Lawyers for NAACP head seek legal reasons behind arrests of protestors at legislature
RALEIGH (AP) — Defense attorneys pressed police Tuesday to give the legal underpinnings for charges against North Carolina NAACP President William Barber and 11 others who were arrested during protests at the state legislature.
The Rev. Barber and Duke University professor Tim Tyson were among 12 people who went on trial Tuesday before Wake County District Court Judge Joy Hamilton on charges of second-degree trespassing, failure to disperse and violating building rules. All have pleaded not guilty.
They were among the first arrested as part of the weekly Moral Monday protests organized by the NAACP against the conservative agenda of Republican legislative leaders and Gov. Pat McCrory.
During the 2013 session more than 930 people were arrested, nearly all charged with violating legislative building rules. Those rules give the legislature’s internal police force authority to arrest those deemed to “disturb” the operations of the legislators or their staffs.
N.C. General Assembly Police Chief Jeff Weaver testified for the prosecution Tuesday that in his judgment that Barber and the others had created a disturbance by praying, singing hymns and chanting while blocking the large double doors of the Senate chambers.
But defense lawyers Irv Joyner and Scott Holmes pressed Weaver, his lieutenant Martin Brock and Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Philip King to explain precisely how legislative operations were disrupted.
Under cross-examination, Weaver conceded that legislators were not in session at the time of the arrests and that the doors were locked. Legislators entered through some of the six other doors accessing the Senate chamber.
“It disrupted the routine,” King testified. “Members had to use other doors.”
The lawyers for the protesters argue that they were simply exercising their rights under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and a clause in the N.C. Constitution that gives the state’s citizens authority to go to the General Assembly to “instruct” their elected representatives.
When the trial resumes Wednesday the defense will have its turn to call witnesses. Joyner said no decision has been made about whether Barber or the other defendants will take the witness stand.