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Superior Court judge grants release of video from Oct. 31 protest that ended in pepper spray

Senior resident superior court judge Tom Lambeth, Jr. has granted two defendants from the October 31 march and rally that ended with law enforcement using pepper spray to disperse the crowd their petitions to compel local law enforcement agencies to provide video footage from the protest.

Alamance Count senior resident superior court judge Tom Lambeth, Jr.

Lambeth granted the petitions last week, at the conclusion of two simultaneous video-conference hearings. A hearing has not been scheduled yet for a third petition filed by six media organizations, according to the county’s civil courts division.

Meanwhile another superior court judge has also granted similar access to law enforcement videos in two separate cases:

Two marchers who were arrested during the October 31 demonstration – along with the six media organizations – filed petitions last month in Alamance County civil superior court, seeking the release of “all law enforcement and other recordings leading up to, during, and after the ‘I Am Change’ march in Graham” on Halloween Day.

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Two airborne uses of pepper spray could be observed, one here, which the sheriff’s office insisted occurred after a female officer was assaulted. She also sprayed into the air as she fell.

Lt. Duane Flood of the Graham police department sat in on both hearings last week and told Lambeth that the police department had “burned all the recordings” onto compact discs and had no objection to their release.

Lambeth asked Miranda Tarlton, the attorney for the two individual petitioners, last week to “draw an order that makes it clear” he is releasing recordings captured by the Graham police department that specifically contain her clients’ images or voices. The order would then simply need to be served on the department to release the recordings, Lambeth said.

State law allows law enforcement agencies to release recordings captured through body-worn cameras and similar devices, with a court order, but the petition for release must be narrowly-tailored, Lambeth explained to Tarlton at the outset of last week’s hearing. “Your petition seemed broader than that,” Lambeth said, asking the attorney, “Are you simply asking for video that pertains to your client?” Tarlton confirmed that was the extent of her request.

A photo provided by Alamance County sheriff’s office, showing Drumwright reaching in to stop deputy from removing the gas-powered generator at his rally on October 31. The permit explicitly prohibited anything other than a battery-powered generator.

The two petitions were filed in superior court early last month by Rion Thompson and Kani Adon Bynum (who is listed in court filings as “Kahi Adon”). Thompson previously served as the campaign manager for Democrat Dreama Caldwell during her campaign last year for a seat on Alamance County’s board of commissioners. Bynum is an activist and a trainer with the Racial Equity Institute in Greensboro, according to the organization.

Thompson, a black male and then 23, and Bynum, also black and then 24, were charged with misdemeanor failure to disperse on command during the October 31 rally in Graham. Arrest warrants listed Thompson’s address as 611 Atwater Street, Greensboro, and Bynum’s address as 104 Grovecrest Way, Greensboro.

In his petition for the audio and video recordings, Thompson stated: “On or about the 31st of October 2020, I was arrested for failing to disperse on command. This occurred in downtown Graham. A protest was going on in that area around the same time. The arrest was made by the Graham police department, and I was taken to the detention center. I hereby request the release of any and all video, audio, and/or visual and audio recording pertaining to this event, whether captured by dash cam video, body-worn cameras, and/or any other video or audio recording device operated by or on behalf of law enforcement agency personnel when carrying out law enforcement responsibilities.” Bynum’s petition reiterated the same chain of the events leading to his arrest on October 31.

Marchers on October 31, here stopped at North Main and Harden Streets, where Rev. Greg Drumwright, the protest organizer, addressed the marchers.

The “I Am Change Legacy March to the Polls” in downtown Graham ultimately culminated with 23 arrests, including that of Alamance News reporter Tomas Murawski, who was charged with resisting, delaying, or obstructing an officer, as well as 22 other defendants whose charges, like Murawski’s, also remain pending in Alamance County district court.

The Graham police department initially deployed pepper spray to move marchers out of the middle of the roadway around the county’s Historic Court House, as Graham police spokesman Lt. Daniel Sisk described the chain of events at a November 1 press conference.

Sheriff’s deputies also deployed pepper spray to disperse the subsequent rally on the courthouse grounds after discovering a gas generator and two gas cans had been brought onto the property, in violation of the permit for the event, and gave three verbal commands to disperse over seven minutes that went unheeded.

The McClatchy Company, which owns the News & Observer, filed a petition against Alamance County sheriff Terry Johnson and Graham police chief Kristy Cole, seeking any audio or video footage recorded “from the time the first contact was made with marchers, spectators or media on that date until the last member of law enforcement left the scene.”

The five other media organizations that joined McClatchy in filing the petition include: Carolina Public Press, a nonprofit online news outlet based in western North Carolina; Capitol Broadcasting Company, the parent company for WRAL-TV in Raleigh; Lee Enterprises, the parent company for the (Greensboro) News & Record; Hearst Properties, the parent company for WXII in Winston-Salem; and Gannett, the parent company for the Times-News of Burlington. The petitioners are seeking the release of “recordings from all body-worn cameras; dashboard cameras; hand-held recording devices of any kind; drones/unmanned aerial vehicles; stationary cameras; or any other video or audio recording device operated by or on behalf of a law enforcement agency or law enforcement agency personnel…when carrying out law enforcement responsibilities at the time of first contact, at the courthouse and around Court Square.” The six media organizations are being represented by a law firm that represents the N.C. Press Association.

Meanwhile, the organizer of the march and rally, Rev. Gregory Drumwright of Greensboro, has filed a federal lawsuit against the sheriff and Graham police chief for alleged voter intimidation through their use of pepper spray to disperse the crowd on Halloween day.

In contrast to an earlier complaint that Drumwright and several other defendants had filed against the city of Graham in July 2020, challenging a city ordinance that previously required a permit for any parade or demonstration involving two or more people, he is seeking an award for punitive damages against the sheriff and police chief. [The lawsuit against the city was resolved following repeal of the ordinance last summer.] The latest suit, which Drumwright filed two days after his Halloween day march and rally in downtown Graham, remains pending in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District Court of North Carolina.

All of the cases stemming from arrests made on October 31 by Graham police and sheriff’s deputies were pending in Alamance County criminal district court as of press time.

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