Trials of protesters who demonstrated in Graham last fall in support of the Black Lives Matter movement got underway on Wednesday, with the prosecutor dropping charges against two people, and the judge affirming misdemeanor charges against another individual without imposing a penalty.
The Alamance County town was the scene of multiple protests on a variety of topics in 2020. Triad City Beat tallied more than 70 charges filed against protesters last year from June through November, including those whose trials took place Wednesday. Among the events that gave rise to arrests:
- a June 27 “Black Lives Matter” protest,
- a July 25 NAACP “Call to Action” speaker meeting,
- a Sept. 8 protest against the county jail’s COVID response,
- a Sept. 26 “We Are Still Here” march around the courthouse where a Confederate monument stands, in which nine were arrested,
- an Oct. 31 “march to the polls” in which law enforcement officers pepper-sprayed marchers and charged some people with failure to disperse on command.
In August, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting a ban on protests around the courthouse that the sheriff’s office had sought to impose.
Judge Lunsford Long, a retired judge who is sometimes recalled to hear cases, presided over this week’s trials. An Alamance trial court coordinator told Policy Watch that Long will hear all the remaining protest cases.
Dionne Liles, the first to appear on Wednesday, was among dozens of protesters who showed up at a parking lot on Sept. 8, said Deputy Sheriff J. Giannotti. Liles said at the hearing that she and other demonstrators were “amplifying the voices of the people that were incarcerated” after COVID outbreaks were reported at the county jail and asking the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office to provide more PPEs to staff and inmates.
Liles represented herself. Judge Long dismissed the charge of assault on government officials or employees. Giannotti testified that Liles struck him with a sign, which she denied.
“My intentions were not… malicious, but to keep my eyes on what was happening to my friend,” Liles defended her reaction, “He is a man of color that was tackled by three officers, possibly more to the ground.”
While Long found Liles guilty of trespassing and resisting a public officer, the judge offered her a “prayer for judgment,” a unique North Carolina disposition for defendants where they won’t have the judgment entered against them. Her other charge of failure to disperse during the Oct. 31 protest will be resolved later in March.
Assistant District Attorney Kevin Harrison then dropped charges for two other cases where protesters were charged with impeding traffic in the “We Are Still Here” march. Harrison concluded that there was insufficient evidence after law enforcement officers testified.
Other demonstrators’ cases that involve the Sept. 8 and Oct. 31 protests will continue and roll over to the following court sessions. More than 20 additional protest-related trials are scheduled every Wednesday from March 3 to April 7, according to court calendars released by Alamance County District Court.