This case arises out of the deployment of pepper spray by the Graham Police Department and Alamance County Sheriff’s Office on peaceful protestors on October 31, 2020. Protesters had been demonstrating in Graham, North Carolina as part of the “I am Change: Legacy March to the Polls” (the “March”), which was organized to encourage “people to go to the polls and vote for change” and “serve as a moment of political power for Black communities.” The March took place on the last day of early voting and voter registration in North Carolina, on the last Saturday before the 2020 general election, and was intended to culminate near the City of Graham’s Elm Street polling place. On at least three occasions during the march, police officers deployed pepper spray on March attendees, which included elderly and disabled individuals as well as young children. Certain March attendees had intended to register to vote and/or vote after the March but were unable to do so as a result of the police violence that day.
On November 2, 2020, LDF filed a lawsuit in the Middle District of North Carolina on behalf of three individuals who attended the March and one community organization with members at the March, some of whom had intended to vote after the March but were impeded from doing so. The Complaint—brought against the City of Graham and its Chief of Police, the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office and its Sheriff, and certain Doe officers and deputies of the Graham Police Department and Alamance County Sheriff’s Office—assert claims for violation of Section 11(b) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Section 1985(3) of the KKK Act, and the 1st and 4th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. The case was assigned to District Judge Catherine C. Eagles and Magistrate Judge Patrick Auld. The case also was automatically referred to mandatory mediation pursuant to the Local Rules applicable to civil rights cases, with such mediation to be conducted during the discovery process.
On December 1, 2020, counsel for Defendants filed a consent motion requesting that LDF’s case be consolidated a separate action filed by the ACLU and Lawyers’ Committee of North Carolina, representing a separate set of March attendees. The Court granted consolidation of the two cases on December 4, 2020 “for all pre-trial proceedings, and, subject to review closer to trial.”
On December 11, 2020, LDF filed an Amended Complaint, which added, inter alia, (i) three additional plaintiffs (including one individual who had intended to register to vote and vote at the end of the March but was unable to do so as a result of his pepper-spray injuries—thereby missing his ability to vote in 2020 general election altogether as the March took place on the last day of early voting), (ii) one additional Defendant (an employee of the Graham Police Department), and (iii) claims under the North Carolina constitution and common law.
The City of Graham Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, and the Alamance County Defendants filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings in February and March 2021, respectively. These motions were fully briefed and submitted to the Court as of April 2021.
On May 10, 2021, however—while those motions were pending—the parties (in LDF’s case only) proceeded to mediation. As a result of mediation, the parties reached a settlement in principle that is not yet public to resolve all claims in the action. The LDF action has been stayed pending the finalization of settlement and the necessary governmental approvals of the same by the Graham City Council and Alamance County Board of Commissioners.
In June 2021, the plaintiffs represented by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), co-counsel Covington & Burling, LLP and veteran civil rights lawyer, Geraldine Sumter of Ferguson Chambers & Sumter, P.A. reached a settlement in Allen v. Graham.