By Michael Gordon, Originally Published by The Charlotte Observer
Almost two years ago, in the protests and violence that erupted following the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, a Charlotte activist was charged with being part of a crowd that did thousands of dollars of damage to patrols cars, and threw rocks and water bottles at a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police sergeant.
Now, less than two weeks before Gloria “Glo” Merriweather was scheduled to go to trial, the charges have been dropped.
The Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s office filed its notices of dismissal on Tuesday, saying it had insufficient evidence to take its case against Merriweather before the jury. Merriweather had been charged with inciting a riot, a felony, and misdemeanor assault on a government official.
Merriweather was one of the last of more than 100 arrests tied to two days of protests and violence that followed Scott’s death on Sept. 20, 2016. Police says protesters who surrounded the shooting scene later assaulted police offices with rocks and other projectiles, vandalized businesses and blocked Interstate 85 into the early morning hours.
The next night, the violence flared again in uptown with dozens of businesses vandalized and looted. Demonstrator Justin Carr was fatally shot, and other bystanders, protesters and police were injured.
According to court documents, Merriweather, an organizer of the activist organization Charlotte Uprising, was believed to be among a group of demonstrators who did more than $35,000 of damage to police cars, and hurled rocks and water bottles at Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Sgt. Peter Hildenbrand and other officers as they tried to disperse the crowd on Old Concord Road.
But in his dismissal of the felony rioting charge, Assistant District Attorney Dustin Rapp said the state cannot prove that Merriweather “engaged in violent and/or disorderly conduct (that was) alleged in the indictment.”
“Mere presence alone, under the law, is not enough to prove Inciting to Riot beyond a reasonable doubt,” he wrote.
As for Merriweather’s misdemeanor assault charge, Rapp wrote that the CMPD investigation “yielded one police witness who believed he saw (Merriweather) throw bottles/rocks” at officers. But the witness could not say whether any of those projectiles struck him or other police.
“Although the state’s expected police witness testimony is that (Merriweather) assaulted a police officer, that testimony would also disclose that Defendant covered her face during the assault,” Rapp wrote, making an “in-court identification” of Merriweather “unlikely at trial.”
Asked why Merriweather remained charged for almost two years before they were dismissed, Reed Hunt, head of the district attorney’s violent crime team, said prosecutors often reassess a case as the trial approaches.
“Often as we prepare cases for trial we learn things or find things that make the case more difficult to prove,” Hunt said in a Wednesday email to the Observer. “Sometimes there are issues that we discover … that we realize we cannot overcome.”
In a post on Merriweather’s Facebook page, Charlotte Uprising alleges that Merriweather was singled out because Merriweather witnessed Carr’s death and continues to blame police for firing the fatal shot.
Another man, Rayquan Borum, has been charged with murder in connection with Carr’s death. He is scheduled for trial in December.
Then-District Attorney Andrew Murray declined to bring charges in the Scott shooting.
Merriweather did not respond to an Observer email seeking comment. But Merriweather’s attorneys, Darlene Harris and Mark Simmons of Charlotte, said their client welcomed the news.
“Attorneys don’t always see justice serviced, the scales being balanced,” Harris said Tuesday. “I think this was not only the right thing to do but what the evidence required. We’re very happy.”
She and Simmons said the felony rioting charge was highly unusual for Charlotte and North Carolina. They attributed the drawn-out nature of what they described as “a very weak case,” to “external factors,” including the politics surrounding the riots, the allegations of police brutality and the negative portrait the unrest painted of the city.
Simmons said newly elected District Attorney Spencer Merriweather and his staff also were willing “to take a new look at the case.”
“It’s a good time to turn the page on a pretty ugly time for Charlotte,” Simmons said.