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Cooper's pick for SBI Director implicated in shutting down "non-essential" protest in 2020
State Capitol Police R.E. “Chip” Hawley worked with Raleigh Police to disperse an anti-lockdown protest on April 14, 2020
Note: a previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the current SBI director had served a six year term. In fact, a law shortening the term of the director from eight to six years will go into effect when the current director's term expires.
Governor Roy Cooper’s selection for the next Director of the State Bureau of Investigation, current Chief of the State Capitol Police R.E. “Chip” Hawley, played a leading role in the police action against the first Reopen NC protest in April 2020. When questioned, Raleigh Police explained that the protest was in violation of the governor’s stay-at-home order because “protesting is a non-essential activity.
North Carolina’s State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) is a statewide law enforcement agency tasked with providing investigative assistance to local agencies, as well as conducting investigations for certain areas such as election law violations, human trafficking, weapons of mass destruction, and crimes involving state property. The SBI often takes the lead investigating “officer-involved” shootings.
This March, the current Director of the SBI, Bob Schurmeier, appeared before the N.C. House Oversight and Reform Committee to accuse the governor’s office of interfering in the agency, and asked for autonomy. Since 2014, the SBI is currently part of the Department of Public Safety, under the governor.
Schurmeier’s term will expire at the end of this June. Governor Cooper announced last week that his replacement will be R.E. “Chip” Hawley, the current Chief of the North Carolina State Capitol Police. Hawley's appointment, for a six-year term, must be confirmed by the General Assembly. According to the governor’s press release, Hawley has had “over 40 years of experience in state and local law enforcement”, having previously worked in law enforcement roles at the Wake County Sheriff’s Office, the Coats Police Department, and North Carolina State University.
Hawley was also Chief of the State Capitol Police back in April of 2020, when anti-lockdown “Reopen NC” protesters first gathered to protest the governor’s broad reaching stay-at-home order. Recently released bodycam video from the Raleigh Police show that Chief Hawley played a leading role in the dispersal of the protest and the single arrest which occurred. Here’s some of Hawley’s involvement:
Bodycam video from the staging area shows Raleigh Police Captain Bond claiming he just got off a call with Hawley, the Chief of the NC General Assembly Police, and Wake County DA Lorrin Freeman to make sure they were all “on the same sheet of music” on their “plan of action”.
Although Raleigh Police provided most of the manpower for clearing the parking lot where the protesters were gathered, Hawley (in a white shirt and tie) can be seen on video appearing to provide guidance as the police moved through the parking lot to clear any protesters who still remained. In fact, it appears to be Hawley who decides that Monica Ussery, the only protester arrested, will be processed by the State Capitol Police (instead of the Raleigh Police who cuffed her and led her out of the parking lot.)
In addition, Hawley is listed as a witness on the Incident Report filed by his subordinate, Officer Derick Proctor. Proctor and another State Capitol Police officer would take Ussery to the Wake County Detention Center, where she was charged with Violation of the Governor’s Executive Order by being present at a “mass gathering”. Hawley’s witness statement in the report is as follows:
NC State Capitol Police Chief Roger Hawley was in State Parking Lot 18 and witnessed the interaction and arrest of Ussery.
Chief Hawley stated, “that he heard the defendant state that she was not leaving and it was her constitutional right to be in the parking lot with everyone else.” when asked her name, Ussery stated, “America”.
Chief Hawley is also named as a defendant in a federal civil rights lawsuit Ussery recently filed. The lawsuits includes violations of civil rights both at the protest, where Ussery alleges that she was arrested in “retaliation of political opposition
and criticism,” as well as the subsequent prosecution, where the government failed to provide Ussery bodycam material relevant to her case, including the bodycam video captured by Officer Fink mentioned in the incident report above.
Editors note: I was at this protest, not in my current role as an independent journalist, but as one of the protesters. Chief Hawley is one of the police officers that surrounded the vehicle I was in and ordered us to leave the parking lot, despite the fact that we had been circumspect in socially distancing from anyone outside of our household at the gathering.