By: Matt Scott
CHARLOTTE N.C. — At a press conference in front of Mecklenburg County Courthouse in Charlotte, N.C., Tim Emry and Xavier T. de Janon, attorneys for activist Jamie Marsicano, announced a complaint for damages lawsuit against Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) Major Brad Koch for his alleged improper handling of Marsicano’s expunged arrest record and defamation of Marsicano’s character to Georgia prosecutors in March.
Arrested during a police raid of the Weelaunee Music Festival in Atlanta on March 5, Marsicano, who uses both they/them and she/her pronouns, was charged with domestic terrorism with 22 other festival attendees. At her first appearance hearing in the DeKalb County Magistrate Court on March 7, DeKalb Assistant District Attorneys (ADA) Lance Cross and Peter Johnson referred to a prior arrest and charges from 2020 for allegedly assaulting an officer during the George Floyd protests that summer. Cross also cited that a CMPD officer, identified as Koch in the court filing, as saying Marsicano would “one million percent” commit another felony were they released from custody in DeKalb County. Judge Anna Davis denied Marsicano bond.
At a second bond hearing on March 23, prosecutors continued to argue against Marsicano receiving bond. DeKalb ADA Cross mentioned a Charlotte police officer who called Marsicano a threat to the community.
Contrary to Koch’s violent depiction, Marsicano and community members describe her as a caretaker in her community.
“I was born and raised in Charlotte,” Marsicano said Wednesday. “I have poured my love into this city for my entire life. Working to bail people out of jail, working to do mutual aid, organizing for other marginalized people in our community.”
Numerous community members including Charlotte’s Mayor Pro Tem Braxton Winston, a former mayor of Charlotte, several academics and a Tibetan monk all wrote letters of support or appeared via Zoom to speak about Jamie’s importance to the Charlotte community.
DeKalb County Magistrate Judge Gregory A. Adams granted Marsicano a $25,000 bond with an order to wear an ankle monitor, not join future protests, avoid contact with any fellow domestic terrorism defendants and surrender their passport. Marsicano’s attorneys argue that the bond amount and judge’s stipulations were unduly harsh due to Koch’s disclosure of Marsicano’s 2020 charge and claims about her character.
Second chance for a clean slate
The Mecklenburg County District Attorney dismissed the 2020 case against Marsicano in 2022. Once the case was dismissed, the charges were automatically expunged from Marsicano’s record. Marsicano’s attorneys argue that Koch made an illegal disclosure of that arrest record to prosecutors.
“North Carolina law is clear,” said attorney de Janon, “once a charge is expunged, the individual must be treated as if the charge never existed. Major Koch helped a prosecutor in another state oppose Jamie’s release from jail by spreading misinformation and Marsicano’s expunged record.”
The North Carolina Second Chance Act, which offered a clean slate for those convicted of a variety of non-violent misdemeanors, was signed into law by Governor Roy Cooper June 25, 2020, and went into effect Dec. 1, 2020. A second provision of the Second Chance Act automatically expunges dismissed or “not guilty” charges on an individual’s record, which went into effect on December 1, 2021. If dismissed in 2022, Marsicano’s 2020 assault change would have qualified to be automatically expunged.
CMPD issued a statement refuting the filing, saying, “A review of departmental records along with the publicly available file at the Mecklenburg County Courthouse (20 CR 219920) indicated that the June 8, 2020, criminal charges brought against Jamie Marsicano for misdemeanor resisting a public officer were dismissed on September 23, 2021. As of August 8, 2023, the record has not been expunged and is available for viewing at the Criminal Clerk’s Office.”
Attorney Tim Emry addressed CMPD’s statement Wednesday morning, telling the media that Marsicano’s lawyer for the 2020 case confirmed the charges qualified under the Second Chance Act and were expunged after the case was dismissed in 2022. Emry and several members of the media went to the Criminal Clerk’s Office to verify that Marsicano’s 2020 charges had been removed from the system. No record of Marsicano’s 2020 assault charge was found.
Defamation of character
In addition to negligence in disclosing Marsicano’s expunged record, attorneys also claim Koch engaged in defamation and libel through “intentional, unjustified and malicious injurious statements” made about Marsicano to Georgia prosecutors.
On March 20, after other defendants arrested at the music festival began receiving consent bonds allowing their release from jail, one of Marsicano’s criminal defense attorneys, Erin King, reached out to ADA Johnson about securing a consent bond for Marsicano.
The Aug. 9 court filing describes how prosecutors were unwilling to agree to a consent bond in Marsicano’s case due to Koch’s statements saying, “Mr. Johnson said the State found out from a CMPD Major that [Marsicano] was a known anarchist, was violent with the police, and that the Major charged them with several offenses in 2020, giving rise to the 2020 case. Because [Marsicano] was a ‘known anarchist’ in North Carolina, they fell in the group of co-defendants who the State would not consent to a bond and whose bond the State would firmly oppose at the hearing.”
The filing argues that Koch’s conversation with ADA Johnson was defamatory because of the major attacked Marsicano’s moral character by saying she was a violent anarchist, one million percent likely to commit a violent offense and funds anarchist programs.
“A person’s life is forever changed when a DA says false, damaging things in a recorded, live court hearing,” said Habekah Cannon, a Mecklenburg County trial attorney. “Major Koch’s targeting of Jamie from another state has caused immeasurable harm on their life.”
Attorneys also argue in the filing, “Koch’s words were libelous, because he knew that his words would be used for a public and recorded bond hearing, be transmitted for the world to see and captured permanently in a public transcript.” The alleged defamation damage extends beyond bail conditions.
Marsicano is a second-year law student at the University of North Carolina (UNC). Koch’s characterization of Marsicano, according to the filing, “caused UNC to ban [Marsicano] from campus, since, as intended by Defendant Koch, they were deemed a violent person.”
“My reputation has been tarnished,” said Marsicano, “the impact this has had on my mental health… I’ve been diagnosed with PTSD since I got out of jail and going through this. This is trauma that I’m going to have to navigate for the rest of my life.”
For these harms, Marsicano’s lawsuit asks for compensatory judgement and punitive damages against Koch, including payment for medical expenses and loss of both past and future earnings.
From Atlanta to Charlotte, Cop City is everywhere
This is neither simply a local nor personal issue for Marsicano, who was arrested at a music festival protesting the building of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, which opponents have dubbed “Cop City.”
“Today, I am being harassed by cops in too many jurisdictions,” said Marsicano. “But tomorrow, who will it be?”
The who, activists say, will likely be marginalized communities.
North Carolina organizer Ash Williams said, “Brad Koch’s collaboration with the DA in Atlanta to target Jamie serves as an example of the collaboration that police departments nationwide will build to harm marginalized communities even more if Cop City is built.”
“Cop City is being currently built in Atlanta,” said de Janon, “and this shows us that Cop City is everywhere. If you get caught up in an incident in Georgia, they can call a police officer in North Carolina who can then make up stories and make up records to inform a judge in Georgia.”
These harmful collaborations will only get worse if Cop City is built, warned Marsicano.
“Cop City’s physical structure is localized to Atlanta, but it’s impact will be national,” said Marsicano. “The defamatory statements of officer Koch in Charlotte used by officials to target me in Atlanta serves as an example of the corruption and brutality that only increases nationally if Cop City is built. Police from cities like Charlotte, across the South and beyond will train, they’ll network, and they’ll develop and share militarized tactics at the Cop City compound.”