Alamance County, Graham and Oct. 31 protesters settling lawsuit

·3 min read
Protesters and law enforcement officers stand opposite each other during a rally on Oct. 31 in Graham. The rally turned violent when law enforcement officers pepper-sprayed some demonstrators and arrested others.
Protesters and law enforcement officers stand opposite each other during a rally on Oct. 31 in Graham. The rally turned violent when law enforcement officers pepper-sprayed some demonstrators and arrested others.

The parties in the lawsuit against the Alamance County Sheriff and the Graham Police over the Oct. 31, 2020, crackdown on the “I am Change March to the Polls” have reported the suit is settled or soon will be.

“Although the city admitted no guilt in the matter, it was in the best interest of our community to equitably settle the lawsuit and avoid the expense of extended litigation,” according to a statement from the Graham Police Department. “Taxpayers will not shoulder any financial responsibility, as the settlement will be paid through the city’s insurance coverage.”

More: Alamance Sheriff, Graham Police, protesters could settle lawsuit over Oct. 31, 2020, protest crackdown

Organizers and participants in the march to the Alamance County Historic Courthouse sued the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office and Graham Police Department alleging they violated their constitutional rights by using pepper spray foggers to break up the march on the last day of early voting in 2020.

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The settlement agreement in the case known as Drumwright v. Cole hasn’t been made public, according to federal court records. The official dismissal is due by June 13. The Times-News has not been able to confirm details about the settlement reportedly leaked to the Alamance News last week.

“The settlement isn’t finished yet,” said Interim County Attorney Debra Bechtel. “It’s premature for me to comment on that at this point.”

Jason Keith, the lawyer representing march organizer Rev. Gregory Drumwright, also would not comment for this story.

More: Body camera footage paints unflattering picture of Graham Police at Oct. 31 "I am Change" march

Police and deputies used pepper spray on protesters three times Oct. 31 – first to clear Court Square after allowing protesters to kneel in the street for about eight minutes in honor of George Floyd. When the demonstration continued peacefully in front of the steps of the Alamance County Historic Courthouse, sheriff’s deputies seized a prohibited gas-powered generator powering a public address system leading to a scuffle with protesters and the second use of pepper spray. That led to the protest permit being revoked, and police and deputies driving marchers up the sidewalks of North Church Street with more pepper spray.

Protesters and organizers charge the police and sheriff’s deputies used unnecessary force violating demonstrators’ rights to protest unmolested and to vote and making improper arrests. The suit calls it all part of ongoing targeting of those protesting police actions and racism and even political organizing.

Law enforcement blames protesters for violating the terms under which they were allowed to demonstrate, resisting police, and assaulting a deputy saying protesters’ own negligence is responsible for any injuries they suffered.

Twenty-three people were arrested at the march, including several organizers. Some of those court cases are still pending.

More: Alamance County protest cases end in appeals, convictions, acquittals and dismissals

The city and county settled another suit over the crackdown – Allen v. City of Graham – last June paying out $120,000 between them.

More: Alamance County, Graham settling lawsuit over Oct. 31 protest crackdown, but one remains

Lawyers involved in both suits said Drumwright’s suit would also go after structural changes in the police department and sheriff’s office, though there have been some changes in the legal team, according to court records.

Isaac Groves is the Alamance County government watchdog reporter for the Times-News and the USA Today Network. Call or text 919-998-8039 with tips and comments or follow him on Twitter @TNIGroves.

This article originally appeared on Times-News: Alamance County Sheriff and Graham Police settling lawsuit over protest crackdown