GRAHAM, N.C. (AP) — A North Carolina newspaper publisher was handcuffed and ordered out of a courtroom Tuesday as he objected to a decision to block reporters from attending a plea hearing for a white woman accused of driving her pickup truck at two 12-year-old Black girls.
Tom Boney Jr., publisher of The Alamance News, was delivering a document requesting a hearing on whether it’s appropriate to close the court to the news media, The News & Observer of Raleigh reported. Journalists from other outlets had already been told they were not allowed inside the Alamance County Courthouse, where Judge Fred Wilkins presided over the case against the woman accused of driving her car at the girls.
The week before, reporters had been kept from attending a court hearing involving the leader of a march in which police had pepper-sprayed protesters.
On Tuesday, the reporters each asked for a hearing before the judge, but were told by deputies that Wilkins had already made his decision.
Boney had hand-delivered a letter to Senior Resident Superior Court Judge D. Thomas Lambeth and Chief District Court Judge Bradley Reid Allen Jr. on Tuesday asking that they remind other judges that courtrooms must remain open to the public despite COVID-19 safety precautions.
Wilkins said that if Boney was not a defendant, a victim or an attorney, he could not be in the courtroom, the publisher said.
Wilkins said he would hold Boney in contempt of court after Boney tried to explain his objection. Wilkins later did not pursue the contempt charge, but still ordered him to be handcuffed and to leave the courthouse. As Boney got outside of the building, the handcuffs were taken off and Boney walked back to his office, accompanied by a sheriff’s deputy who happened to be nearby and who was not associated with the hearing.
“It’s one of the most egregious examples I’ve seen of a judge who is absolutely unwilling to follow the law, or to even hear about the law or to hear anything connected to it,” Boney said from his office Tuesday evening.
Sandra Warren Brazee, 52, of Burlington, was charged in August with two counts of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill. The girls had just bought snacks at a convenience store when the incident occurred.
The Alamance News reported Tuesday that the hearing was to announce a plea agreement in which Brazee pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault with a deadly weapon. She was given two consecutive 60-day sentences which were suspended and a $1,000 fine, the newspaper said.