A North Carolina man was arrested Tuesday for cussing and others had their phones snatched while having a discussion about “just following orders.”
Josh Elzea, a member of the libertarian Blue Ridge Liberty Project, went to the Henderson County Courthouse in Hendersonville to protest against cannabis prohibition and to advocate jury nullification in support of Todd Stimson, who is facing multiple felony charges for growing medical cannabis.
Elzea said he had recently arrived and walked over to a corner to hold signs with a few friends when several deputies with the Henderson County Sheriff’s office “were out the doors and on the way” towards them.
Deputies demanded identification from the protesters, saying they were “in violation of the 300-foot rule.”
Deputies cited a state law which prohibits protesting “with intent to interfere with, obstruct, or impede the administration of justice, or with intent to influence any justice or judge of the General Court of Justice, juror, witness, district attorney, assistant district attorney, or court officer, in the discharge of his duty” within 300 feet “of any building or residence occupied or used by such justice, judge, juror, witness, district attorney, assistant district attorney, or court officer.”
“Basically they are trampling all over the right to peacefully assemble,” Elzea said. “They told us there were new rules to stay 300 feet away from the courthouse exit and painted the shit on the floor.”
One deputy told Elzea: “The law is the law. Until the law is changed, I have to enforce the law.”
He also told protesters that if they wanted to walk from point to point through the no-speech zone, they had to hold their signs down.
“They basically told us they were going to arrest us if we continued to hold our signs on the wrong side of the line,” Elzea added.
Shelby Mood, a former libertarian candidate for District 117 of the N.C. House of Representatives, said the new law was created in response to the Moral Monday protests, which are described as follows on Wikipedia.
Moral Mondays are protests in North Carolina, United States of America. The protests are in response to several actions by the government of North Carolina elected into office by the citizens of North Carolina in 2013. The protests are characterized by engaging in civil disobedience by entering the state legislature building and then being peacefully arrested. The movement protests many wide ranging issues under the blanket of unfair treatment, discrimination, and adverse effects of government legislation on the citizens of North Carolina. The protests in North Carolina launched a grassroots social justice movement that, in 2014, spread to Georgia and South Carolina, and then to other U.S. states.
“We were warned at our last protest that we had to be 300 ft away,” Mood said. “When we showed up today, there were lines spray painted on the sidewalk for us.”
Even after Elzea and other protesters moved past the line, several deputies walked up to the line where a discussion on “just following orders” ensued. The encounter was caught on video by Jason Humes and Phillip Roy.
At one point, deputies threatened to arrest Elzea for “disturbing the peace” for cursing in public.
After several minutes, one deputy announced “the conversation is over with” and several others pounced on Elzea, wrestled him to the ground and placed him in handcuffs.
“I continued to try to talk calmly and apply to their humanity until they basically gave us the ultimatum to get on the other side of the line or be arrested,” Elzea said.
He said he was never informed that he was being arrested.
According to court records, Elzea was charged with misdemeanor counts of disorderly conduct, resisting a public officer and simple possession of a Schedule IV controlled substance.
Another deputy then snatched Roy’s phone from his hand claiming he was seizing it as “evidence.”
“The cop grabbed my phone and directed some other cops like ‘do as I do’ and pointed to several of us and said ‘evidence…evidence…evidence,” Roy said. “It was so very strange to be honest.”
“I had decided to walk away,” he added. “I was so flabbergasted.”
In another video captured by Mood, Humes said that several other phones were confiscated, but eventually given back when deputies were informed that Roy’s video was being streamed live.
Mood said a deputy even threatened to take his phone when he walked up near the end of the confrontation.
“I personally believe that the authorities know they stepped in a hornet’s nest by arresting Todd,” Mood said. “They have done everything to try and bully him into taking a plea including threatening to arrest his children.”
Stimson’s home was raided in July 2013 for growing cannabis. Stimson, owner of Blue Ridge Medical Cannabis Research Corporation, has obtained an art of healing license from the state of North Carolina and bought tax stamps for the past several years.
“Today was just a tactic to try an minimize the light protesters shed on these unjust laws,” Mood added. “The protesters were undoubtedly very vocal about their First Amendment rights being infringed upon. The police, if they view themselves as professionals, should have just walked away after the protesters complied with the ordnance and stood on the ‘green’ side of the line.”
“Instead, they wanted to make sure that everyone there understood that they are in charge and attacked someone who had no intention of committing any act of violence,” he said. “To be crass, it was a dick measuring contest…and in my mind the cops clearly had the smallest ones there. It takes a real man to stand up to tyranny.”
Mood, who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan during his 7-year military career, said he was always taught to de-escalate a situation and never be the aggressor.
“When you are surrounded by literally of millions of people who want to kill you it is imperative to have a light foot print,” he said. “In this situation the cops clearly escalated what should have been nothing more than a little name calling at worst.”
Mood said there was no need for Elzea to be arrested.
“This was about demonstrating power, pure and simple,” he said. “If this kind of behavior continues around the United States, I fear one day the police will wake up and find themselves in a very similar situation as I was while deployed: in a country surrounded by millions of people who want to kill them.
“I do NOT advocate violence,” he said, “but people will only tolerate so much.”
The camera snatching can be seen at 1:20 in the first video below. Below that is the video from the man who had his camera snatched, which can be seen after the 6:35 mark. And below that is the fuller video from the first video, which had been posted on Facebook.