We think it’s only fitting that after having expressed our doubts and concerns earlier this year over the job he was doing in prosecuting protesters in Graham from 2020, we give credit where it is due to the assistant district attorney whose performance has improved markedly in the months since.
District attorney Sean Boone has assigned all of the so-called “protester cases” – those defendants who were arrested after having protested a host of issues, as well as counter-protesters who sometimes clashed with them last year – to assistant district attorney Kevin Harrison.
The sheer volume of cases (more than 50) was enough to seemingly overwhelm the system, and Harrison, and we were concerned when some of the early cases were dismissed by basic prosecutorial failings – such as neglecting to subpoena law enforcement witnesses to testify.
In some of those initial cases, judge Lunsford Long, III – the visiting district court judge from Orange County who has been assigned to hear all the protest cases – was forced to dismiss the charges when basic principles of fairness and due process were overlooked.
But Harrison has clearly learned from those early missteps.
In cases earlier this month – both last week with the October 31 protest organizer, Rev. Gregory Drumwright, and the previous week with Drumwright’s assistant, Brenden Jamar Kee – Harrison was at his prosecutorial best.
These cases dealt with the highest-profile protesters, those who knew and should have known the rules to which the organizer (Drumwright) had agreed.
Harrison faced a phalanx of legal opponents. Drumwright, for instance, had three attorneys present last week – and a fourth back in July for day one of the trial. They included big names like Lumberton native Ben Crump, who was present in July, but not last week.
Drumwright’s defense team also consisted of Chapel-Hill-based attorney Elizabeth Haddix of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; Jason Keith of Keith Attorneys in Greensboro; and Christopher Knight, an attorney with the Mayer Brown firm in Chicago, Illinois who specializes in civil litigation.
The big names tried all manner of diversions, trying to get lost in the minutiae of the planning for the march and rally from that October 31 Saturday morning and afternoon.
But Harrison, to his credit, kept focusing on the key elements of the actual criminal charges against Drumwright, the actions that rose to misdemeanor offenses with which he was charged by sheriff’s deputies.
Drumwright had signed a permit on which he had promised that only battery-powered sound equipment would be deployed at the rally on courthouse grounds. (Gas-powered equipment is considered unsafe.)
Instead, he and his supporters brought a gas-powered generator, and two gas cans, onto courthouse grounds, in an obvious and direct violation of the permit.
When deputies emerged from the courthouse and ordered the rally halted, Drumwright and others in his entourage refused to comply with a deputy’s repeated orders (given three times over a bullhorn) that they and others in the crowd should disperse.
It was clear from the outset of last week’s trial that even the defense attorneys knew their case was weak and that Drumwright was likely to be found guilty on most of the charges – especially after Drumwright’s assistant, Kee, had been found guilty of the same and similar charges the previous week.
There were no acolytes breathlessly awaiting Drumwright’s every word outside the Judge J.B. Allen, Jr. Court House after he was convicted last Wednesday.
No, he left the courthouse without making his typical exhortational speech to supporters and hangers-on.
Neither were there any TV cameras or even his own film crew to record his every word.
Neither was there anyone to pat Harrison on the back or otherwise celebrate his success in keeping the trial focused on Drumwright’s actions and convicting the most serious offender.
The defense team wanted to make this a First Amendment case.
But the problem wasn’t what Drumwright said; it wasn’t the march; and it wasn’t even the kneeling in honor of George Floyd.
Drumwright’s lawyers even tried to find fault with Graham police, who were not the ones who arrested Drumwright, because they had used pepper spray earlier in the day to make his marchers get out of the roadway.
While he wasn’t charged with a crime associated with the kneeling in the street, it was clear that he and his supporters intended to stay in the streets and keep them closed – in direct violation of a separate agreement he had made with Graham police, who actually provided an escort down North Main Street to the courthouse.
But back to the courthouse grounds.
It wasn’t what Drumwright said to 150 or so demonstrators gathered at the courthouse.
Rather, it was the fact that he delivered his courthouse speech over a microphone powered by a prohibited gas generator.
And that he didn’t leave when told to do so after the rally was terminated because of that violation.
Granted, some of the protest trials have become somewhat tedious. Each witness in Drumwright’s trial, for instance, was kept sequestered. So there’s a lot of repetition – from the same witnesses at different defendants’ trials.
The judge and Harrison have heard the same testimony from deputies repeatedly over the past several months.
But each trial has to stand on its own. Our commendations to Harrison for improving his preparation and focus.
We’re pleased to see that the Drumwright trial was properly focused on actions, rather than rhetoric.
NEWS COVERAGE OF RECENT PROTESTER TRIALS: Drumwright found guilty on 2 of 3 charges (Sept. 9 edition): https://alamancenews.com/breaking-wed-afternoon-drumwright-found-guilty-on-2-of-3-charges/
Drumwright assistant found guilty on 3 of 4 charges (Sept. 2 edition): https://alamancenews.com/organizers-assistant-found-guilty-of-3-of-4-oct-31-protest-charges/