NEW HANOVER COUNTY (WWAY) — One man is now considering legal action after being removed from last week’s New Hanover County Board of Education meeting.
Some board members are maintaining Chris Sutton broke decorum June 8 by turning his back on the board during his speech. Sutton disagrees, and thinks the board violated his first amendment right.
Sutton was one of dozens of men and women who showed up to speak during the June 8 board meeting. When his turn came, he decided to make a statement with how he addressed the board.
“I walked up, and I turned my back to the board,” remembered Sutton “And I turned my back on them like they turned their back on the community and turned their back on these victims, and they keep dragging these victims through the mud over and over again. And when I walked up there, I was going to explain myself as to why I turned my back on the board.”
Board Chair, Stefanie Adams told Sutton he was not following decorum. When he disagreed, Adams asked deputies to escort him off the property.
“She violated me on the rules of decorum,” said Sutton “And she had deputies put their hands on me and escort me out.”
Sutton was taken out the side door and off the property, not allowed to speak with media or get the personal belongings he left inside.
But was this truly an example of a breach in meeting decorum?
According to one expert from the UNC School of Government, Robert’s Rules of Order say no.
“I think the law provides a broad First Amendment right, which would include allowing a person to turn to the audience and direct their comments to the whole room,” faculty expert and professor, Frayda Bluestein stated in part. “If there was no disruption, and the comment was related to the business of the of the board, I don’t see how it would matter of decorum.”
Since the meeting, Adams released a statement saying:
“As Board chair, it is my duty to maintain order and decorum and to prevent disruption during Board meetings. Mr. Sutton was asked to stand at the podium and address the Board. This is the same conduct that is expected and required of every speaker during Call to the Audience. When Mr. Sutton refused to comply and became argumentative, he was asked to leave. When he refused to leave, he was escorted out by deputies. Mr. Sutton was not prevented from speaking based on his views or the content of his speech.”
Sutton is now looking into legal action.
According to Sutton, “She (Adams) feels that the rules of decorum that she has somehow supersedes our basic, fundamental, constitutional rights. And it’s made very, very clear, that these are unalienable rights you do not have the right to deprive us of.”
Sutton says he, along with area Vietnam veterans will stand with their backs turned at the next board meeting in protest.