May 30, 2019
A Wake County District Court judge ordered the Garner Police Department to return an alarm clock, cell phones, and computers seized from the home of a black family two weeks ago during a late-night raid over an alleged noise ordinance violation that stemmed from a white neighbor’s complaint that they were playing Malcolm X speeches loudly.
As the INDY first reported, police originally charged Mikisa Thompson with violating the ordinance, a class C misdemeanor that carries a maximum $500 fine, in April after neighbor Don Barnette called 911 to complain about the speeches, which he referred to as “Islamic-Jihadist type messages” in an interview.
Police told Thompson to turn down her speaker and issued a citation. After she allegedly did not comply with their orders, they seized the $250 speaker from her backyard. (The police say the content of the noise had nothing to do with their actions—that would be unconstitutional—but the search warrant twice noted that she was playing Malcolm X.)
A few weeks later, on May 16, Barnette complained again. This time, eight or nine Garner officers—the town only had ten on duty at the time—executed a search warrant at Thompson’s house at 10:00 p.m. and seized all noise-producing devices, including a gray alarm clock, seven iPhones, a Mac laptop, an HP computer monitor, and a black HP laptop.
Police said the raid was necessary to “keep the peace” in the neighborhood. Thompson’s lawyer, T. Greg Doucette, believes it was meant to punish Thompson’s family.
On Tuesday, Judge William Lawton ordered those items returned to the family, noting that they “are not needed for the prosecution of these cases.” Four speakers, including the beFree speaker seized in April, are still in police custody.
Doucette calls the ruling “a small victory.” Thompson still plans to challenge the ordinance’s constitutionality at trial this summer—it relies entirely on an officer’s opinion of what is too loud, rather than an objective standard—and Doucette predicts the charges will be dismissed.
“We’re looking forward to cross-examining the Garner police,” Doucette says. “That’s going to be the highlight of the trial.”
Thompson is scheduled to appear in court June 11 and June 24. Doucette anticipates that the trial will take place in August.
Contact staff writer Leigh Tauss at firstname.lastname@example.org.