Thursday, June 24, 2021

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While highest-profile case remains pending, D.A. satisfied so far with 2020 protest trials

Alamance County’s district attorney says he’s still considering asking a grand jury to review the evidence for a felony charge of assaulting a sheriff’s deputy against the organizer of an October 31, 2020 protest in downtown Graham (see related story, this edition).

“No decisions have been made, and we are keeping all options open,” Alamance County district attorney Sean Boone said in an interview with The Alamance News. Earlier this year, a grand jury returned a “no true bill” of indictment in the case against Rev. Gregory Drumwright, 41, black male, of 4 Clubview Court in Greensboro, but the case remains pending, Boone told the newspaper.

Drumwright organized the “I Am Change Legacy March to the Polls” in downtown Graham that ended with pepper spray on Halloween day. Several weeks later, he was charged with assaulting a sheriff’s deputy who had attempted to confiscate a generator and two gas cans that Drumwright had brought onto the grounds of the Alamance County Historic Court House that afternoon, violating the terms of a facilities use permit he had been granted for the event. Earlier this year, Alamance County assistant D.A. Kevin Harrison dismissed another subsequent charge of felony obstruction of justice that had been filed against Drumwright in November, citing a recent ruling by the state Court of Appeals, which he reasoned, made it unlikely that the state could meet its burden of proof to convict Drumwright on that count.

Grand juries are impaneled every four weeks, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the pending felony assault charge against Drumwright will be presented at the next session, Boone said in the interview. The timing of any decision in Drumwright’s felony case “depends on the volume of cases that would go to one grand jury or another,” he said. On average, approximately 200 cases are presented at each grand jury session, based on the D.A.’s description.

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For now, the original misdemeanor offense that Drumwright was charged with on October 31 – failure to disperse on command – remains pending and is currently scheduled to be heard in district court on June 30, 2021, according to Alamance County court files.

Boone said he sees no need to assign someone else to work with assistant D.A. Kevin Harrison, who he assigned to handle the 2020 protest cases. Yet the D.A. acknowledged that, as the cases began to come up for trial, it made more sense to have one prosecutor see them to the end. Most of the 2020 protest cases are being heard on Wednesdays in Alamance County district court by retired visiting district court judge Lunsford Long, III of Orange County.

“They all had the same basic issues,” Boone said in the interview. “It was sheer judicial economy and the most efficient way to ensure that the cases were handled in a consistent manner.

“We’re going to give precedence to more serious cases; we actually have serious cases with victims, who [are also entitled to] their day in court,” Boone continued, pointing to two murder cases that he intends to try personally, including one which predates his election as D.A. in 2018.

With the exception of the pending felony charge against Drumwright, most of the 2020 protest cases involve Class 2 misdemeanor offenses, such as disorderly conduct or resisting a public officer; and many, if not all, of the defendants have no prior criminal record, according to Alamance County court files.

The maximum penalty for a conviction on a Class 2 misdemeanor charge is 60 days in jail, Boone confirmed for the newspaper, adding, “You can’t even get that on a first offense.”
Despite some prosecutorial hiccups – such as the difficulty Harrison had with getting a Graham police officer to appear in court to testify at a trial on March 17 – Boone said he sees no need to bring in another assistant to help clear the dockets.

William Traynor, 63, white male, of 5768 Church Road in Graham, was charged with resisting a public officer on October 31, but his case almost didn’t make it to trial on March 17.

Harrison informed Long, shortly before the trial was set to begin, that the arresting officer from the Graham police department was unavailable to testify, and it appeared that the arresting officer had not been subpoenaed to appear. The visiting judge admonished the assistant D.A. and warned him to get his witness to court by 3:00 p.m. that afternoon, or he would dismiss the case.

The arresting officer appeared in court, well before the 3:00 p.m. deadline, and testified about the chain of events leading to Traynor’s arrest. Long ultimately dismissed the case anyway, concluding, as Traynor’s defense had, that the evidence failed to meet the elements of the crime.

“Mr. Harrison is responsible for handling protest cases on a week by week basis, and we expect him to [continue to] do so,” Boone said in the interview. “We have well more cases, and more serious cases, in terms of offense classifications. We will not dedicate more resources for these [protest] cases than to serious cases that have had to be put on hold, through no fault of our own, because of Covid.”

Trials in the 2020 protest cases were initially scheduled to be complete by April 7, but they are now scheduled to run well beyond that original target, according to Alamance County court files.

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