ROCK HILL, S.C. — After a jury found former Rock Hill police officer Jonathan Moreno not guilty of misdemeanor assault in the arrest of Travis Price last June, Moms Against Racism says they will continue to protest for change.
"Moreno was exonerated by an almost exclusively white jury, a jury which did not represent the racially diverse makeup of Rock Hill's population," Natasha Witherspoon, founder of Moms Against Racism, said. "It is therefore obvious that our justice system in Rock Hill is both biased and broken. Until it is fixed, innocent citizens will continue to be harmed by the very people sworn to protect us."
On Thursday, Witherspoon was arrested after protesting outside of Moreno's home in Rock Hill. Witherspoon was reportedly using a loudspeaker. In a statement, the Rock Hill Police Department confirmed the arrest.
"There has been an arrest made tonight regarding Violation of the City Noise Ordinance," according to the statement, "One person was given a warning by officers regarding violating the Noise Ordinance by using a sound amplifying device. There was repeated use of the device after the warning and the person was arrested."
York County Councilmember William "Bump" Roddey, who lives in the neighborhood, said the arrest is "further exacerbating the situation." Roddey said a ticket and summons to appear in court would have been a better route.
Witherspoon is set to appear in court for a bond hearing at 8:30 a.m. Friday morning.
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“She’s in jail here at the city of Rock Hill, she’ll spend the night here at the city of Rock Hill [jail]," her attorney, Montrio Belton, said. “At some point, Ms. Witherspoon will have her day in court and at that time is probably the most appropriate time to state what I believe a fair and legal position is.”
Moreno was fired for the confrontation and publicly apologized to Price last July after several nights of protests and unrest in Rock Hill. Moms Against Racism leaders said they're planning a protest Thursday night.
"They expect the attention to go away, especially from the Black community," Justin Hunt, moderator for the South Carolina Black Activist Coalition, said. "It is completely insulting for them to issue an apology for them to charge officer Moreno and then to have a jury with only one person that looks like Travis Price, and to tell the city that saw it on video that this man is innocent."
"We shared a 20-page list of policy and procedure recommendations with the citizen's review board on Sept. 28, 2021," Witherspoon said. "But they have failed to provide updates on how and whether any changes are being implemented"
A flyer circulated by Moms Against Racism list multiple other demands for the Rock Hill Police Department, including:
- An independent and transparent investigation
- Release the timeline on the citizen's review board responding to this incident and updates on their establishment by Jan. 29
- The City of Rock Hill to implement a policy that observes that jury selection shall represent the demographics of Rock Hill
- RHPD addresses the community on their current use of force policy with the necessary revisions to insure the community that police brutality is intolerable within RHPD
The Rock Hill Police Department responded to the last demand, telling WCNC Charlotte's Shamarria Morrison the use of force policy is available to the public already. Click here to read the Rock Hill Police Department's use of force policy.
"In the policy, it states that 'Excessive force will not be tolerated,'" the department said in a statement.
The jury for the trial of former officer Moreno was made up of five women and one man. One of the jurors was African-American. Census data shows the City of Rock Hill has a population of 55% white and 39% Black. The data also shows the population is 6% Hispanic, 2% Asian, 2% identifying as more than race, and less than one percent American Indian.
After the trial, Paul Reeves, Moreno's defense attorney, told WCNC Charlotte "nothing is off the table" regarding a possible wrongful termination lawsuit against the Rock Hill Police Department. Reeves said the defense was focused on the criminal trial and hadn't dug into the details of a wrongful termination suit.
Flashpoint is a weekly in-depth look at politics in Charlotte, North Carolina, South Carolina, and beyond with host Ben Thompson. Listen to the podcast weekly.
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