A Superior Court judge isn't buying that previous allegations of racial discrimination against Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson are relevant to the case of a Durham man accused of assaulting Johnson
at while counterprotesting a Confederate Memorial Day rally earlier this year.
Rann Bar-On and William Hood, who is charged with assaulting two other officers at the Graham rally, appeared in Alamance County Superior Court Monday as Judge Reuben Young heard a host of motions filed by their attorney, Scott Holmes. Young will not order the prosecution to turn over extensive evidence Holmes had sought to support a theory that Johnson may be biased against the antiracist
At Holmes's request, Young continued a motion seeking a change of venue to
January, although no date has been set. Holmes argues that an Alamance jury could be partial toward the elected sheriff and that Johnson has already shaped public opinion locally by discussing the incident.
NC Sheriff's Association
Sheriff Terry Johnson of Alamance County
Johnson told the Burlington Times-News
that a protester had taken down a flag at the May 20 rally and appeared to be opening a water bottle, suggesting he may have been trying to douse it with lighter fluid (the bottle wasn't recovered, the paper reported). Johnson says he was hit in the shin while trying to gain control of the flag, but Holmes says it was Bar-On and Hood that were assaulted (he didn’t elaborate).
Young denied a request that the Alamance County District Attorney's Office to recuse itself from the case on the grounds that District Attorney Pat Nadolski has too close of a relationship with Johnson for his office to fairly prosecute it. An assistant district attorney, Corey Santos, is prosecuting the case. Holmes said he “can say nothing bad” about Santos, but that he is still “beholden to his boss.”
Holmes questioned Johnson’s credibility as the main witness in his case and his motives in accusing Bar-On of assault, suggesting a pattern of racial bias that would “color the lens” through which Johnson saw the May 20 incident.
“There’s enough smoke to believe there’s fire,” Holmes said.
Holmes pointed to the findings of a now-dismissed Department of Justice lawsuit alleging racial discrimination at ACSO, recent traffic stop data showing people of color being searched at disproportionate rates, and eyewitness accounts that Johnson had been “meeting and greeting” participants in the pro-Confederate rally.
He also asked for any documents related to discrimination or the use of racial slurs at ACSO, information on the relationship between Johnson and groups that participated in the rally, and internal complaints against the Sheriff’s Office. Those requests were denied Monday.
Holmes said he was “disheartened” that he couldn't convince the judge why evidence potentially showing racial bias would be relevant to an incident that occurred at a pro-Confederate rally that took place just outside the courthouse where Monday's hearing was held. Young noted that his decisions don't preclude people from bringing this stuff up at trial and said it's difficult to judge what evidence would be relevant before hearing the case.
Johnson spoke little but shook his head as Holmes spoke. He denied being associated with groups involved in the rally. Santos said a photo Holmes included in his motion purporting to show Johnson shaking hands with Confederate Memorial Day participants was of a different deputy.
Young agreed with Santos that several of Holmes's requests were too broad and amounted to a “fishing expedition.” The DOJ case, already adjudicated in Johnson's favor, is irrelevant to the question of whether Johnson had been assaulted, he said.
“What the defense is doing is conflating an issue that involves assault on a law enforcement officer into a greater issue concerning race in general. … The relevant link escapes me other than to try to put information in front of the jury to inflame them and to distract them from the relevant issues of the case," Santos said.
Young did allow requests for medical records for injuries sustained by Johnson and Graham officers B.F. Hicks and C.S. Swink on May 20, but Johnson says he didn’t seek treatment. Holmes had asked for six years of the sheriff’s records after Johnson said the flagpole aggravated a previous injury. Johnson said Monday he injured his left leg when he was four.
Video and audio recordings of the rally are being turned over to the defense, as well as Sheriff’s Office correspondence on protests by Industrial Workers of the World, of which Bar-On and Hood are members.