The trials for three people who were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest during a county commissioners meeting last fall resulted in two dismissals and one conviction for a protester who was also convicted earlier this year of failure to disperse on command (see related story, this edition).
All three defendants were tried simultaneously in Alamance County district court Wednesday morning for the charges they were arrested on at an Alamance County commissioners meeting inside the Historic Court House on the night of November 16, 2020. Alamance County sheriff’s deputies charged all three defendants with the same misdemeanor offenses: disorderly conduct in a public building; disruption of an official meeting; and resisting a public officer.
Arrested after the commissioners abruptly adjourned their meeting that night were: Regis Kishon Green, 29, black, male, 4600 University Drive, Durham; Travis Scott Laughlin, 48, white, male, 1111 McCormick Street, Greensboro; and Anne Elizabeth Williams, 56, white, female, 3249 Henderson Field Road, Mebane. Laughlin and Williams were released on a written promise to appear in court; Green was released on a $300 bond, based on their court files.
See other coverage in this week’s edition: “Durham man previously convicted for resisting arrest found guilty of two more charges in district court”: https://alamancenews.com/protester-previously-convicted-of-failing-to-disperse-found-guilty-of-resisting-arrest-disorderly-conduct/
Regis Kishon (“Shon”) Green
Alamance County assistant district attorney Kevin Harrison announced at the outset of their trials Wednesday morning that he was dismissing the charge of disrupting an official meeting. That statute defines the offense as willfully interrupting or disrupting an official meeting but willfully refusing to leave when directed to do so by the presiding officer, which Harrison noted, would’ve been then-commissioner chairman Amy Galey. Galey had recessed the meeting that night, to be continued two days later.
All three defendants pleaded not guilty to the two remaining charges of disorderly conduct in a public building and resisting arrest.
According to the Alamance County sheriff’s office, two local organizations had mobilized for a “Power to the People” rally they originally planned to hold outside the Historic Court House where the commissioners were holding their meeting that night to accommodate a crowd that had been anticipated for two public hearings that were scheduled for that night. The protest was later estimated to have drawn between 30 and 35 people, approximately 10 of whom were allowed inside the upstairs courtroom at the Historic Court House where the commissioners were meeting, according to the sheriff’s department.
Galey initially called a recess around 8:30 p.m. that night, based on testimony and video footage presented at the trial Wednesday morning. About a half hour later, at 9:00 p.m., she adjourned the meeting, announcing that the commissioners would resume their meeting via the Zoom teleconferencing platform the morning of Wednesday, November 18, 2020.
At some point, several commands were given for everyone to exit the courtroom and leave the building, based on testimony given Wednesday by nine Alamance County sheriff’s deputies.
As the people in the audience began to make their way toward the double doors leading into and out of the courtroom – the sole entrance and exit for the general public – there was what defense attorneys and witnesses described Wednesday as “a crush” and “a bottleneck” leading to a vestibule, where two arrests (those of Green and Williams) were underway, based on video footage presented at the trial.
Graham attorney Kelly Fairman contended that her client, Laughlin, “was sitting quietly in the courtroom,” and that “nobody testified to him yelling, getting up. If he’s being shoved out of the door by a crowd, what’s wrong with that?”
Alamance County sheriff’s major David Sykes (then a captain for the department) testified that he had been on duty that night, was stationed in a conference room off to the side of the entrance into the second-floor courtroom at the Historic Court House, and could hear a commotion that erupted in the hallway when the meeting adjourned.
Sykes countered Fairman’s description Wednesday, testifying, “That’s what’s on the video. [Two deputies had him by each arm, and he was struggling with them. You hear several people yelling and continuing to push toward us.” One of the deputies put his hands on Laughlin’s chest, to try to push him back, while Laughlin was arguing with the deputies, telling them he was moving to leave the building, Sykes recalled on the witness stand.
“He was trying to leave,” Fairman contended Wednesday. “All of the testimony conflicted; a lot was going on – there was chaos; everybody’s mad; they’re yelling.”
Attorney Abraham Rubert-Schewel of the Tin Fulton Walker & Owen law firm argued that the charges against his client, Williams, should be dismissed because none of the allegations listed on the charging documents applied.
Chief deputy Cliff Parker of the Alamance County sheriff’s office testified Wednesday morning that Williams had assaulted him, which he described as grabbing his arm as she and the rest of the crowd made their way to the courtroom exit, prompting her arrest. Williams’ charging documents “do not allege assault, do not allege grabbing – so that is a fatal variance” with the statute governing resisting, delaying, and obstructing a public officer, Rubert-Schewel argued.
Williams was captured on video standing alone at the back of the courtroom gallery and then taking a seat shortly before the meeting adjourned. “[She] walks quietly toward the door,” the attorney said. “There’s this massive crush of people, and [she] witnesses a very violent arrest.” Even though she may have grabbed Parker’s arm, Williams had no way of knowing he was a law enforcement officer, save for a quarter-size lapel pin on his suit jacket, bearing the sheriff’s star, ringed by the words, “Alamance County sheriff’s office,” Rubert-Schewel said.
Retired visiting district court judge Lunsford Long, III of Orange County, who is presiding over the 2020 protest trials in Alamance County district court, agreed that the facts did not match the allegations and granted Rubert-Schewel’s motion to dismiss.
Moments after returning from lunch– during a three-minute recess called by Long – Harrison informed Fairman that her client, Laughlin, was free to go.