Faith Cook (right) and Angela Corpenzano address supporters on Tuesday morning before attending a sentencing for a woman who pleaded guilty to vehicular assault against their daughters. (photo by Jordan Green)
A 52-year-old woman who swerved her truck at two 12-year-old girls in Graham last August pleaded guilty to two counts of misdemeanor assault with a deadly weapon in Alamance County court today, and a judge sentenced her to two consecutive 60-day sentences suspended with 12 months probation.
The suspended sentences and probation is conditioned on Sandrea Brazee obtaining a mental-health and anger-management evaluation and following treatment recommendations, District Attorney Sean Boone said. Other conditions are that she have no contact with the victims and their families, and pay court costs and a $1,000 fine.
The case highlights ongoing concerns about racially skewed law enforcement and justice in Alamance County. Brazee is white; the two girls that she victimized are Black and Latinx. Faith Cook, the mother of one of the girls, is a one of 12 Black activists known as the “Graham 12” who were arrested when police pepper-sprayed and disrupted a march to the polls on Oct. 31. Cook faces a misdemeanor riot charge.
Brazee was initially charged with felony assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, but after the Alamance County District Attorney’s office assigned a staff investigator to conduct a follow-up investigation, a grand jury failed to return an indictment. The district attorney reduced Brazee’s felony charges to the misdemeanor charges to which she ultimately pleaded.
In a Facebook livestream shortly after the Aug. 21 incident, Cook described how her daughter, Aishah Huru, and her daughter’ friend, Gianna Corpenzano, were walking home from a store when Brazee took offense at them and started yelling at them.
“She calls them ‘Black hoes,’” Cook said in the livestream. “My daughter got scared so she turned around. She told her friend: ‘Let’s just go back in the other direction. We’ll just walk the long way back, because I’m scared. I don’t want to be walking the way that she’s going’ — the way the lady’s going. So, they turn around to walk back to the store. And the lady turns around — it’s a U-turn — and comes back, speeds up, jumps the curb to where they are and tries to hit them. Now, with their reflexes, they jump back. Had they not jumped back, she probably would have run both of them over.”
Boone told Triad City Beat in an interview on Monday that based on the follow-up investigation by the district attorney’s office, he determined that the facts only supported the misdemeanor charge and that he did not see evidence of intent to kill. Following the sentencing on Tuesday, Boone provided TCB with a written summary of the case acknowledging that, after a verbal exchange with the girls, Brazee turned around and drove back towards them. The girls “saw the truck coming in their direction very quickly” and “the truck came quickly into the driveway,” stopping about nine feet from a dumpster that one of the girls had run behind; the other girl ran behind a van. The incident was witnessed by Graham police Officer A. Cabanillas, who described Brazee in her police report as making an “overt and aggressive” right turn into a public vehicular area in front of the two girls. The case summary also reports that the girls told the district attorney’s investigator that they were both scared and were afraid that Brazee was going to run over one of the girls. The prosecutors concluded: “Although the evidence shows that the defendant stopped her truck by her own accord and did so some distance short of striking the victims, the conduct and relevant case law, while not supporting ‘intent to kill,’ clearly satisfies the requirements” for the misdemeanor assault with a deadly weapon charges.
“You tried to hit my child with a freaking car,” Cook said in her livestream the day of the incident. “You tried to jump the curb and hit her. You purposely, intentionally — and it’s damn near attempted murder…. You went up the street and made a U-turn and came back with the intentions of jumping the curb to hit two girls. So how is that not — because at the time you went and turned your car around, you pre-meditated what you were about to do.”
The case summary provided by Boone also references one of the girls telling the other that Brazee used a racial slur, but says the girl who made the statement “later stated she was not certain of what the defendant said.”
Boone told TCB in an email that the reason he brought in a second investigator was to determine whether there was evidence to support ethnic intimidation charges.
Jamie Paulen, an attorney who represented Aisha as a victim’s advocate, told TCB that Aishah “backed down from the claim that [Brazee] said ‘Black hoes.’
“If there was a backing down, I don’t think it reflects the truth,” Paulen added. “I think there’s a possibility the girls thought they were going to get in trouble. They were mouthy — they’re teenagers.”
The investigator interviewed both girls outside of their parents’ presence, compounding the families’ distrust of law enforcement and the court system.
In an email to TCB, Boone characterized the alleged racial epithet as an “inaccurate narrative that had developed on social media and the news.”
“To be clear, both victims, although very young, are to be commended for their courage and honesty during this investigation,” he said. “After having time to recall events in a safe manner later, the victims provided detailed statements that allowed justice to be done for them, the defendant, and the community at large.”
During a rally attended by about 40 people across the street from the Historic Courthouse where Brazee’s sentencing took place, Aishah’s mother said the vehicular assault upended her child’s life. Prior to the incident, Aishah had signed up with a company in Charlotte to pursue acting.
“It just put a dent in her,” Faith Cook said. “She didn’t want to leave; she couldn’t leave the house. For three weeks she would not go outside. A child who stays outside doing TikTok videos all day. I was saying, ‘Lord have mercy! No more TikTok videos, please!’ But at that point I was begging for her to go outside. ‘Do a TikTok video.’ And she just couldn’t do it. She couldn’t bring herself to go outside because she was scared to be in her own front yard. She was scared to be in her own backyard in the summer. Kids love to be outside. So, I want them to understand that this is what they took from her. But they can’t keep it. They can’t keep that from her.”
Cook read aloud from a letter written by Aishah that she planned to read on her daughter’s behalf at the hearing. Aishah said in her letter that she has gone into therapy because of the incident, and was diagnosed with PTSD.
“Now, let’s get started on my opinion about the case,” Aishah wrote. “Honestly, I feel like there’s no justice at all because I could go out and do something simple like go out walking with a friend to the store to get some snacks and basically to be killed because of my skin tone. We all know if there’s no justice, there’s no peace. So, you’re telling me that Ms. Brazee could basically get a slap on the wrist for trying to hit two 12-year-old girls with a big truck, but if it was me, as an older or younger adult — because from y’all’s actions, it doesn’t even matter — but if I were able to or almost try to hit two 12-year-old girls, you already know that I would have at least [faced] attempted murder charge and face jail time of some sort.”
Angela Carpenzano, the mother of Gianna, also spoke at the rally, but said her daughter chose to not write a statement for the court.
“She voices to me on a daily basis that she doesn’t feel that she’s heard,” Carpenzano said, as blaring horns from passing vehicles periodically drowned her out. “She doesn’t feel that anything she has to say to the police department, the district attorney or anything is relevant. She doesn’t feel that her voice matters to anybody….”
After Brazee’s arrest, she was released on condition that she have no contact with any child under 18 years old except a grandchild. On Sept. 11, a judge signed an order modifying the conditions to allow her contact with two grandchildren, ages 9 and 11. Brazee’s court records list her employer as Kindercare Inc., a daycare provider in Chapel Hill. Paulen said she believes Brazee mostly likely lost her job as a result of the bond conditions, and doubts she will be able to work with children again with two assault convictions on her record.
Cook said she and Carpenzano did not receive an apology from Brazee during the sentencing.
“I hoped that she would address the parents; she didn’t,” Cook said. “She said she replays that moment every day, and wishes she would have kept going. She didn’t apologize. Does that mean you’re not sorry for what you did, just sorry you got caught?”
Cook said she will likely continue to seek justice through a civil lawsuit.
Reporters were barred from attending the hearing by order of Judge Fred Wilkins. Carli Brosseau, a reporter with the News & Observer, approached a sheriff’s deputy to request the opportunity to appear before Judge Wilkins. The deputy returned and said the judge had turned down the request. When a reporter for TCB attempted to enter the courthouse, the same deputy said the judge had already turned down the previous request.
Shortly before the 11 a.m. hearing, Tom Boney Jr., publisher of the conservative weekly Alamance News, appeared at the courthouse with a formal objection drafted by attorney Amanda Martin on behalf of his newspaper, along with the News & Observer and Triad City Beat. In The objection filed in Brazee’s case, the three newspapers request that the Alamance County Court permit access to all future proceedings.
Boney was allowed to enter the courthouse to file the objection with the clerk. Afterwards, Boney said he took a seat in the courtroom. Boney said Judge Wilkins asked “if there was an attorney for the motion present.”
Boney said he attempted to present the arguments in the objection, but Wilkins told him if he was not a defendant or a victim, he needed to leave.
“Be quiet!” Wilkins said, according to Boney. “Get out of this courtroom.” Boney also said Wilkins gestured to the courtroom and said, “This courtroom is not closed to the public; it is closed to you.”
Boney said the bailiffs placed him in handcuffs.
“They were really quite rough and claimed I was resisting when they were twisting my arm,” Boney said.
TomasMurawski, a reporter for Boney’s newspaper, was arrested during the Oct. 31 protest when Graham police pepper-sprayed the crowd, and faces a charge of misdemeanor failure to disperse. Video of the arrest shows one of the officers forcefully jerking Murawski’s arms behind his back. While Murawski and now Boney have experienced rough treatment from local law enforcement in Alamance County, the newspaper’s coverage is perceived by many of the antiracist protesters as justifying police repression and portraying protesters in a negative light. Protesters led by the Rev. Greg Drumwright announced a boycott against the Alamance News’ advertisers on Nov. 29, and protesters held up posters and banners to block Boney’s camera during the rally.
After being handcuffed on Tuesday, Boney said he was returned to the courtroom, and Judge Wilkins told him he would not charge him with contempt of court if he voluntarily left.
The news organizations that were excluded from the hearing plan to seek appellate review.
While news organizations are fighting to open the courts to the media as a raft of cases stemming from the Oct. 31 march come up, the stakes are different for protesters. Cook said she was arrested by Alamance County Sheriff’s Office on Oct. 31 because she was speaking on a megaphone to urge people to go to the polls to vote and singing, “We are ready for change.”
“This is the part that gets me: My charge for singing that day is misdemeanor riot,” she said on Facebook Live on Monday evening. “The defendant’s charge who tried to hit my child is assault with a deadly weapon…. My charge for singing on a megaphone is one step under her. How the hell is that even possible? You try to hit my child with a car and I’m facing a charge one step under you for singing on a megaphone? This is the system that we’re dealing with.”
On Tuesday morning, as she stood in the spot where Wyatt Outlaw, a Black town commissioner and constable, was lynched in 1871, Cook referenced the Confederate monument that stands in front of the Historic Courthouse, where Brazee’s hearing was to take place.
“It’s quite symbolic that we’re holding the hearing at this old courthouse in front of this retarded monument,” she said. “And we know what this monument stands for. It’s a symbol of hate. It’s a symbol of oppression. It’s a symbol of saying not only do Black lives not matter, but we hung somebody and we’re going to say, ‘Their life didn’t matter and we hung them and we’re going to erect a victorious statement of us doing that.’ To have our case be heard here in this building by this monument is sickening to me, but I still have a faith. We’re still holding on to a little bit of faith that I got in this system for this case to say, ‘We can show Alamance County that even though the case was dropped to a misdemeanor, now is our chance to let them know that Black lives do matter.’”