The family of Gastonia teenager La’Dainian Fuller and advocates with Emancipate NC are calling on Gaston County District Attorney Travis Page to drop attempted murder charges against Fuller in connection with a 2021 incident in which Fuller allegedly put a police officer in a headlock as the officer attacked his twin brother, Paden.
Police and prosecutors say La’Dainian and Paden, both 15 years old at the time of this incident, were riding their bikes home near CaroMont Health Park as a Gastonia Honey Hunters baseball game was nearing its end. In preparation for a fireworks display, police had closed off the road that the two wanted to take to get to their house about a half-mile away.
After seeing others bypass the road closure sign, the brothers attempted to continue down a sidewalk, at which time a police officer tackled Paden to the ground. It was only after witnessing the officer kicking and abusing his brother that La’Dainian placed the police officer in a headlock, according to Emancipate NC.
Now the Gaston County District Attorney’s office is moving to transfer the case from juvenile court to adult superior court, where Fuller could be tried as an adult on attempted murder charges despite the officer only suffering minor injuries — mild redness and bruising for which he refused medical attention on the night of the incident.
An appeal hearing scheduled for Thursday afternoon that aimed to halt the transfer of the case to adult superior court was pushed back to Aug. 31 in what Fuller’s attorneys are calling a stall tactic. The judge at Thursday’s hearing also ordered Fuller’s attorneys to submit a brief within two weeks to explain why they think the Aug. 31 hearing should be accessible to the public.
At a press conference outside of the Gaston County Courthouse on Thursday morning, Kerwin Pittman, policy and program director with Emancipate NC, laid out his organization’s demands regarding the Fuller case.
Emancipate NC is asking that a special prosecutor be called in to review the case, that all charges against Fuller are dropped, that the NC State Bureau of Investigations launch an investigation into the incident, and that both officers involved in the incident be fired.
“Clearly the justice system here in Gastonia is not color-blind, but turns a blind eye to law enforcement brutality,” Pittman said on Thursday. “Clearly the DA is colluding with law enforcement to try to find these 15-year-old kids guilty.”
Pittman said he and Fuller’s family have been able to review body-camera footage from the incident that not only showed other pedestrians being allowed to freely pass the road closure signs but depicted officers joking about the incident afterwards, exclaiming that they “got a few good licks in” on the boys and bragging about having the kids’ blood on their uniforms.
“Apparently, we have to add ‘riding a bike while Black’ to the list of activities that can subject Black children to state-sanctioned violence,” wrote attorney Dawn Blagrove, who’s representing Fuller, in a release on Wednesday. “While the violence suffered is not physical, the psychological trauma that DA [Travis] Page is subjecting this child and his family to is unconscionable.
“Additionally, as uncomfortable as it may be for some, it is imperative that we face the role race plays in the equity and fairness that is available in our judicial system,” Blagrove continued. “Would a white child be treated with such callousness? No. The answer is no.”
La’Dainian’s parents, Tangyika Brawley and Marcel Fuller, spoke at Thursday’s press conference about the trauma they’ve been through over the past two years as they wait to see what will come of their son’s case.
Marcel said he sometimes feel guilty for even teaching his sons the cut-through along West Airline Avenue where the incident occurred.
“The way they wanted to go is the way I taught them,” Marcel said. “I taught them to go that way so they wouldn’t be out here in the traffic and they’d have a safe way from their friend’s house back home … All they wanted to do was go home.”
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