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Republicans all over the country are trying to make it legally OK to hit protesters with your car, but a high-ranking judge in North Carolina allegedly tried to do it himself.
John Tyson, a North Carolina Court of Appeals judge, was allegedly driving in downtown Fayetteville on May 7. On that day, protesters from the Fayetteville Activist Movement, a local social justice group, were taking part in an action near the city’s Market House, a former site of slave auctions.
Video surveillance footage released by the Fayetteville Police Department on Friday shows Tyson’s state-issued car in the traffic circle’s innermost lane, which has the words “Black Lives Do Matter” painted in it and is closed to traffic, according to police. The video shows the front end of Tyson’s car moving quickly around a corner before sharply stopping for a second, though the protesters aren’t shown at that time. When the video cuts to a shot of Tyson’s car from the back, he’s continuing to drive in the inner lane and comes within a few feet of three protesters standing on and near the curb.
A court summons was issued to Tyson last week after one of the protesters, Myah Warren, told a Cumberland County magistrate that the judge almost hit her and other protesters, the Fayetteville Observer reported. The summons claims that Tyson “unlawfully and willfully did assault Myahtaeyarra Warren with a deadly weapon, a white SUV...by driving [his] vehicle at a high rate of speed and attempting to hit her in the body,” according to WRAL.
A 911 call released by the police department and obtained by the Observer reportedly shows a caller telling a dispatcher that people were in the street and then coming around his car. But city surveillance footage release doesn’t show that, and another video released by protesters shows Tyson’s car propped up on a sidewalk across the street.
“We have about ten people witnessing the fact that this vehicle tried to run people on the side of the circle off the road. Then he just jumped the curb,” the person recording says.
“It’s a baldfaced lie,” Warren told the Washington Post. “He needs to be dealt with for making false accusations to 911.”
A Cumberland County magistrate issued the criminal summons to Tyson on Friday to answer a charge of assault with a deadly weapon, the car. After the release of the surveillance footage, Tyson’s lawyer told the Fayetteville Observer that the video would “be labeled Defense Exhibit #1.”
Tyson has spent over a decade cumulatively on the North Carolina Court of Appeals, the state’s second-highest judicial body. In 2019, he wrote the majority opinion on a decision overturning a murder conviction for a 40-year-old white Raleigh man, Chad Copley, who killed a 20-year-old Black man named Kourey Thomas who was leaving a nearby party.
Although Copley told a 911 dispatcher that he was “locked and loaded” and that Thomas was part of a group of “hoodlums,” Tyson wrote in his decision that the prosecutorial argument that Thomas’s killing was racially motivated was “not supported by any evidence and is wholly gratuitous and inflammatory.” (The North Carolina Supreme Court later overturned the ruling and upheld Copley’s conviction.)
“He’s a well-known racist,” Warren said of Tyson in an interview with the Washington Post.