North Carolina appeals court judge John M. Tyson, 67, is charged with assault with a deadly weapon for allegedly driving his car at a group of Black Lives Matter protesters

By Kyler Alvord
May 19, 2021 10:20 AM
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Judge John M. Tyson
Judge John M. Tyson
| Credit: North Carolina Courts

A North Carolina court of appeals court judge allegedly tried to hit a group of Black Lives Matter protesters with his SUV earlier this month — and now he's scheduled to appear in court next month as a defendant, PEOPLE confirms.

Judge John M. Tyson, 67, of Cumberland County, faces a misdemeanor charge of assault with a deadly weapon, says his lawyer.

The alleged incident took place on May 7 near Fayetteville's Market House, a common site for protests that's surrounded by a traffic circle.

Security footage from the city of Fayetteville appears to show Tyson driving through the traffic circle twice in 10 minutes. When the SUV appears the second time, he is driving in a closed-to-vehicles area — over a Black Lives Matter mural on the ground — where some protesters are standing.

Witness accounts allege that the released video footage cuts off early, leaving out important parts of the second time Tyson drove through.

Mario Benavente, 31, is an organizer with the Fayetteville Activist Movement who was at the May 7 demonstration. He alleges to PEOPLE that after driving across the mural toward protestors, Tyson went on a "wild ride."

"He loses control of his vehicle because I guess he was trying to get out of the circle, almost hits another car, and then jumps a curb before almost hitting a building," says Benavente. "It's at that point that I pull out my phone." (Video taken by Benavente is shown below.)

According to a 911 call audio clip obtained by The Fayetteville Observer around the time of the alleged incident, Tyson called the police to report protestors standing in the street blocking traffic — a claim protesters deny.

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Benavente says police chief Gina Hawkins had previously told the activist group that if they stayed on the mural and out of traffic, they would not receive citations from the city.

David T. Courie Sr., a senior partner at Beaver Courie Sternlicht Hearp & Broadfoot, confirms to PEOPLE that his law firm is representing Tyson in the upcoming trial, adding that "the uncontroverted, objective facts conflict with the accuser's delayed allegations."

It is unclear if Tyson has entered a plea.