From the Local Paper:
A Mecklenburg County judge became the target of social media threats and personal attacks after she says police publicly misrepresented her order limiting officers’ use of force against protesters.
On June 19, Superior Court Judge Karen Eady-Williams signed a temporary restraining order that restricts the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s use of chemical agents in controlling protests.
Her ruling followed the filing of a lawsuit against police over their handling of a June 2 uptown demonstration — a confrontation that has brought widespread critical scrutiny of department tactics and further divided the city.
According to the legal complaint and Observer interviews, hundreds of marchers protesting the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis that night were trapped on 4th Street between two lines of police and subjected to multiple rounds of tear gas, stun grenades and pepper balls. CMPD has not disclosed what type of chemical agents were used.
In her June 19 order, Eady-Williams blocked police use of similar tactics unless officers or the public were in danger.
Later that day, police issued a statement claiming that the veteran judge had limited them from responding to “unlawful gatherings,” while specifically blocking them from using chemical agents to stop the destruction of property.
In a series of emails that were obtained by the Observer under a public records request, Eady-Williams described CMPD’s claim as “inaccurate and inflammatory” and ordered police to correct it.
During a June 22 remote court hearing on the matter, the judge said CMPD’s take on her order had inferred that the judge condoned “unlawful gatherings” while welcoming “members of the public to commit property damage and there will be no consequences.”
The former federal prosecutor also blamed CMPD’s “mischaracterization” for setting off a barrage of angry comments and threats she received online.
In subsequent emails written in the days following her ruling, Eady-Williams criticized police for not correcting what she believed to be their error and not removing threatening messages and tweets directed at her from comments left on CMPD’s Facebook and Twitter pages.
In one of the messages, a man wrote: “Let’s riot in front of the judge’s home. See if she has the same thought then.”
In another, a woman spoke directly to Eady-Williams: “These officers’ blood will be on your hands as well as the destruction of Charlotte.”
The Democratic judge said her order had not specifically mentioned the protection of property because neither side, including the attorney for CMPD, had raised the issue during their arguments. Nor, she said, had anyone objected to the wording of her order during the lengthy June 19 hearing in which it was debated.
She later amended the order specifically to state that police can deploy “riot control agents” to protect property under certain circumstances.
“Actions have consequences,” Eady-Williams wrote in a June 22 email.“And, today, I’m learning of many direct threats against me related to CMPD’s ‘interpretation’ of the order on June 19.”
She went on: “CMPD is now allowing direct threats to sit on their Twitter page and is not (making) any effort to monitor them or take the threats down; this is cause for concern.
“I said before the incorrect statement by CMPD was offensive to me, and now it’s evolved to threats against me. I do not take this lightly.”
Nor did others.
While the Mecklenburg Sheriff’s Office refused to say whether Eady-Williams had been placed under protective surveillance, its response to Observer questions last month about the judge’s security status appeared to indicate that steps had been taken to ensure her safety.
“The Mecklenburg Sheriff’s Office has a responsibility to keep our judicial officials safe and will not discuss security protocols made in response to credible threats,” an office spokeswoman said in an email.
Chief District Judge Elizabeth Trosch said the episode raises troubling questions about the police department’s depiction of an order with which it did not agree.
“CMPD has the obligation to communicate complete and accurate information in a responsible manner,” Trosch told the Observer. “Certainly if a judge is being threatened over a decision that has been made — and how that decision has been communicated by one of the litigants in that case — that is of significant public interest.”
Eady-Williams’ emails, which have been undisclosed up to now, indicate how tensions from weeks of citywide protests over George Floyd’s death and the broader issue of police violence toward African Americans appear to have seeped into the private communications between judges and lawyers.
The back-and-forth went on for days over what Eady-Williams’ order said or didn’t say. On June 22, the judge convened a remote hearing of the parties in the lawsuit to air her dissatisfaction over how her order had been portrayed.
On June 26, and with the Mecklenburg Count Courthouse still on partial lockdown due to the pandemic, the judge nonetheless held an in-person hearing with attorneys on both sides of the lawsuit in which she again decried how police had described her ruling.
That same day, CMPD spokesman Rob Tufano told the Observer that the police department “stands on its initial objection to the entry of the order in its entirety; however, the department supports the judge’s decision in amending the order to include property.”
Behind the scenes, City Attorney Patrick Baker, who is helping represent CMPD, urged the judge to amend her ruling.
In a June 21 email, Baker told Eady-Williams that because her order was “silent” on the issue of police protection of property, CMPD and the city were interpreting it to mean that chemical munitions could not be used for that purpose.
Eady-Williams filed an amended order the next day.
In response to the judge’s demand that CMPD remove disturbing messages from its social media pages, police attorney Jessica Battle told the judge in a June 23 email that the department considered those pages to be public records, which could not be tampered with.
Battle went on to say that while CMPD could not delete posts, it had hidden one that said, “If she’s going to take away their rights to defend property maybe somebody should take this issue to her property.”
The attorney added: “Judge Eady-Williams, if you would like to initiate a police report we can send someone over to speak with you or please let us know other ways that we can help with your safety concerns.”
In issuing her order, Eady-Williams stepped into a longstanding debate over how CMPD and other police departments control demonstrations or protests, which resurfaced June 2 in uptown.
Video shows protesters being peaceful in the minutes leading up to the confrontation. However, a CMPD statement that night described the group as “rioters” who had left a path of damage through other parts of the city while ignoring multiple orders to disperse.
Yet, as disturbing videos of the incident began circulating, Mayor Vi Lyles and many members of the Charlotte City Council publicly decried the police tactics.
The lawsuit, filed by the NAACP, individual marchers and other groups, described the police response as an excessive and illegal use of force, and asked the courts to restrict similar CMPD tactics against future marches. After a three-hour hearing on June 19, Eady-Williams agreed.
Her order banned police use of chemical agents unless “officers are faced with imminent threat of physical harm” to themselves or others and/or protesters “are committing or clearly threatening acts of violence against people that cannot be controlled by singling out perpetrators and removing them.”
The order did not address what steps CMPD could take to protect property.
In response, CMPD said much of the restricted activity outlined by the order was already banned by department policies, with one exception: Eady-Williams’ ruling, according to the department, would block officers from “deploying riot control agents in gatherings that involve protesters who are damaging the property of others.”
The criticism of the judge was immediate and continued through more than 500 posts on the police department’s Facebook page.
Some promised political retaliation the next time Eady-Williams runs for office or called for the publishing of the home addresses of judges and other officials to “see how fast they change their tune.” Eady-Williams served seven years as a district court judge before Gov. Roy Cooper appointed her to Superior Court in 2017. A year later, she won a full term, which runs to 2026.
Other comments were more personal. “My police officer husband is out there on a motorcycle. If he gets hurt for the lack of being able to defend himself properly.. YOU, Judge Eady-Williams will (be) held personally responsible,” a woman wrote.
There were also intimations of violence. “What did we do to treasonous officials back in the day??? Asking for a friend,” a man said.
According to her emails, the judge first saw CMPD’s summary of her order Saturday morning, June 20.
That evening, she fired off a long email to the attorneys on both sides of the lawsuit and a fellow judge expressing her dissatisfaction.
“I fully support everyone having the ability to express themselves and their First Amendment rights on the platform of their choice,” she wrote. “However, the statements expressed should be accurate, not taken out of context and certainly not inflammatory.”
Eady-Williams took particular exception to CMPD’s inference that she was condoning “unlawful behavior,” a notion she described as “incredible.”
“The outcome of a hearing may not have been what CMPD wanted or expected, but no one gets to create his/her version of an order without any regard to the truth or the intent of the order,” she wrote.
She called on police to publicly acknowledge their mistake and correct it by that Sunday, June 21. Otherwise she would convene a new hearing.
Rather than acknowledge any mistakes, the new CMPD statement posted that Sunday kept the spotlight on the judge. “Saturday evening, Judge Eady-Williams provided written clarification that, although not explicitly listed, the order does not prevent the Department from deploying riot control agents in gatherings that involve protesters who are damaging the property of others.”
Eady-Williams, who was shown the new statement in advance, again penned her displeasure.
In an email to police attorney Battle, the judge said she failed to understand “why the statement can’t be more reflective of the truth of this matter: a misstatement was made by CMPD and a clarification is needed from CMPD, not from the court.”
Eady-Williams said she should not have been mentioned in CMPD’s clarification because “I’m not confused about anything that was said and to suggest such is offensive.”
That afternoon, City Attorney Baker weighed in, telling the judge that her order had been vague.
If it was Eady-Williams’ intent to allow CMPD to use the munitions to protect property in certain circumstances, Baker wrote, “we believe the order needs to be amended accordingly.”
At 11:22 a.m. on June 22, Eady-Williams did just that. Near the bottom of the five-page document, the judge jotted down a single sentence on the right margin.
“This does not limit CMPD’s use of force protocol as it relates to people or property,” she said.
Cedar's Take: "If you lay down with dogs you get fleas".
Much of Charlotte's violent offender problem is because of Superior Court Judges like Eady-Williams.