Protester in jail parking lot found guilty

Another protester did not fare as well as Maurice Wells, Jr., who was found not guilty of three charges associated with his actions during a protest on September 26, 2020. Instead, the presiding district court judge, William Lunsford Long, III, found a young white woman guilty of disorderly conduct and resisting a public officer for her actions while protesting a COVID-19 outbreak at the Alamance County Jail on September 8, 2020.

Magdalene Tucker Blunk, 28, white female, of 227 Flemington Road, Chapel Hill, had been charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct and resisting a public officer for her role in a protest that initially began outside the county office building along West Elm Street, prior to a regularly-scheduled county commissioners’ meeting September 8, 2020.

Blunk had been among a group of protesters – whose precise numbers couldn’t be definitively established Wednesday, but were estimated as ranging between 30 and 50 people – who later marched from the county office building to the parking lot in front of the Alamance County sheriff’s office. The group had gone there to protest a recent outbreak of COVID-19, she testified. The county had confirmed that six staff members and 93 inmates had tested positive for the virus, based on a news release issued August 31.

Along with two other protesters who were charged with similar offenses that day, Blunk was arrested when she began “using abusive language, intended and plainly likely to provoke immediate and violent retaliation and thereby cause a breach of the peace,” while magnifying her voice over a bullhorn, according to her arrest warrant.

Alamance County sheriff’s major Jackie Fortner recalled on the witness stand Wednesday morning how he had attempted to take Blunk into custody, as part of what he characterized as an overall effort to restore order to the area. “The scene was chaotic,” Fortner testified. He and other deputies who responded to the scene that morning were attempting to move the protesters out of the parking lot, onto a sidewalk directly in front of the sheriff’s office, so traffic from people coming to conduct business could flow freely.

Blunk was found guilty following testimony by three witnesses for the defense; two sheriff’s deputies called by the state; multiple viewings of about 5 minutes of video footage that had been captured on a cell phone during the protest; and numerous technical difficulties in between. Her attorney, Jamie Paulen of Paulen Solidarity Law in Raleigh, struggled for well over an hour to get the video to play back on her laptop so it could be projected onto a screen inside the courtroom; her client ultimately figured out a work-around shortly after 11:00 a.m. Wednesday.

Fortner also testified that Blunk had continued using the bullhorn, prompting inmates at the jail to bang on the windows so hard that he and other deputies feared they might break or crack a window, or a fight might break out inside the jail. Sheriff’s deputies became concerned that the situation might escalate to an unsafe level “when the inmates started banging hard on the windows,” Fortner said Wednesday. “I mean profusely – it wouldn’t stop. We had to take control of the situation.” He recalled honing in on Blunk that day because she was the one using the bullhorn to magnify her voice and “was cussing and causing a disturbance,” Fortner said.

Blunk later testified that she and the other protesters had been confused about where exactly they needed to move to – whether it was on a grassy strip, or the sidewalk beside the strip of grass, they didn’t know. She acknowledged that the group had become increasingly upset and vocal when a black male protester was allegedly thrown to the ground and “violently arrested” before being taken to the jail in a cargo van. Blunk also confirmed for the judge that she had brought the bullhorn with her that day “with the intent to use it,” and had done so earlier that morning, in front of the county office building.

Blunk told the judge, “It was pretty clear I was under arrest,” and she had put one arm behind her back and kept her other hand on the bullhorn while Fortner was taking her into custody.

However, Blunk insisted she had not been cursing.

After viewing the cell phone video footage multiple times Wednesday, Long also concluded that Blunk had not been using foul language at the time of her arrest.

“I do believe you are guilty. I think when we have civil disobedience, it’s important to be civil.”

– District Court Judge William Lunsford

“I find her guilty,” Long added, noting that the totality of the circumstances, the language used, and the place and time (a weekday morning, during normal business hours) that the protest occurred had “created the likelihood” of potential violent retaliation, as the arrest warrant for Blunk had alleged.

“I do believe you are guilty,” Long told Blunk. “I think when we have civil disobedience, it’s important to be civil.”

Blunk received a prayer for judgment, meaning the conviction won’t appear on her court record, providing she has no subsequent charges or convictions for similar offenses.

A total of 12 cases involving eight defendants – four of whom are charged with multiple offenses on separate dates – had been listed on the docket for Wednesday. Three cases were heard: one resulted in a guilty plea in exchange for deferred prosecution; one in a conviction; and a not guilty verdict in the final case heard Wednesday.

Cierra Tate, 35, black female, of 2017 Phillips Avenue, Greensboro, voluntarily agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of having a weapon – described on her arrest warrant as a “silver fixed blade knife with brown handle” – during the October 31 protest in downtown Graham. As part of her plea arrangement with the D.A.’s office, Tate has agreed to perform 48 hours of community service within 90 days of her court date.

The case will be reviewed again in March 2022, and the charge will be dismissed, providing Tate has complied with the terms of her plea agreement, Harrison confirmed Wednesday for The Alamance News.

Coverage of other trials for 2020 protesters:

Protester who allegedly hit car with flagpole found not guilty (March 4 edition):

  Case against woman who started speaking at county commissioners’ meeting, then ejected for not giving up the podium, dismissed (March 4 edition):

 In first cases stemming from Oct. 31 protest, protester found guilty (February 22 edition):

Case against man charged after he claimed he was accosted by protester dismissed (February 13):