Charlotte’s polling places will get extra attention from Charlotte-Mecklenburg police after an armed man threatened a black Republican campaign volunteer in the parking lot of an early voting location, police said.
Police arrested Jason Donald Wayne, 28, and charged him with ethnic intimidation, communicating threats, disorderly conduct and “going armed to the terror of the people,” according to a CMPD news release.
The campaign worker, 66-year-old Derek Partee, continued to volunteer outside the Steele Creek polling place the day after the incident. He said he relied on his training as a New York police detective Wednesday afternoon, when he first spotted a suspicious car in the parking lot.
Partee said a volunteer told him a man in the car had been taking photos of people outside the polling place and that he had been hanging around the previous week, too.
“He looked kinda scuzzy to me,” Partee said Thursday. “And I’m like — to myself, as a retired detective from New York — he’s outta character. He’s outta place. And this is not a tourist area, it’s not a birdwatching area.”
When he walked toward the car to get a photo of the license plate, two men and a woman confronted him, he said.
“He (the man with the camera) said something about being a Republican, I said I am a Republican, he said ‘Motherf***** you ain’t s***,’” Partee told the (Raleigh) News & Observer Wednesday night. “They didn’t care whether I was a Democrat or a Republican, they just cared that I was black.”
The other man had what Partee thought was a revolver holstered on his hip. Police said Wayne had a BB gun in a holster when he was arrested.
During his 25 years on the police force, Partee said he got plenty of experience trying to defuse situations. He backed up and tried to calm things down, but when the cursing continued, he asked his phone’s Siri function to call 911.
The group drove away, and Wayne was arrested several hours later. CMPD determined the other two people did not violate any laws, according to a news release.
Open carry is legal for guns and BB guns at polling places unless it would otherwise be forbidden based on the location, such as when a polling place is inside a school, CMPD Lt. Brad Koch said.
Officers can bring the “going armed to the terror of the people” charge when they feel that the presence of a weapon is making people uncomfortable or concerned about violence, Koch said.
Koch said he hasn’t heard of an incident like this at a polling place before and hopes Wednesday’s was an anomaly, although he’s seen people getting more “passionate” about politics.
Police officers will make additional “zone checks” to supervise polling places between now and the Nov. 6 election, CMPD said.
Wayne was found guilty of assault with a deadly weapon causing serious injury in 2015, according to records. Records show he is not registered to vote in North Carolina.
Partee said he’s the vice chair of the Republican Party for North Carolina’s 12th District, and he hadn’t encountered anything like this in many hours of volunteering at polling places.
He was in Steele Creek on Wednesday and Thursday to support state senator Jeff Tarte.
“We live in a brazen and bizarre time, when we find campaign volunteers and staff experiencing harassment and abuse working polling locations,” Tarte wrote in a statement. “No one of any political party should ever have to be subjected to these types of intimidation and threats at a polling place.”
Partee did the right thing by calling the police, said Marcia Johnson-Blanco, co-director of the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a national and nonpartisan group promoting equal voting opportunity.
Johnson-Blanco said she hasn’t gotten any reports of people making threats with weapons at polling places during this election cycle, but she’s heard of a few cases where minority voters have been called names.
Voters can report intimidation and other issues to the election officials at the polling place, Johnson-Blanco said, and they can call 911 if they fear physical harm.
The Mecklenburg County Board of Election handles security inside the voting site itself, spokesperson Kristen Mavromatis said Thursday.
Because the incident in Steele Creek happened in the parking lot, she said the board does not plan to increase security.
Mark Price: 704-358-5245, @markprice_obs
Jane Wester: 704-358-5128, @janewester