Buncombe GOP chair guilty of assault on female school board member, but no punishment (2024)

ASHEVILLE - Buncombe County's Republican Party chair has been found guilty of assaulting a female GOP school board member, but he will likely face no punishment, with the judge characterizing the encounter as part of "a state of politics in this country."

It was not clear the day of the July 8 guilty verdict if GOP Chair Doug Brown will be made to step down or face any other repercussions from the party.

A Buncombe County district court judge found Brown found guilty of misdemeanor assault on a female nearly a year after what county school board member Amy Churchill said were two closely timed July 24, 2023 encounters at Asheville party headquarters.

The Henderson County GOP chair was accused of the same misdemeanor − also against a fellow county party official − but prosecutors on June 12 declined to move forward with the charge brought by Kathy Maney against Brett Callaway.

Churchill, who opposed a local party plan to impose Republican-friendly school board electoral districts, said Brown pushed her forcefully at the end of a monthly GOP meeting. That caused her to have to steady herself, something she said was difficult because she was recovering from a broken ankle. Churchill, who is 5 feet 5 inches, said Brown, who is over 6 feet tall, then slammed the door in her face.

Shortly after that and still at party headquarters she confronted him − with her phone recording the audio − and told him not to touch her, according to testimony. Brown then placed his hands on her again, she said, in a "passive aggressive way."

"This is about a man who puts his hands on a woman because he could not get her to leave," Churchill said under cross-examination.

Brown, though, denied he pushed Churchill, saying he intervened in a conversation between her and North Carolina state Sen. Warren Daniel who put forward the district's legislation, which was then passed by the Republican-majority General Assembly in Raleigh.

"Amy was upset about the decision of the school district voting," Brown said, adding, "I gave her a little 'matadorial' direction to the door and I could feel some resistance."

He said he didn't slam the door, but closed it "so she knew her time with the senator was over."

Later, when Churchill confronted him, Brown did not deny touching her, though said he did not mean it in an aggressive way. Two Republican meeting attendees were called as defense witnesses, testifying they saw the second encounter.

"He was polite the whole time," said witness Hope Reagan.

Judge Edwin Clontz said due to a lack of other people seeing the first encounter, its circ*mstances were "debatable."

"But clearly in the second instance you were told not to touch her, witnesses said you were told not to touch her and you placed your hands on her," he said. "As for what the law is, I cannot find other than that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt."

Clontz said that was a "hard thing to say" and that the conflict was indicative of a state of political acrimony in the country.

"Can't get along within the parties. Can't get along outside the parties," he said, raising the specter of political violence in elected bodies. "I don't think this is anywhere near that level. I think this is some heated people in a political situation who did not handle themselves properly."

Therefore, Clontz said he was entering a prayer for judgment, meaning there was no penalty if Brown paid court costs and did not violate the law again for a year.

Assault on a female is a A1 misdemeanor, the most serious of misdemeanors under state law and can carry a punishment of up to 150 days in jail, depending on prior convictions.

Buncombe GOP chair guilty of assault on female school board member, but no punishment (1)

After the ruling Churchill reiterated her point, saying the verdict was about Brown assaulting a woman "because he could not get her to do what he wanted."

"I am glad there is some accountability for behavior," she said.

She said the judgment was not about politics, but did say she was considering leaving the Republican Party.

"It is very clear this is not the party I joined when I was 18," said Churchill, who is 53.

Brown, outside the courtroom and in an emailed statement, said the conflict should never have ended up in court.

"Was there any maliciousness in me? No. I invited her to that meeting. I tried to include her," he said, adding in the statement that "I will not give up that we can treat each other civilly."

Brown said the prayer for judgment did not amount to a conviction. According to the UNC School of Government's N.C. Prosecutor's Resource, a prayer for judgment is counted as a conviction in terms of "scoring a criminal history" but not in terms of an appeal.

Asked whether Brown will be made to vacate his chair or face any other consequences, 11th District GOP Chair Michele Woodhouse said she would "need more information on the exact ruling."

Joel Burgess has lived in WNC for more than 20 years, covering politics, government and other news. He's written award-winning stories on topics ranging from gerrymandering to police use of force. Got a tip? Contact Burgess atjburgess@citizentimes.com, 828-713-1095 or on Twitter@AVLreporter. Please help support this type of journalism with asubscriptionto the Citizen Times.

This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: County GOP chair guilty of assault on female, school board member

Buncombe GOP chair guilty of assault on female school board member, but no punishment (2024)
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