One of the main assistants to the 2020 protest organizer Rev. Gregory Drumwright was found guilty Wednesday of three of four charges brought against him for his role in the October 31, 2021 march and rally at the Alamance County Historic Court House.
Brenden Jamar Kee, 28, black male, of 645 Creek Ridge Road, Greensboro, was charged with four misdemeanor offenses: two counts of resisting a public officer; public disturbance; and failure to disperse on command.
Though it wasn’t mentioned during the trial, Kee describes himself on his social media accounts as a math teacher and as a minister/co-outreach director for the Citadel of Praise Church, which is located in Greensboro and is led by Drumwright, who organized the protest in downtown Graham on October 31.
At Kee’s trial this week, visiting district court judge Lunsford Long III of Orange County found Kee guilty of three of the charges, agreeing with the prosecution’s request to remove one of the resisting a public officer charges.
Alamance County district attorney Kevin Harrison announced during the trial on Wednesday afternoon that he had dismissed a second count of resisting an officer against Kee because the deputy involved in that incident was no longer employed with the Alamance County sheriff’s office, and “no one else was able to [testify] to what happened.”
Still photos captured from video footage recorded at the October 31 protest showed Kee in the middle of a struggle over a gas-powered generator that Alamance County sheriff’s deputies had attempted to confiscate after discovering it had been brought onto the grounds of the county’s Historic Court House, in violation of the permit issued to Drumwright for the event.
Numerous sheriff’s deputies had testified at earlier trials, and reiterated some of that testimony on Wednesday, that the facilities use permit for the event required any sound amplification equipment to be battery-powered.
The discovery of a gas can and a running gas generator inside a cloth beach wagon ultimately prompted the sheriff’s department to declare the event an illegal assembly and order the crowd to disperse.
Kee entered a plea of not guilty, with his attorney, Jason Keith of Greensboro, telling judge Long that the other charges should be dismissed, as well, in part because his client “has not been positively identified in court” as the person who was involved in a scuffle over a gas generator.
Harrison called eight Alamance County sheriff’s deputies to testify against Kee. The defense called no witnesses of its own; nor did Kee testify.
The gas-powered generator at center of case
The assistant D.A. introduced video footage and still photographs during the trial that depicted Kee in the middle of a struggle when sheriff’s deputies attempted to remove the gas-powered generator.
“Once I put my hand on the generator, pulled the plug, and turned it off, [there] were several people pushing me away. The crowd started moving toward us.” – Sheriff’s lieutenant Chad Martin
Both sheriff’s lieutenant Chad Martin and corporal Barbara Tomey testified that they had been among a group of deputies who attempted to seize the generator, when they encountered Kee, who was surrounded by a crowd that seemed to swell within a matter of seconds.
“Once I put my hand on the generator, pulled the plug, and turned it off, [there] were several people pushing me away. The crowd started moving toward us; I believe some [pepper] spray was deployed,” he recalled.
Referring to another blurry still photograph captured by drone cameras that afternoon, Keith asked Martin if the deputies had pushed any of the participants by that point.
“Yes, it was back and forth,” Martin testified.
“If you recall, was it law enforcement or the other parties who initiated contact?” Harrison asked Martin.
“It was the other parties,” Martin recalled Wednesday. “It started as soon as I started walking up to the generator.”
Tomey testified that “someone grabbed his arm and tried to prevent it.”
Sheriff’s deputies: Lieutenant Chad Martin, Corporal Barbara Tomey, and Major David Sykes
Tomey said that was her first physical contact with Kee, who she identified as having worn a black tee shirt, red bandana, black hat, and sunglasses that day. She extended her arm at a 45-degree angle to create space between Kee and Martin and that she began pushing back at the crowd “after they assaulted the lieutenant [Martin]. Several people started pushing on deputies and myself,” Tomey testified. She identified herself in a still photograph, saying “I’m buried under several people’s arms and Martin’s arms.”
It was during this struggle – as she and Martin were surrounded by a group that she estimated at “between 20 and 35 people” – that Tomey was injured. She described her injuries as “bruising from my elbow almost to my armpit.”
Alamance County sheriff’s major David Sykes reiterated his testimony from several of the “2020 protest trials” about the process used to issue a permit for the courthouse grounds to Drumwright and the subsequent development of an operations plan for law enforcement who provided security on October 31.
The operations plan was developed to help prepare to respond in the event of medical or safety emergencies, Sykes testified.
The operations command unit declared the event an unlawful assembly – after learning that a deputy had been injured during a struggle over the generator – and directed deputies to begin delivering orders to disperse.
Sykes reiterated that, under the terms of the permit, “sound amplification must be battery-powered,” and Drum-wright had been provided a copy of the county’s facilities use policy for his event.
Sykes acknowledged that the organizers, Drumwright and his group Justice 4 the Next Generator, could have held the event without securing a permit for the courthouse grounds.
“So what makes it binding?” Keith asked.
“The purpose is to allow the people who want to do the event to have exclusive use of the property – without it, they would have to deal with counter-protesters, which they had before,” Sykes explained, referring to a protest that Drumwright held at the courthouse on July 11, 2020, which drew dozens of counter-protesters.
Sheriff’s deputy Pete Triolo – now a fixture at the protest trials in district court, after testifying in numerous earlier cases – recounted how he stood at the top of the steps on the north side of the courthouse and used a bullhorn to deliver three dispersal orders at 1:05, 1:10, and 1:15 p.m.
The crowd was given a few more minutes before the deputies who had formed a line in front of the stage, moved forward to begin arresting those who remained, Triolo testified.
‘Contortionist at best’
During his closing argument, Keith contended that none of the deputies who testified against Kee had any personal knowledge of the defendant by which they could positively identify him; that no evidence had been introduced showing that a public disturbance had occurred; and the assistant D.A. had not proven Kee was involved in an altercation.
“It’s a march to the polls,” Keith argued, and the participants’ speech during that event is protected under the First Amendment. “Per this permit, they had the authority to shut the streets down to take a knee for George Floyd for 8 minutes,” but “for whatever reason,” the Graham police department deployed pepper spray. “Then [they] see this line of officers coming and they randomly speak to whatever person; they cut the sound, which draws the crowd. We don’t know who touched who first.”
Keith contended that the deputies hadn’t been acting within their lawful authority when they seized the generator. “I think the Alamance County sheriff’s office has an incentive, given the constitutionally-protected speech. I don’t think in any speech-giving event where officers go to seize equipment that it’s not going to cause a commotion.”
“You’re saying the other side couldn’t [have attempted to de-escalate the situation over the generator] by not going up and confronting the officers?” Long asked Keith. “It was not illegal but it’s a public safety hazard.”
“The argument that officers unlawfully took the generator is contortionist, at best.” – Assistant D.A. Kevin Harrison
“I agree, but how do they know that?” Keith responded.
“The officers,” Long said, “have a duty to the public to create a safe environment.”
“The argument that officers unlawfully took the generator is contortionist, at best,” Harrison countered. For an example, he said if someone leaves a backpack with what appears to be an explosive device at the courthouse door, that doesn’t mean it can’t be taken.
Moreover, multiple officers identified Kee from the photographs presented during his trial and testified that Kee and others had initiated physical contact, the D.A. said.
“We have pictures, too,” Long pointed out.
“It’s indisputable – it’s right there in the picture. They had a basis; it’s a public safety issue. That’s where your case falls flat.” – Visiting district court judge Lunsford Long III to defense attorney Jason Keith
“It is merely an inquiry and individuals responding to what the officers had started,” Keith argued. “It is protected conduct if they are only responding.
“If anything, I think it would show the Alamance County sheriff’s department started it by failing to de-escalate it.”
Long disagreed, telling Keith, “It’s indisputable – it’s right there in the picture. They had a basis; it’s a public safety issue. That’s where your case falls flat.”
Long found Kee guilty on all three charges and ordered him to pay a $250 fine, plus court costs.
In the other Wednesday case, charge dismissed even after prosecution lowers it: