ReOpen NC protester cleared of contempt charge over video footage – for now

Ussery concerned over the nomination of Capitol Police Chief as the next SBI director

May 5, 2023 — ReOpen NC protester Monica Ussery and her attorney depart the courthouse in Raleigh after a contempt charge over published body cam footage was dissmissed. Image via @LanaWittFugh on Twitter

RALEIGH — There will be no jail time – at least for now – for ReOpen NC protester Monica Ussery in the contempt of court case brought against her related to the release of police body camera footage of her arrest by an independent journalist.

Ussery confirmed to North State Journal that the contempt of court motion levied at her by police attorney and City of Raleigh Senior Associate Attorney Sharita Walton after the footage was published had been dismissed for the time being.

When asked if the contempt issue was resolved, Ussery indicated that was unclear and that both the judge and Walton had used “a lot of very vague comments” with regard to charging her again in the future.

Ussery also said that a paralegal from Walton’s office gave testimony that no one else had made a request for the body cam footage. She said she knew that was a lie because she knew of several people who had requested and had been denied access to the footage. That list includes the North State Journal, which requested copies of all footage from the day of Ussery’s arrest and was told our request was being “reviewed,” yet to date, no other response has been received from the Raleigh Police Department.

“I guess my only statement would be the civil case goes on,” Ussery said when asked about the case overall.

In a video posted on the ReOpen-NC U.S. Facebook group page, Ussery gave an update on the case.

“I don’t know what I was expecting,” Ussery said of her May 5 court appearance. “But I had mentally and emotionally prepared myself to be O.K. with it if I did go to jail.”

She said the attorney for the Raleigh Police Department had asked the judge for her to serve 10 days in jail and that she believed 30 days was the maximum the attorney could have asked for.

The contempt charge bringing Ussery back to court on May 5 stemmed from a video published last month by independent journalist Stephen Horn. In a tweet, Horn published a video compilation of body camera footage from the day of Ussery’s arrest that included clips of police planning to make arrests prior to engaging protesters as well as multiple vantage points of Ussery’s arrest.

The footage also showed unmasked officers gathered in a group joking about wearing “PPE” while their superior officer, the now-retired Raleigh Police Captain Dedric Bond, told them they had to wear it to support his claim the protest was a “public health hazard.”

Bond is also seen in the footage recounting a conference call with Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman in which he states she 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.”

In her Facebook video post, Ussery said that “About halfway through, I truly, truly, truly believed I was going to go to jail,” because she felt Judge Keith Gregory, was “really angry” over the footage being published.

Gregory was appointed as a Wake County Superior Court judge by Gov. Roy Cooper in May 2018. Gregory was selected to fill the seat of Resident Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens, who retired in November 2017.

“Judge Gregory decided not to send me to jail,” Ussery said. “But what I’d like to share with you guys is something completely different that happened in court.”

Ussery went on to say that Gregory brought up a lot of “taboo” subjects, such as religion, praying in his courtroom, division in the country, and politics, and he “talked about Republican versus Democrat.” She said he also talked about race, racial division, and talked quite a bit about the Fourteenth Amendment.

Ussery said she questioned if race was going to determine her guilt based on Gregory’s remarks, but she said he changed direction and, according to Ussery, said the fourteenth amendment is “for everybody.”

“And then he began reciting something that is very near and dear to me,” Ussery said, revealing he recited the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution.

She said Gregory looked her in the eyes as he recited it and she matched him word for word. At the conclusion of the recitation, Ussery said she “bawled like a snot-nosed baby.”

“He could have told me I was going to jail and I wouldn’t have cried,” said Ussery. “Instead, he talked to me about all of those taboo subjects.” She added he talked about judges needing to be unbiased and how “difficult it could be.”

Ussery said she walked away from that turn of events knowing that no matter what happened next, she will always remember reciting the Preamble with the judge and that he reminded her that all the rights she was fighting for are for “We the People – which is all of us.”

Ussery’s arrest took place during the first ReOpen NC protest held on April 14, 2020. She was charged with two misdemeanors; one for allegedly violating Governor Roy Cooper’s executive order 121 banning gathering in public spaces and one charge of trespassing.

In an interview, Ussery told North State Journal that law enforcement initially said there was no body camera footage to give her, but as her over two-year legal fight began to end, suddenly footage became available. At first, her attorney received a single clip and then later received over three gigabytes worth of footage.

After her charges were finally resolved and dropped in February of this year, the judge hearing her case placed a gag order on the footage she had received prohibiting her from sharing it with anyone outside of those legally representing her.

“I believe we would have gotten through [the criminal case] a lot better and quicker had I been allowed that body cam footage prior to my first case,” Ussery told North State Journal about the gag order.

Ussery is not done with the North Carolina court system and, through her attorney, has filed a 30-page civil lawsuit alleging violation of her civil rights, including violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

All relevant parties involved in her 2020 arrest are named in the lawsuit including Cooper, former N.C. Department of Public Safety secretary Erik Hooks, Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman, Raleigh Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown, Raleigh Police Captain Dedric Bond (Ret.), Chief of the North Carolina General Assembly Police Martin Brock, and Capitol Police Officers Derick Proctor and Tito Fink.

Also named in the lawsuit is State Capitol Police Chief Roger “Chip” Hawley, who was recently named by Cooper as his nominee to replace outgoing director of the State Bureau of Investigations, Bob Schurmeier.

Near the end of March, Schurmeier gave testimony in front of a legislative oversight committee that his agency should be made truly independent, citing interference by Cooper’s office.  Schurmeier described intimidation tactics employed by the governor’s legal counsel Eric Fletcher and Chief of Staff Kristie Jones with the goal of getting him to resign.

During an interview with North State Journal, Ussery expressed concern about the appointment of Hawley by Cooper to be the next director of the State Bureau of Investigations. She alluded that she wants to give input to lawmakers when they consider confirming Hawley for the job.

She said she wants to know why Hawley or anyone else from the State Capitol Police have not contacted her concerning “my email, my two phone calls, and certified letters returned to me” in which she accused an officer of committing perjury during the case.

About A.P. Dillon 969 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_