A judge denied a request Monday to remove the Alamance County district attorney and his office from prosecuting a case charging a Duke University lecturer with assaulting the sheriff during a pro-Confederate rally.
The motion for the removal of District Attorney Pat Nadolski was one of a number of requests heard Monday by Superior Court Judge Reuben F. Young. The requests all related to charges levied against two men accused of assaulting law-enforcement officers involved in a counter-protest to a “Confederate Memorial Day” rally at the Alamance County Historic Courthouse on May 20.
Rann Bar-On, a Duke University math lecturer, is charged with assaulting Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson. He faces a felony assault charge on a law enforcement officer causing injury and misdemeanor injury to personal property.
During the hearing and in court filings, defense attorney Scott Holmes appears to be building an argument that the four-term sheriff has a controversial record on racial bias in a county whose elected leaders have defended Confederate symbols.
Holmes contends that during a protest in the shadow of the Confederate monument in front of the historic courthouse, where Monday’s hearing was being held, racism and biases influenced law enforcement’s actions against his clients.
“We are at ground zero of that battle, literally within view of it, outside the window where this history of race converged,” Holmes said, pointing to the tall statue of a Confederate soldier outside the window.
“And my clients, it is my contention, were assaulted during their counter-protest because they were protesting against white supremacy,” he said.
Alamance County Chief Assistant District Attorney Corey Santos said his office sees a very different narrative.
The defendants were there to exercise their Constitutional right to peaceful assembly.
But, “our narrative is they took advantage of that right, and it turned violent,” Santos said.
Johnson sat next to Santos in the courtroom.
The state maintains a group of people had a permit to be there and the right to protection from the county to exercise their right, regardless of whether anyone supports what the group stood for, Santos said.
“And the defendants, our contention is, they violated that,” Santos said.
Holmes argued Nadolksi, who campaigned with Johnson and appears with him on a promotional billboard on Interstate 40, should remove his office from the case because he has a conflict of interest. Holmes suggested the Attorney General’s Office prosecute the case
Santos, who pointed out that he would be prosecuting the case, successfully argued that Holmes hasn’t shown Santos has an actual conflict of interest.
Holmes also unsuccessfully asked Judge Reuben F. Young to compel prosecutors to provide documents outlining Johnson’s and his deputies’ use of racial slurs toward minority groups, and documents relating to the relationship with groups such as the Alamance County Taking Back Alamance County (ACTBAC), the Alamance County Regulators Militia and the Ku Klux Klan.
Santos said Johnson said he has never belonged to any of those organizations.
Holmes also unsuccessfully asked for internal complaints about sheriff’s deputies involving racial bias or racism.
Holmes, Santos said, is “looking for information to stir up something that isn’t relevant.” Holmes argued biases would be important in a case with conflicting witnesses’ statements.
Young denied the motions sayings the requests were overly broad or didn’t meet legal requirements.
‘Confederate Memorial Day’
Bar-On and two others were arrested May 20 during a Confederate Memorial Day event organized by the ACTBAC in response to “attacks and destruction of Southern symbols in other cities and states.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center designated ACTBAC a hate group earlier this year, calling it a “neo-Confederate” organization.
The Triangle Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), a group tied to socialist and anarchist labor movements, held a counter rally during the Confederate Memorial Day event.
William Hood, 35, of Durham is charged with felony assault on a law enforcement officer and misdemeanor assault on a government employee and bringing a weapon to a parade, which court documents say was a pocket knife.
Greg Williams of Durham was charged with misdemeanor resisting a public officer.
Johnson told local media that Bar-On had taken down a flagpole before the rally, and torn an flag belonging ACTBAC to off the pole, according to court documents. Johnson also said Bar-On tried to pour a liquid that the Johnson suspected was lighter fluid.
Bar-On allegedly struck Johnson in the shin when the sheriff tried to get the flag back, Johnson said, which led to a struggle between law enforcement and IWW members.
During his arguments, Holmes pointed to traffic stops that showed the Sheriff’s Office stopped and searched people of color at a higher rate than whites. Holmes also pointed to a 2012 lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice against Johnson alleging that his office routinely targeted and discriminated against Latinos.
In its complaint, the Justice Department said the Sheriff’s Office unlawfully targeted Latino drivers at traffic stops. The Justice Department said deputies were four to 10 times more likely to stop Latino drivers than non-Latino drivers; that deputies arrested Latinos for minor traffic violations while issuing citations or warnings to non-Latinos for comparable violations; and that the office used vehicle checkpoints in a discriminatory manner to target Latinos.
A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit in 2015.
A hearing is expected to be scheduled in January to hear a request from Holmes to move the case to another county.