U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Journalist arrested during North Carolina march to the poll

Incident Details

Date of Incident
October 31, 2020

Arrest/Criminal Charge

Status of Charges
Charges dropped
Arresting Authority
Graham police department
Unnecessary use of force?
Yes

Assault

Was the journalist targeted?
Unknown
Anthony Crider/Handout via REUTERS

While covering a march to the polls in Graham, North Carolina, Alamance News reporter Tomas Murawski was arrested by a Graham police officer on Oct. 31, 2020.

— Anthony Crider/Handout via REUTERS
May 26, 2021 - Update

Charges dropped against journalist arrested during North Carolina march to the polls

Charges against Alamance News reporter Tomas Murawski were dropped during a hearing on May 26, 2021, almost seven months after he was arrested while covering a march to the polls in Graham, North Carolina.

The “I Am Change” march and rally was organized for Oct. 31, 2020, to encourage people to vote in the 2020 general election and included calls for accountability echoing recent protests against racial injustice. The News & Observer reported that approximately 200 demonstrators marched from the Wayman Chapel AME Church to Court Square, where the Alamance County Courthouse and a Confederate monument are located.

Alamance News publisher Tom Boney Jr. told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker in November 2020 that Murawski was photographing from the street as police issued a dispersal order and used pepper spray and tear gas on the crowd when he was suddenly placed under arrest.

Murawski was charged with resisting, delaying or obstructing a public officer — a Class 2 misdemeanor punishable by up to 60 days of community service, supervised probation or imprisonment.

After multiple delays for his hearing, Murawski appeared before a judge on May 26, 2021, during which the district attorney’s office dismissed the case against him, Alamance News reported. According to the outlet, Assistant District Attorney Kevin Harrison said Murawski was “given a period to not have any new criminal charges,” as part of an agreement with the reporter’s attorney. Murawski told the outlet that he was unaware of any such understanding or agreement with the district attorney’s office.

“We would have liked an explanation or apology for the way our reporter was treated,” publisher Boney said in a statement posted to the outlet’s Twitter. “But I guess we’re at least grateful the charges were, finally, dismissed.”

October 31, 2020

Tomas Murawski, a reporter for The Alamance News, was arrested while covering a march to the polls in Graham, North Carolina, on Oct. 31, 2020.

The “I Am Change” march and rally was organized to encourage people to vote in the 2020 general election and included calls for accountability echoing recent protests against racial injustice. The News & Observer reported that approximately 200 demonstrators marched from the Wayman Chapel AME Church to Court Square, where the Alamance County Courthouse and a Confederate monument are located.

The Washington Post reported that once there, participants took part in a moment of silence for George Floyd, a Black man, who died during an arrest in Minneapolis in May.

Moments later, the Graham Police Department ordered the protesters to disperse and began pepper spraying the crowd. Reports compiled by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker details 11 journalists affected by the chemical irritant.

A police officer also grabbed the camera of News & Observer photojournalist Julia Wall to push her back while she filmed a march, which the Tracker documented here.

The Graham Police Department said in a statement that it issued multiple orders to relocate or disperse before using crowd control measures.

At least 12 individuals were arrested during the march, The News & Observer reported, including Murawski.

Alamance News Publisher Tom Boney Jr. told The News & Observer that Murawski was photographing the scene from the street when he was suddenly placed under arrest.

“When I spoke to him on the street, while he was in police custody, he said they ordered them to move out of the roadway,” Boney said. “He was doing so, while still taking photos, but apparently not fast enough for [the police].”

In footage of the arrest published by The News & Observer, four officers can be seen taking Murawski’s camera and camera bag and leading him away from the crowd before placing him in handcuffs. Video from a second angle published by Triad City Beat shows that officers bent his left arm far behind his back and toward his head while leading him away, causing Murawski to double over.

Boney told the Tracker that Murawski was held in police custody for approximately three hours before he was released, and that all of his equipment was returned to him.

According to a Facebook post published by the Alamance News, Murawski was charged with resisting, delaying or obstructing a public officer — a Class 2 misdemeanor punishable by up to 60 days of community service, supervised probation or imprisonment.

Murawski has a hearing scheduled for Dec. 14, Boney told the Tracker, but they hope to have the charge dismissed before then.

Boney expressed his concerns over Murawski’s arrest in a statement to the newspaper: “Tomas has been an outstanding reporter and photographer for many years, and has always demonstrated a high standard of professionalism in all his work,” Boney said. “I cannot imagine that he did anything warranting his treatment at the Graham rally.”

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper condemned the police response in a tweet that evening.

“Peaceful demonstrators should be able to have their voices heard and voter intimidation in any form cannot be tolerated,” Cooper wrote.

The Graham Police Department immediately responded to requests for comment.

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include additional comment from Alamance News publisher Tom Boney Jr. and to reflect the reporting of an additional journalist affected by tear gas.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected]