The third trial of “Moral Mondays” protesters got underway on Friday in Wake County District Court, but after a day of testimony ran out of time and had to be continued. Because of scheduling problems among the judge, lawyers and defendants, the trial won’t resume until Dec. 3.
This is the case against several clergy and others arrested at the Legislative Building on April 29, and includes the NAACP’s state chapter president William Barber, Rev. Curtis Gatewood, author Timothy Tyson and nine more people.
General Assembly police Chief Jeff Weaver was again on the stand much of the day, facing defense attorney Irving Joyner’s line of questioning that tried to establish that Weaver overstepped his authority in interpreting rules for public access at the statehouse and that he overreacted.
Weaver testified that police had information earlier that day that there would be a large number of arrests. He said the NAACP-sponsored march into the building did not concern him protesters began chanting “fight, fight, fight” and he recognized several people who had been arrested in the past, including members of a local socialist group calling itself Raleigh F.I.S.T. (Fight Imperialism -- Stand Together) whom he knew had been arrested before. (The group’s website says it “has been extensively involved in counter-military recruitment,” among other things.)
“You were freaked out by this ‘fight, fight, fight’?” Joyner asked. “...You allowed that to taint your conclusion about what these defendants were ready to do or likely to do?”
“I was concerned about it, I wasn’t freaked out,” Weaver said. “I saw two individuals raising their fists. I knew it was an emotional issue.”
The police chief explained that the dozen who were ultimately arrested were taken into custody because they refused to disperse when ordered to three times. Raleigh Police Department officers were called in to make the arrests, because Weaver’s staff is small.
“Does the Raleigh Police Department have the right to control what goes on in this Vatican-like complex?” Joyner asked Weaver, prompting Judge Joy Hamilton to ask Joyner where he was going with that line of questioning.
Joyner said it was a constitutional issue addressing, “Can the voice of the citizens be stifled in a place of public debate?” Hamilton told him that was an issue to raise in motions or closing arguments.
The first case to go to trial resulted in a conviction of the sole defendant. The second case ended with Hamilton dismissing the charges against a couple.
Wake District Attorney Colon Willoughby offered to dismiss the charges against the 924 people arrested during the series of protests at the General Assembly this year in exchange for community service and court costs. But an attorney working with the protesters says only about 50 have accepted the offer, and the rest want to go to trial to make a point.
Earlier in the day, former state Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, a Democrat from Chapel Hill, testified that the protesters were not disruptive.