Politics & Government

Moral Monday protesters get charges dropped in trespassing case

A Superior Court judge Thursday dismissed trespassing charges against a pair of Moral Monday protesters who were arrested in 2016 while trying to deliver a petition to House Speaker Tim Moore.

The case marked the end of a long legal road for Carol Anderson and Dale Herman, who were taken into custody with 11 other people protesting HB2, the “bathroom bill” partially repealed in 2017.

While the case came to symbolize for some the era of heavy protest and debate over transgender rights, Durham attorney Scott Holmes tailored his case to the right of citizens to instruct their representatives — a principle spelled out in the state Constitution.

But the case never got that far.

Superior Court Judge Keith Gregory dismissed the charges against Anderson and Herman before Holmes presented any of his witnesses.

The reason: the protesters’ charging documents said they were asked to leave the Legislative Building, but evidence at trial showed they were instead asked to leave the office of the House Principal Clerk and told they were allowed to stay in other parts of the building.

Holmes called it gratifying to see his clients cleared but disappointing not to argue the right of citizens to petition for redress of grievances.

“Kind of like a Bud Light victory,” he said. “Tastes great and less filling.”

Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said her office respects the judge’s decision but believes it had “ample case law and support to show the contrary.” An appeal is possible but not yet certain.

In 2013, more than 900 people were arrested at the Legislative Building as part of Moral Monday demonstrations aimed at repealing the law that prevented transgender people from using the public restroom of their choice.

A large percentage of those charges were dismissed, but Freeman noted they were arrested under very different circumstances. Those crowds were told to disperse via a bullhorn and were not individually told they had the right to leave or be arrested, which was the case with Anderson and Herman.

“That was done in all those cases we have proceeded on,” she said.

In his opening statement Wednesday, Holmes said the protesters, including Anderson and Herman, went to Moore’s office but the door was slammed shut in their faces. They found the next open door and tried to deliver a petition, which Moore, as an elected official, was bound by law to acknowledge, Holmes said.

General Assembly Police Chief Martin Brock testified Thursday he asked protesters three times to leave. The fourth time, a police captain told them individually they would be arrested, which the protesters acknowledged and refused.

“I didn’t hear the word ‘petition,’ Brock said.

Freeman said roughly 50 Moral Monday protest cases remain. Many such defendants were offered deferrals but declined to take them.

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Josh Shaffer covers Wake County and federal courts. He has been a reporter for The News & Observer since 2004 and previously wrote a column about unusual people and places.