Cops spied on Moral Monday protesters
RALEIGH (AP) — The Raleigh Police Department conducted undercover surveillance at meetings of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP held to organize mass protests of the Republican-led state legislature, a city council member says.
Raleigh City Council member Mary-Ann Baldwin said city officials confirmed the surveillance to her on Monday following inquiries by The Associated Press.
“Raleigh Police did attend meetings,” said Baldwin, chairwoman of the council’s Law and Public Safety Committee. “I was distressed to learn about this. We were reluctant to even be involved because we don’t think arresting people for speaking their minds is the right thing to do.”
Baldwin said she was told Raleigh officers attended the NAACP planning events to help ensure public safety and security.
“They just didn’t want there to be any major issues they were not prepared for,” she said. “They wanted to make sure things went smoothly.”
The revelations about surveillance could have potential legal implications for hundreds of pending cases.
About 940 people were arrested at the weekly Moral Monday rallies opposing GOP-backed policies that protesters said damaged public education, voting rights and working people. Raleigh Police provided additional manpower to the N.C. General Assembly Police during the protests, with city officers often escorting arrestees on their way to jail.
State NAACP president William Barber said he is concerned Raleigh police chose to conduct surveillance at the planning meetings, which were typically held in the sanctuary of a nearby church. He stressed the protesters were non-violent and said they had nothing to hide. If the officers had worn uniforms or introduced themselves, they would have been welcomed, Barber said.
“It’s not like we were planning a bank heist,” he said. “Mostly, what we did was pray and sing.”
The weekly planning meetings were announced in advance and generally open to the public. However, there were portions of the meetings during which news reporters were asked to leave so protesters could receive information from volunteer lawyers about what to expect if they were arrested. Barber said he is worried if police officers and prosecutors are privy to the legal advice provided to the protesters that might have violated attorney-client privilege.
Irv Joyner, a professor at the N.C. Central University School of Law representing several of the protesters at trial, said he and other defense lawyers are likely to seek copies of any police surveillance reports through discovery motions.
The surveillance first came to light Friday at the trial of Saladin Muammad, a U.S. Army veteran and labor activist arrested on May 13 while at a Moral Monday protest.
General Assembly Police Chief Jeff Weaver testified he received advance intelligence reports from another law enforcement agency about the protesters’ plans. Asked during in a break which agency had provided him the reports, Weaver said he could not discuss operational details.
During her cross examination of Muammad, Assistant District Attorney Mary Elizabeth Wilson asked the protester a series of questions suggesting she had some knowledge of what occurred in the NAACP meetings. The prosecutor asked Muammad if he had volunteered to be arrested at the planning meeting and whether he had signed a waiver provided by the NAACP warning he might face arrest.
After a judge found Mummad guilty of misdemeanor charges for trespassing, failing to disperse and violating building rules, a reporter asked Wilson how she knew what happened at the NAACP meetings. She declined to answer, citing the scores of pending criminal cases.
Later, spokespeople for the State Bureau of Investigation, the N.C. Department of Public Safety and the Wake County Sheriff’s Office all told AP none of their personnel conducted surveillance operations on the NAACP.
However, Raleigh Police spokesman Jim Sughrue would neither confirm nor deny whether that agency’s officers secretly attended NAACP meetings.
“It is it not unusual for the Raleigh Police Department to conduct surveillance as part of its efforts to enhance the safety and security of those taking part in public events,” Sughrue said. “However, information concerning specific utilizations of surveillance activities would not be a public record.”
Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane said Monday she could not discuss the details of specific police operations, but expressed confidence the city’s officers followed the law.
“The Raleigh Police Department uses a number of lawful means to gather information to protect the safety of the public,” McFarlane said. “They always do that in a way that is respectful of the individual’s Constitutional rights.”
Follow Associated Press writer Michael Biesecker at twitter.com/mbieseck