Their target: Graham police officer Douglas Strader, formerly with Greensboro police department; Democratic congressional candidate’s husband shouts from audience for an apology
Graham’s city council monthly meeting served as the latest venue for protesters, who took the microphone to implore the council and the city manager to fire Graham police officer Douglas Strader, who was involved in the arrests two weeks ago of three residents of The Pines Apartments in Graham who allegedly interfered with a traffic stop.
About two dozen protesters gathered at city hall, with seven of them signing up to speak during the “public comments” portion near the end of the council’s agenda.
During the first two-and-a-half hours of the council meeting, at least one protester stood outside city hall (next to the council chamber), shouting over a bullhorn or other loudspeaker of some kind various slogans urging that Strader should be fired. Occasionally, the noise would cause the city manager or a council member to lose a train of thought while competing with the outside chants.
Later in the evening, the council members listened for over a half hour to seven citizens – four from Graham, one from Burlington, one from Gibsonville, and one from High Point – who had signed up to speak and voiced their concerns, alternately, about the Graham Police Department in general and Strader’s conduct in particular.
Strader had been one of two Graham police officers who were conducting a traffic stop at The Pines Apartments on Ivey Road on April 21 and charged three bystanders for attempting to interfere with the stop, Graham police chief Kristi Cole explained in a subsequent interview with The Alamance News.
Strader has since drawn criticism for his role in arresting one of the bystanders – Wesley Alexander Cobb of 736 Ivey Road, Apartment G, who was charged with assaulting an officer as a result of his alleged actions. Videos posted online show Cobb being taken to the ground after allegedly ignoring the officers’ verbal commands not to interfere with the traffic stop that was in progress.
Critics have characterized the incident as “police brutality.” Videos posted on social media show Cobb struggling with the officers but not the circumstances leading to his arrest. Neither of the other two arrests nor the circumstances that led to them is shown.
Cole assured The Alamance News that a full investigation, both by her department and by an external oversight agency, is being conducted to determine whether excessive force was used.
But after the speakers concluded their comments Tuesday night and the council had moved on to other issues, audience member Jason Crazy Bear Keck of Mebane erupted, shouting that the council owed an apology to Wesley Cobb’s family, who he said had been present but
were then leaving the council chambers. Keck is the husband of Crystal Cavalier, who is currently a Democratic candidate running for Congress.
Mayor Jennifer Talley called for order and instructed the belligerent audience member to leave the council chambers, which he did, along with most of the other protesters who had been present throughout much of the evening to criticize Strader and the Graham police chief for having hired him.
Talley had previously outlined that under the “council-manager” form of government, the city council’s involvement in personnel is limited to the hiring of the city manager, not individual municipal employees – neither in the police department nor any other area of city government. But that didn’t stop speakers from pressing for them to have Strader fired.
Strader’s handling of Wesley Cobb, a 19-year-old black teen, at the Pines was variously termed “irresponsible and egregious” by Rev. Curtis Gatewood, formerly of Graham, but now of Burlington; an “attack” by Kristofer Loy of Graham; Janet Nesbitt of Graham accused Strader of throwing the teen “against a file cabinet” (although the arrest took place outside, with no file cabinet visible in most social media posts of the incident; and “vigilante action” by Sharrie McCain of Gibsonville.
“We will get justice [by] all means necessary,” intoned Avery Harvey, who described himself as having been arrested 12 times. Harvey was arrested during a number of protests in Graham throughout the second half of 2020 and after disrupting a county commissioners’ meeting in November 2020. He has also been charged with felony possession of cocaine in an unrelated case.
Jason Hicks of High Point said he and other protesters are “trying to hold police accountable.”
Sharrie McCain said that she had decided not to move to Graham since it was considered “extremely racist.”
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Speakers who criticized Douglas Strader, Graham police chief Kristi Cole, the police department in general, or the city and its residents as a whole
No evidence that Strader “killed” Greensboro resident, but speakers insisted he had
Several speakers repeatedly accused Strader of having “killed” Marcus Smith, a Greensboro man who died while in police custody in September 2018.
Strader was a part of the Greensboro Police Department and one of eight officers who responded to Smith’s erratic behavior, later described in court documents as “running in and out of traffic, stating he wanted to kill himself, and apparently very agitated,” during a street festival in Greensboro.
Strader was ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing in the Greensboro case surrounding Smith’s death; and Greensboro city officials agreed earlier this year to pay a $2.57 million settlement to resolve a civil suit filed in 2019 by his estate.
The coroner also determined that Smith had drugs in his system, which may have accounted for both his erratic behavior as well as his death.
The coroner concluded that Smith “had a history of hypertension, smoking, and alcoholism” and was “known to use cocaine and ‘molly,’ a term that typically refers to MDMA, or ‘ecstasy.’”
The coroner also determined that Smith had previously been “hospitalized for combativeness or substance-induced delirium following drug use including methamphetamine, cocaine, and ‘molly.’”
Nonetheless, Strader’s critics at the Graham city council podium continued to cite his ostensible responsibility for Smith’s death.
Strader was later fired by the Greensboro police following an unrelated incident in which he had shot his service revolver at a fleeing vehicle in 2019. Then a 16-year veteran of the Greensboro police department, Strader was fired from his position as a police corporal in September 2020, according to documents that Greensboro city officials furnished last spring in response to a public records request by The Alamance News.
Strader almost immediately drew public criticism from Black Lives Matters activists when he was hired in March 2021 by the Graham police department, at an annual salary of $43,410.63, approximately $18,000 less than he had earned as a Greensboro police corporal. Strader was hired in Graham as a Police Officer I, according to the police department.
Cole gave her assurances last spring that the Graham police department “exceeds and complies with all guidelines set forth by the NC Criminal Justice Education and Training Standards Commission” which requires background checks on all applicants seeking law enforcement certification.
In a subsequent interview with The Alamance News, Cole also emphasized that Strader had all the relevant law enforcement credentials required to be a police officer in North Carolina and that her department had conducted an extensive review prior to offering him the job.