Tags: 2020 Elections | Voting Rights | North Carolina | pepper spray

North Carolina Sheriff, Police Chief Sued Over Pepper Spraying

North Carolina Sheriff, Police Chief Sued Over Pepper Spraying
In this image taken from video, Alamance County sheriff's deputies use pepper spray towards the ground in front of a crowd of protesters outside the courthouse in Graham, N.C., Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020.  (Carli Brosseau/The News & Observer via AP)

Tuesday, 03 November 2020 07:20 PM

A North Carolina sheriff and police chief are being sued over voter intimidation allegations following an incident Saturday in which marchers were hit with pepper spray while protesting for voting rights.

The lawsuit, filed Monday by The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the ACLU of North Carolina against Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson and Graham Police Chief Mary Kristy Cole violated the marchers First Amendment rights by "using excessive force and issuing unlawful orders to disperse."

"The police violence in Graham, N.C. perpetrated against a group of peaceful and primarily Black protestors over the weekend is yet another clear violation of the right to free speech and the right to vote,," Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a press release. "We will not stand back and let the voices of voters continue to be suppressed just hours before Election Day."

Videos showed officers firing pepper spray into the crowd in Graham, a city of about 15,000 located about 40 miles from Raleigh-Durham. 

The Graham Police Department said officers took action after participants at the rally failed to obey warnings to disperse.

The state's Democratic governor described the incident as "unacceptable."

Shon Green, a 28-year-old activist who helped organize the protest, along with the Reverend Greg Drumwright, a Black social justice organizer, said police abruptly ordered an end to a peaceful rally, which had been due to end at a polling station.

The Graham Police Department, in a press release, said officers directed pepper spray into the ground after rally participants failed to follow a command to stop blocking a road.

"As a result of actions that occurred within the rally, on courthouse grounds, the assembly reached a level of conduct that led to the rally being deemed unsafe and unlawful by unified command," the police statement said. Following warnings that force would be used if people did not disperse after 5 minutes, the department said officers used the pepper spray after several people still remained.

The Burlington Times-News newspaper said one of its reporters was among those pepper-sprayed and said they did not hear any warning before the police action.

Protester Amy Cooper, 31, said that youngsters and the elderly were among those attacked.

"I saw it hit a child," she said of the pepper spray. "She got it straight in the mouth and she vomited everywhere.”

Dreama Caldwell, who is a candidate for Alamance County commissioner, told Reuters that officers were to blame.

"The only violence that happened today was from the police," she said.

In a statement posted on Twitter, Governor Roy Cooper said that peaceful demonstrators "should be able to have their voices heard and voter intimidation in any form cannot be tolerated."

Reuters contributed to this report.

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A North Carolina sheriff and police chief are being sued over voter intimidation allegations following an incident Saturday in which marchers were hit with pepper spray while protesting for voting rights.
North Carolina, pepper spray
467
2020-20-03
Tuesday, 03 November 2020 07:20 PM
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