ReOpen NC protester suing governor, various officials for violating her constitutional rights

Lawsuit follows motion to hold ReOpen NC protester in contempt of court over body cam footage

Body cam footage published online shows Raleigh Police Officers surrounding ReOpen NC protester Monica Ussery in a parking lot at the first protest held in April 2020.

RALEIGH — ReOpen NC protester Monica Ussery’s long battle with the state over her arrest at the first protest in 2020 has entered a new chapter: A civil complaint against the governor and other top law enforcement officials.

In addition to Gov. Roy Cooper, defendants named in the complaint include former N.C. Department of Public Safety secretary Erik Hooks, Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman, Raleigh Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown, now-retired Raleigh Police Captain Dedric Bond, State Capitol Police Chief Roger “Chip” Hawley, Chief of the North Carolina General Assembly Police Martin Brock, and Capitol Police Officers Derick Proctor and Tito Fink.

Ussery’s 30-page civil complaint, filed by Envisage Law firm Attorney Anthony J. Biller, accuses the defendants of violating her First Amendment right to freedom of speech and assembly and her Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process – including a Brady violation for withholding the body cam footage.

“Days before Plaintiff’s trial after Plaintiff subpoenaed Governor Cooper, Defendants added a trespass charge,” the complaint states. “Defendants withheld evidence of RPD body camera footage that clearly showed Plaintiff had permission to reenter the visitor parking lot 1 which is a material factor in the trespass charge.”

“Defendants withheld evidence showing them conspiring to punish protestors for exercising their First Amendment rights to deter them from further exercising those rights,” per the complaint. “Defendants withheld evidence that demonstrated their “public health” concerns were a pretextual sham, that their actions were in retaliation for “agitating” against Defendants’ lockdown policies

The complaint also states that the defendants “continued to withhold evidence from SCP regarding Ms. Ussery’s transport to Wake County Detention Center.”

Detailed in the complaint are the vastly different ways in which the governor and law enforcement handled ReOpen NC protests versus Black Lives Matter protests, which regularly devolved into destructive and violent riots.

Screenshot from Ussery v. Cooper et al.

While the state was still under the executive order Ussery was arrested for violating, the complaint notes “The individuals participating in the protests were allowed to gather in outdoor groups and freely exercise their First Amendment rights, almost always within close proximity of each other.”

“Those who engaged in violence or destruction of property faced the potential of arrest. On June 1, 2020, Gov. Cooper joined a BLM protest and walked from the executive mansion around the Government Complex. Notably, Governor Cooper was not socially distanced from the other participants, and dropped his mask,” reads the complaint.

In the prayer for relief, Ussery’s complaint asks for “A declaration that Defendants violated the rights of Plaintiff” under both the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

The complaint is also asking for compensatory damages as well as court and attorney fees.

The civil complaint was filed after police attorney and City of Raleigh Senior Associate Attorney Sharita Walton issued a motion for an order to show cause in an attempt to hold Ussery in contempt of court related to the publication online of body cam footage last week by independent journalist Stephen Horn.  The judge in Ussery’s case had placed the footage under a gag order in July 2022.

Copied on the certificate of service for the motion were Ussery’s attorney, Adam Banks of the Envisage Law Firm, as well as Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman and Counsel for the N.C. Department of Public Safety Ashby Ray.

Ussery appeared in court on April 20 but was not held in contempt of court. Instead, she was ordered to reappear before the court at a yet unspecified future date.

The footage shows law enforcement planning to arrest some 2020 ReOpen NC protesters and the actual arrest of Ussery.  Unmasked officers were seen in the footage joking about having to wear COVID-19 “PPE” to “back the claim” made by their captain that the protest constituted a “public health hazard.”

The footage was published online on April 14 and a few days later, on April 17, Ussery’s attorney received notice that the department was coming after his client.

Now-Retired Captain Dedric Bond is seen in the footage referencing conversations with Freeman “to make sure we were all on the same sheet of music on our plan of action.”

“Lorrin Freeman was cool with the matter and the manner in which we were going to do it and the fact that we were going to proceed with it at all,” Bond says in the footage. “So we got the blessings from everybody… uh, the secretary of state is cool with it.”

In a Facebook post, Ussery seemed to claim she was not the source of the leaked footage.

“If I’d leaked that footage myself I’d have done so BEFORE Lorrin Freeman was reelected. I’d have done so BEFORE Captain Bond’s retirement,” Ussery wrote in part. “A FRACTION of the truth … I repeat, a FRACTION … not even the parts I personally would’ve chosen to leak myself because I personally prefer the footage that proves my court testimony was truthful and a SCP officer committed perjury.”

Ussery continued, “A fraction of realness untainted by propaganda got leaked to the public in the form of bodycam footage … and I find myself in court on Thursday because somebody finally managed to expose the real Oz behind the curtain years after I refused to bow down before a governor.”

She also wrote that the motion was “blatant hypocrisy” and that she was told the footage wouldn’t help her case because of the way she was at the time of her arrest.

“Here’s one of many things I never shared publicly,” wrote Ussery. “After I requested Internal Affairs investigate and determine if any bodycam footage existed, and I was told yes footage was found … the officer who called me to say footage was found informed me it wouldn’t help my case any. Because he saw me “standing with your hands on your hips”. Good Mighty God, if that’s all it takes to get arrested at a protest, how did millions in damage to a city happen later?”

In response to the motion filed by the Raleigh Police Department, a campaign has begun to pressure the Raleigh Police Department to release all of the body cam footage.

“Request Chief Estella Patterson release the 4-14-20 tapes by sending a quick request:
[email protected] and please share with your networks!” reads a post by the Libertarian Party of Wake County. The post also includes a link to a GiveSendGo account to support Ussery’s fight.

North State Journal reached out to Freeman for comment about the footage of Ussery’s arrest and received the following statement from her:

“As home to our State Capitol, Wake County has been the location of numerous protests over the years.  As District Attorney, I routinely consult with local law enforcement with the goals of ensuring that individuals’ rights to engage in protests are safeguarded while maintaining the peace.  This is the type of discussion that preceded the ReOpen NC protests.   As is common, law enforcement was advised on potential charges that could become appropriate if efforts to gain voluntary compliance with the laws were unsuccessful.   Law enforcement officers in every protest situation are encouraged to provide clear warnings and to make every effort to get people’s cooperation to comply.  I did direct that individuals failing to follow law enforcement directions regarding the executive order in place at that time should be charged if efforts to obtain voluntary compliance were unsuccessful.   Such was the case on April 14, 2020.  Ms. Ussery was the one individual charged out of more than 100 that protested that day.

My office does not direct and is not involved in law enforcement operational decisions and actions including whether personal protective equipment is used by officers and was not involved, nor consulted, in those decisions relevant to this protest.  Addressing matters of unprofessional conduct are the responsibility of the police agency.

Individuals charged with violations of state law who have engaged in civil disobedience are generally offered the opportunity by our office to have his or her charge dismissed after completing community service.  Ultimately, Ms. Ussery’s case was dismissed as a result of a deferral offer.

Law enforcement body cam video is released pursuant to procedures set forth in North Carolina General Statute 132-1.4A.  Ms. Ussery only recently filed a petition for the release of this video.  I am not aware of any efforts by my office to prevent her from obtaining access to this video.”

Freeman was contacted again following the filing of Ussery’s civil complaint and she responded that she had not yet been served with the complaint.

“Ms. Ussery and her attorneys throughout this matter have challenged the constitutionality of executive orders put in place by Governor Roy Cooper during the pandemic and their enforcement. The civil filing is further attempt to pursue this course of action.’ Freeman wrote in an email response. “The handling of Ms. Ussery’s case by our office was consistent with the handling of many protests cases arising out of advocacy on other issues that our office prosecutes.”

Brady v. United States, 397 U.S. 742 (1970), applies to evidence which is exculpatory in nature. Our office denies that a Brady violation occurred and looks forward to this issue being addressed by the Court.” wrote Freeman.  “Standard practice in misdemeanor cases where the typical rules of discovery do not apply is for attorneys to file petitions to obtain access to law enforcement videos as set forth in North Carolina General Statute 132-1.4A. Ms. Ussery’s attorneys filed these petitions in May of 2022. Our office did not object to these petitions.”

She also said that due to pending litigation, she was refraining from further comment.

The Raleigh Police Department was also asked about the footage and has not yet responded with an official comment.

About A.P. Dillon 1313 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_