North Carolina sheriff, police chief sued for voter intimidation over pepper spraying incident

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the ACLU of North Carolina are suing a North Carolina police chief and sheriff over alleged voter intimidation.

The federal suit, filed on Monday evening against Graham Police Chief Mary Kristy Cole and Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson, concerns an incident that took place during an "I Am Change" march on Saturday in which people protesting for voter rights were pepper sprayed.

The lawsuit states that the police officers on the scene violated First Amendment rights "[b]y using excessive force and issuing unlawful orders to disperse."

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The march, which was attended by nearly 250 people and intended to end in a march to the polls, allegedly escalated when police attempted to disperse the crowd by spraying pepper spray. Police also allegedly arrested several of the marchers, citing a failure to disperse.

“The right to protest has always been an important feature of our democracy and a tool for demanding change,” Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a press release. “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. We will not stand back and let the voices of voters continue to be suppressed just hours before Election Day."

Gregory Drumwright, Edith Ann Jones and Justice for The Next Generation are named as plaintiffs in the case.

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"It was horrific," Drumwright, said, according to NBC News. "Folks were afraid and traumatized by what happened."

The City of Graham Police Department said in a statement that the marchers were creating a "traffic and safety hazard."

"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," police said in the statement.

The plaintiffs in the case are seeking unspecified damages for the incident.

Saturday was the final day that North Carolina voters could elect to register and vote same-day and vote early in person.