RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Dozens of protesters showed up outside Gov. Roy Cooper’s Executive Mansion Monday night to stage a sit-in and remained out there Tuesday morning.
Raleigh police said four people were arrested Tuesday afternoon for spray painting in the middle of the street.
- Trinity Alexis Hill, 19, of Youngsville
- Josefina Tawni Gordon, 21, of Cary
- Njeri Dianne Kimata, 18, of Raleigh
- Taari Felice Coleman, 27, of Raleigh
All four were charged with injury to real property.
About 50 people came out late on Monday to peacefully protest Senate Bill 168. Protesters said they hope to be able to stop Cooper from signing the bill.
Under current state law, unnatural deaths in law enforcement custody must be reported to a county medical examiner.
Then, if the death is under the medical examiner’s jurisdiction, an investigation is launched and related records are passed to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
Those related records become public once law enforcement hands it over.
Senate Bill 168 would keep them confidential. It’s something protesters say is wrong.
Senate Bill 168 would essentially shield certain death investigation records by law enforcement from the public.
Dr. Michelle Aurelius, the chief medical examiner, said the Department of Health and Human Services sought a change to state law to clarify that when police or other investigators hand over documents to the her office those documents remain confidential while her office has them if those document were confidential at the time they were handed over.
“The real impetus behind this has nothing to do about secrecy,” Dr. Aurelius said. “But, it’s a failsafe protection that reassures our partners that once they provide us with information and records, that they continue to be protected when they’re in our custody.”
She said there have been situations where law enforcement officer have been reluctant to share some documents with her office when they’re trying to determine cause of death. She said it comes up about 10 times a year but did not cite a specific example.
Matt Gross, assistant secretary for government affairs, said DHHS first reached out to the General Assembly about this issue over a year ago. It was included in a different bill in 2019 that ultimately did not pass. Lawmakers ended up including it in Senate Bill 168, which passed in the middle of the night last week just before lawmakers left Raleigh.
Dr. Aurelius said the bill would not impact the release of reports from her officer such as autopsies, toxicology and death investigation reports.
“If you end up finding instances where that starts to occur, let me know and I’m happy to work on a legislative fix for that. But, that is certainly not the intent of the legislation,” Gros.
Protesters, including member of NC BORN (Building Our Revolution Now), raised concerns that this would have the effect of shielding information from the public, especially as protests nationwide have called for police reforms and greater transparency in light of the death of George Floyd in police custody.
People have protested continuously outside the Executive Mansion on Blount Street since Monday night, calling for Gov. Roy Cooper to veto the bill.
The group is also calling for the defunding of police.
“The fact that this language is included alongside the things that seem to benefit the public. And so it’s almost seen as though it’s supposed to be slipped under the rug,” said Taari Coleman, one of the protesters police arrested Tuesday. “If at any point in time transparency inhibits you from getting your job done, then there’s an inherent issue with your job.”
Rep. John Bell (R-10th District) released the following statement on Tuesday regarding Senate Bill 168:
This was language requested by the Cooper Administration’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and their Chief Medical Officer. The General Assembly acted in good faith to fulfill their request and that’s why it was included in the bill. After further conversations and discussions about its unintended consequences, I am confident this will be revisited and corrected once the legislature reconvenes.Rep. Bell
Police showed up to speak with protesters around 5:30 a.m. to ask them to move off the sidewalk. The group moved back to clear room for people to get by and remained outside the Executive Mansion.
Police gave protesters a third and final warning around 9:15 a.m. Tuesday, saying the group couldn’t obstruct the sidewalk with chairs, sleeping bags and blankets.
Just before 10 a.m. Tuesday, police came up to protesters again and told them they could “not run a campsite on the sidewalk”. Officers advised the protesters could stand to hold the protest, but they couldn’t continue to sit on the sidewalk.
The officer then asked the protesters for voluntary compliance, and he reminded the group that it was their right to stand and protest, but they could not have a campsite on city sidewalks.
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