State Politics

Toilet left outside NC governor’s mansion in protest brings littering charge

Gigi Burkhalter, left, sits with her attorney Scott Holmes during her trial in a Wake County courtroom in Raleigh, NC on Nov. 2, 2016. She was arrested on littering charges for leaving a toilet in front of the Governor's Mansion to protest HB2. Her case was heard, but the judge needed more time than he had and said he would give his decision at a later date.
Gigi Burkhalter, left, sits with her attorney Scott Holmes during her trial in a Wake County courtroom in Raleigh, NC on Nov. 2, 2016. She was arrested on littering charges for leaving a toilet in front of the Governor's Mansion to protest HB2. Her case was heard, but the judge needed more time than he had and said he would give his decision at a later date. cseward@newsobserver.com

Genevieve “Gigi” Burkhalter was working at home in Durham on April 28 when several police officers outside interrupted what had been a plan to knuckle down for a fast approaching deadline on a graphics-design project.

Burkhalter, 36, went outside to find out what the officers in the yard wanted.

What happened next resulted in Burkhalter being arrested and handcuffed for allegedly littering – a misdemeanor charge that could have been issued as a citation or criminal summons that could have averted the need for a State Capitol police officer to travel from Raleigh to Durham to enlist the help of Durham police to bring her in for further questioning by a different State Capitol police officer.

The unusual arrest was the subject of a hearing in Wake County District Court on Wednesday.

The allegations are that Burkhalter was one of two people who removed a rainbow-colored porcelain toilet from a truck bed on April 15 and left it on the Blount Street sidewalk in front of the N.C. Executive Mansion with the sign “Gov. McCrory, your hands are not clean. Cut the Crap! #We Came 2 Slay HB2.”

At issue Wednesday was whether the case should be dismissed before the allegations are tried. The judge has yet to make that decision.

Scott Holmes, a N.C. Central University law professor and supervising attorney of the school’s Civil Litigation Clinic, argued that the case should be dismissed because State Capitol police were outside their jurisdiction on the arrest.

Wake County prosecutors argued that State Capitol police were within their purview to issue an arrest warrant, adding that Durham police – not the officer who drove to town from Raleigh – served the warrant then transferred Burkhalter to the custody of the capitol police force.

Burkhalter has been startled, saddened and amazed by the incident.

In an interview Wednesday, after going before Wake County Judge James Fullwood in the morning, Burkhalter recalled her confusion that April morning when she stepped outside, barefoot and a little groggy from not yet eating breakfast, to see what brought several officers to her Burch Avenue apartment.

Almost immediately, an officer asked if she was Genevieve Burkhalter to which she responded yes. “I just remember the whole experience being very confusing,” Burkhalter said. “They did say something like, ‘We have a warrant for littering.’ It was just confusing to me because I’m not normally a litterer. I’m usually the one calling out litterers.”

As the details emerged, Burkhalter learned she was being accused of leaving a toilet outside the Executive Mansion in Raleigh and she would be taken back to the State Capitol Police Department for questioning and an appearance before a Wake County magistrate on a charge that she recklessly left litter – exceeding 15 pounds but less than 500 pounds – on property that was not hers.

What the police allege, according to an arrest warrant issued April 19, is that State Highway Patrol Trooper G. Ingram observed a pickup truck on surveillance camera drive around the Executive Mansion at 6:38 a.m. on April 15.

On the second pass around, the truck stopped in front of the main gate.

A person, not known by the trooper, is seen removing “an item from the bed of the truck,” according to the application for the warrant, and placing it down. The person is then seen going back to the truck, retrieving another “item” and placing it down.

That person then is seen parking the truck and walking across the street to take a photo of the toilet, according to State Capitol Police.

The trooper ran from inside the mansion to the gate where the toilet was left, then went back inside to check surveillance footage and noted the license plate number on the truck. That’s what led police to Burkhalter.

Burkhalter said the officer outside her Durham home allowed her to go back inside, put on shoes, feed her two dogs and leave them in crates before handcuffing and transporting her to Raleigh. On her way out the door, she texted her partner and friends.

At the State Capitol police station, Burkhalter said Officer Mike Aponte outlined what she was accused of, showed her pictures and peppered her with questions. “He said, they knew it was me. They were interrogating me. They wanted to know who the second person was,” Burkhalter said. “I kept saying, ‘I’m not opposed to answering your questions,’ but I wanted to talk to an attorney first.”

After contacting a friend who connected her to an attorney, Burkhalter decided not to say anything more to the officer

Burkhalter said Wednesday that the incident has left her feeling targeted. “It doesn’t make sense to come all the way to a different county to arrest someone for littering,” Burkhalter said. “It feels like they were trying to intimidate me.”

Burkhalter is at odds with the political agenda that brought the ban on gay marriage, House Bill 2 and the block on raising the minimum wage.

Burkhalter has made a practice of using the women’s or men’s restroom, but mostly single-stall facilities. As a person who identifies as “gender non-conforming,” Burkhalter has experienced slurs, indignant questions and concerns of violence.

“To me there’s something larger at issue here than the littering, and that’s HB2,” she said. “That’s the real crime. It’s targeting people, and causing fear and making it difficult for people to live their life. I think there are more important things to worry about.”

The next court date in the case is scheduled for Dec. 5. In the meantime, according to capitol police, the toilet is being stored in the Executive Mansion.

Anne Blythe: 919-836-4948, @AnneBlythe1

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