Friday, August 19, 2022

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Protester with African-American flag found not guilty of Sept. 26 charges

Additional, earlier charges from July to be heard next week

It apparently came down to a few seconds of video footage for the defendant in one of the latest round of cases heard in district court this week and stemming from a series of protests that unfolded in downtown Graham following the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody on May 25, 2020.

Shortly before the close of business Wednesday afternoon, retired visiting district court judge William Lunsford (“Lunsford”) Long, III – who has agreed to preside over all of the hearings for defendants charged during protests in Graham last year – declared Maurice Wells, Jr., 34, black male, of 10 Aspen Drive, Greensboro, not guilty. Wells had been charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct; resisting a public officer; and injury to personal property during a protest in Court Square on September 26, 2020.

He was charged with disorderly conduct and injury to personal property after a sheriff’s deputy spotted him striking an oncoming vehicle that had entered the crosswalk at the southwest corner of Court Square, by Passion Grill, with a flagpole.

None of the witnesses who testified Wednesday– including the driver of a white SUV that Wells struck with his flagpole – nor two video recordings captured by the Graham police department and Alamance County sheriff’s could definitively establish during testimony Wednesday whether Wells or the driver had arrived at the crosswalk first. After repeatedly viewing the available video, the judge concluded that the state was unable to establish that the driver of the SUV had arrived at the crosswalk first.

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Wells had been standing on the southwest corner, “waving an African-American flag,” that resembles the American flag “but with red, green, and black” colors, when he stepped into the crosswalk and into the path of an oncoming vehicle, when he struck the hood of the vehicle on the driver’s side with the “butt of the flagpole,” Alamance County sheriff’s major David Sykes testified Wednesday. Wells was charged with resisting a public officer for allegedly ignoring Sykes, who had been standing on a landing on the west side of the Historic Court House and yelled out to Wells to “come here” after the encounter with the vehicle, the sheriff’s major testified Wednesday.

Sykes acknowledged to the judge that he wasn’t certain that Wells had heard him, but recalled that Wells had “stiffened up his arms” as deputies attempted to take him into custody. “If I remember correctly he had his arms by his side,” Sykes testified.

Alamance County assistant district attorney Kevin Harrison, who is assigned to oversee all of the protest cases, called four deputies, as well as the driver of the SUV, who identified herself as Linda Hamlett, and her son, to testify in Wells’ case Wednesday afternoon. Wells’ attorneys, Brian L. Crawford of the Sanford Holshouser law firm and Elizabeth Haddix of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, called no witnesses.

In declaring Wells not guilty, Long told Asst. d.a., “Your witness [deputy Sykes] testified, ‘I’m not certain he heard my command’; he may have stiffened up his arms– I don’t think the state has proved its case on any count.”

– district court judge William Lunsford Long, III

In declaring Wells not guilty, Long told Harrison, “Your witness [Sykes] testified, ‘I’m not certain he heard my command”; he may have stiffened up his arms – I don’t think the state has proved its case on any count.”

Linda Hamlett testified Wednesday that she had been coming through downtown Graham and was headed home when Wells struck her vehicle with the flagpole. She said she looked at the car later to see if there was any damage, which she estimated had been about the size of a fingernail. “It was such a tiny dent; it’s an old car and it’s got scratches anyway,” Hamlett testified. She recalled on the witness stand that she had been looking to her left to see whether any cars were coming around the Historic Court House when Wells seemed to appear from nowhere.

Nevertheless, Crawford pointed out, state law requires the driver of a motor vehicle to yield for a pedestrian who is inside the crosswalk.

admonition to defendant:  “I will say, it looked like [wells] was wanting to provoke a confrontation by waiting until a car approached before he entered the crosswalk.

“That was not a smart move on your part, but it’s not illegal.”

–  district court judge William Lunsford Long, III

Though he declared Wells not guilty of the three charges he was arrested on in September, the judge added, “I will say, it looked like your client was wanting to provoke a confrontation by waiting until a car approached before he entered the crosswalk.

“That was not a smart move on your part,” Long told Wells, “but it’s not illegal.”

Long had been scheduled to hear another case involving Wells; that matter has been postponed until next Wednesday. Wells had been charged during a protest in downtown Graham on July 11, 2020 with misdemeanor failure to disperse on command and disorderly conduct, for allegedly “making utterances and using abusive language, intended and plainly likely to provoke immediate violent retaliation and thereby cause a breach of the peace,” according to the warrant.


Coverage of other trials for 2020 protesters:

Protester who took protest from county office building to jail parking lot found guilty (March 4 edition):  https://alamancenews.com/protester-in-jail-parking-lot-found-guilty/

 Case against woman who started speaking at county commissioners’ meeting, then ejected for not giving up the podium, dismissed (March 4 edition):  https://alamancenews.com/charges-dismissed-against-protester-who-had-been-ejected-from-county-commissioners-meeting-in-august/

 In first cases stemming from Oct. 31 protest, protester found guilty (February 22 edition):  https://alamancenews.com/trials-for-2020-protesters-begin-defendant-in-first-of-oct-31-failure-to-disperse-cases-found-guilty/

Case against man charged after he claimed he was accosted by protester dismissed (February 13):  https://alamancenews.com/assault-charge-dismissed-against-businessman-who-was-arrested-while-dining-in-downtown-graham-during-blm-protest/

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