesday afternoon, and would be unable to testify.
Harrison initially made a motion to continue the case to a future date, which was opposed by Traynor’s attorney, Patrick Morgan of Chapel Hill. “The state preemptively set these cases for this date,” Morgan said, telling the judge that Harrison had previously informed him and several attorneys who are representing defendants in the 2020 protest cases that he would oppose any motions to continue the cases.
“Mr. Traynor has taken his day to come here,” Morgan said Wednesday morning. “We’ve got this special time. I’ve taken my day also, your honor. This is a special setting for the court to have these trials.”
“Certainly, I indicated we would all hold ourselves to the same standard as far as the continuances go,” Harrison acknowledged, though he noted that the case was previously continued twice, both on dates that the courts were closed.
Asked by Long whether the arresting officer had been subpoenaed to testify, Harrison said he didn’t have a subpoena in the court file.
“Do you charge everybody who makes a slight move away from you with resisting arrest?” – dISTRICT COURT JUDGE WILLIAM “LUNSFORD” LONG iii TO POLICE OFFICER
Long suggested that the court could issue a subpoena, directing Jordan to appear at 3:00 p.m. “It looks like a hard job, but he knew this was on the calendar,” the judge said. “Tell him if he doesn’t get here by 3:00 p.m., we’ll dismiss the case; if he cares enough, he’ll get here.”
Jordan was inside the courtroom when Long returned from lunch at 2:00 p.m.
Jordan testified Wednesday that he was positioned on the north side of the Historic Court House and was instructed to clear the roadway at the conclusion of an 8-minute, 46-seconds pause for which the protesters had kneeled in silence, in honor of George Floyd.
“[There were] several orders to clear the roadway so the flow of traffic could resume,” the officer recalled. After the crowd was instructed to move out of the roadway, pepper fog, which he described as “a line sprayed on the ground,” was used to move people from the road into designated areas, Jordan testified. He confirmed in response to a question from Morgan that the pepper fog could rise up and get in someone’s eyes, which the defense attorney indicated might’ve been the case with Traynor.
Jordan was briefly outlining the sequence of events that led to Traynor’s arrest, when Long interjected, asking, “What was he arrested for?”
“For failing to move out of the roadway,” Jordan responded.
“Do you charge everybody who makes a slight move away from you with resisting arrest?”
Jordan said he does not. He was in the process of escorting Traynor out of the roadway when he jerked away from the officer, as the alleged offense was described on the arrest warrant.
Morgan cited a December 2020 ruling in a similar case that resulted in the state Court of Appeals overturning a Rowan County woman’s conviction for resisting, delaying, or obstructing a public officer because the prosecutor had failed to present sufficient evidence to support a finding that she had “willfully and unlawfully obstructed, delayed, or resisted” the arresting officer, one of five elements needed to gain a conviction.
The statute, Morgan argued, “requires the state to prove willfulness.”
Long agreed and announced that he was dismissing the case.
OTHER COVERAGE OF PROTEST TRIALS, MOTIONS, ACTIONS:
One felony charge dropped by D.A., another by unwillingness of grand jury to return a “true bill,” against Rev. Drumwright: https://alamancenews.com/d-a-s-office-dismisses-both-felony-charges-against-organizer-of-halloween-march-rally/
One found guilty for failing to disperse from Oct. 31 rally: https://alamancenews.com/second-oct-31-protester-found-guilty-of-failing-to-disperse-when-deputies-ordered-end-to-rally/
One protester found not guilty for earlier (June) protest: https://alamancenews.com/protester-from-earlier-june-rally-found-not-guilty/