Tuesday, October 26, 2021

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Prosecution reduces rioting charge to creating a public disturbance, but protester still found not guilty

Judge says, at worst, defendant’s actions may have violated a noise ordinance – which was not the charge she faced

Meanwhile, another protester who used a bullhorn to protest outside the jail as other protesters were being booked in the magistrates’ offices was found not guilty Wednesday of a reduced charge of creating a public disturbance outside the Alamance County jail that October 31 afternoon.

Faith Cook, 43, black, female, of 330 West Market Street, Graham, was found not guilty Wednesday of a reduced charge of creating a public disturbance outside the Alamance County jail on October 31, 2020.

Faith Cook

Originally, Cook had been arrested on a misdemeanor charge of rioting at the Alamance County jail, based on a magistrate’s order for her arrest, which alleged that she had assembled with two or more people to create “a public disturbance that, by disorderly conduct or the imminent threat of disorderly and violent conduct, created a clear and present danger of injury or damage to persons or property.”

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Cook was among a group of marchers who went to the jail following the arrests of 23 people during the “I Am Change Legacy March to the Polls” and rally on the grounds of the county’s Historic Court House on October 31, based on testimony given at her trial in district court Wednesday afternoon.

However, Alamance County assistant district attorney Kevin Harrison, who is prosecuting the “2020 protest trials,” told retired visiting district court judge Lunsford Long, III of Orange County Wednesday afternoon that he would be proceeding on a lesser misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct.

Harrison called three Alamance County sheriff’s deputies to testify: Deputy Mark Johnson; Lieutenant Jason Teague; and chief deputy Cliff Parker, all three of whom said they’d been stationed at the jail on the afternoon of October 31.

The three sheriff’s deputies recalled that the group had been instructed not to use megaphones to amplify their voices; Cook was arrested after the racket started up again.

Teague testified that he’d been assigned that afternoon to a team at the sheriff’s office to provide security for the detention center “in case a crowd assembled outside the detention center, which they did.”

Cook had a megaphone that “she was using to amplify sound from her phone, maybe, which is what I thought it was,” Teague recalled. “Several people in her group told her she could; it was her right.”

That’s when he stepped forward, Teague testified Wednesday, and the megaphone was seized.

“On what basis did you tell her to stop using it?” Cook’s attorney, Jason Keith of Greensboro, asked the sheriff’s lieutenant.

“To keep the peace inside the jail,” Teague responded. “There have been many times when folks inside the jail act out, and that’s a security issue.”

“Did you stop [the defendant] because she was using an amplification device, or because of what she was saying?”

– Defense attorney Jason Keith

“Did you stop [the defendant] because she was using an amplification device, or because of what she was saying?” Keith asked.

“I don’t want to give the impression that all Ms. Cook did was use profanities. We tried to keep the noise down because the inmates are right above that area, and there’s houses right across the street. She was amplifying her comments. We wanted anyone who was using megaphones to not use [them]. . .She was not charged because of what she said – it was the noise.”

– Chief Deputy Cliff Parker during testimony in district court

The deputies who were stationed at the jail that day had been instructed that “the megaphones, yelling had to stop,” Johnson testified. The protesters were told to stop using the megaphones, “and they did,” but started up again a short time later, he said Wednesday.

He didn’t recall hearing Cook direct any abusive language toward the deputies, Johnson testified, but added, “She wasn’t on the megaphone long at all.”

Parker later said that the deputies’ attention had been drawn to Cook because her voice had been amplified.

Alamance County sheriff’s office chief deputy Cliff Parker

“I don’t want to give the impression that all Ms. Cook did was use profanities,” Parker testified. “We tried to keep the noise down because the inmates are right above that area, and there’s houses right across the street. She was amplifying her comments. We wanted anyone who was using megaphones to not use [them].”

The gist of the remarks he and his counterparts in the sheriff’s office overheard that afternoon included such things as “[Expletive] the police” and various criticisms of the criminal justice system, Parker conceded, while reiterating that his attention was drawn to Cook because of the loud volume.

“She was not charged because of what she said – it was the noise,” Parker insisted, noting that, initially, Cook was playing music. “Then she began to speak over the megaphone, and that’s when she was arrested,” Parker testified.

“Judge, I think this is an easy one,” Keith told Long after the conclusion of testimony. The defense called no witnesses of its own.

“It looks like a noise ordinance. I think it needed to stop, [but] I think it’s a noise ordinance violation,” Long concluded in granting Keith’s motion to dismiss the case.

 

Different defendant at same protest outside jail entered an Alford plea

Earlier this year, the only other person who was arrested outside the jail on October 31, David Eli Baghdadi, 44, white, male, of 780 Rabbit Den Road, Hot Springs, entered an Alford plea for a misdemeanor charge of resisting a public officer. In essence, Baghdadi’s entry of the Alford plea meant he wasn’t admitting guilt but acknowledged there was sufficient evidence to convict him.

Long, who has agreed to preside over all of the 2020 protest trials in Alamance County district court, entered a prayer for judgment – which won’t appear on Baghdadi’s record, providing he has no subsequent convictions for the same offense – and ordered him to pay a fine and court costs.


In other Wednesday case, one of Rev. Gregory Drumwright’s top assistants if found guilty on three out of four charges: https://alamancenews.com/organizers-assistant-found-guilty-of-3-of-4-oct-31-protest-charges/

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