A settlement has been reached in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina against the Graham Police Department and the Alamance County Sheriff’s Department, which alleged excessive use of the force by the police against demonstrators during a march for the right to vote. The City of Graham, the Graham Police Department and the county sheriff will pay $336,900 to the group of plaintiffs represented by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights under the law.
The lawsuit was filed days after Alamance County Sheriff’s Deputies and Graham Police protesters sprayed with pepper sprayincluding children and the elderly, for blocking a street without permission during the “I am the March of change at the polls” on Oct. 31, 2020. According to the lawsuit, police violated defendants’ First Amendment rights to speech, assembly, and association, as well as their Fourth Amendment rights protecting them from excessive use of force .
The ACLU announced in a Press release Wednesday that it was “an important victory for police accountability and transparency”. As part of the settlement, Graham Police Chief Kristy Cole also agreed to have a formal meeting with all consenting plaintiffs within 60 days of the release of the trial settlement.
In a statement from the Graham Police Department, reported to the Burlington Times-News, they said the reason for the settlement was that “it is in the best interests of our community to settle the trial fairly and avoid the costs of ‘protracted litigation’.
The ACLU alleged in the lawsuit that the pepper spray rendered some protesters physically and mentally unable to vote, as the incident occurred on the last day of early voting in the 2020 general election.
Among the plaintiffs is Justice 4 the Next Generation, a group of community organizations fighting against racial inequality, founded by the Reverend Greg Drumwright. One of the lead plaintiffs in the case, Drumwright, was quoted in the press release as saying Justice 4 the Next Generation is committed to addressing systemic racial oppression.
“I was raised in Alamance County and this will always be my home. Their attempts to silence the voices of peaceful protesters are all too familiar,” Drumwright said. said in a statement. “Although we have reached an agreement with the county, the city of Graham and law enforcement, we are keenly aware that we still have a long way to go before we achieve true equality and justice.”