Charges against three people accused of damaging a Confederate monument torn down in Durham this summer have been dismissed.
Alexander Caldwell, Taylor Cook, and Myles Spigner were among twelve people charged in connection with an August 14 demonstration in which a crowd, gathered in response to a violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville the weekend before, pulled down a statue of a Confederate soldier that had stood in front of the former Durham County Courthouse. The demonstration, and the vehement response from the Durham County Sheriff’s Office, spawned a movement known as Defend Durham.
“It’s not surprising that these charges have been dismissed because there was no evidence these people committed any act of vandalism,” said attorney Scott Holmes, who is representing those charged. “It demonstrates what we have said previously, that the sheriff was overzealous in the way he took out felony charges.”
Charges against the rest of the group, and three people facing charges related to a protest that followed later in the week, are still pending.
Cook, Caldwell, and Spigner had been charged with felony inciting a riot as well as damaging property. Under state law, a riot is a public disturbance that results in or presents a clear danger of injury to a person or property. Rioting is a felony charge if the disturbance caused more than $1,500 in property damage, seriously injured someone, or involved a dangerous weapon or substance.
“Although probable cause exists that the defendant committed criminal offenses,” say court records for each, “the evidence is insufficient to prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. After careful review of the evidence, there is no visual evidence that the defendant physically took part in any destruction of property.”
Sheriff’s deputies filmed the August 14 demonstration and video of the monument being torn down was widely circulated.
After Sheriff Mike Andrews announced that his office would be pursuing felony charges against the protesters, District Attorney Roger Echols said he would only prosecute people directly involved in the destruction of the monument. Echols also said he would take into account “the pain” in Durham and the nation after Charlottesville, as well as the fact that Durham residents have no recourse for seeking the removal of such monuments, which are protected by a state law.
Echols asked county commissioners and staff to estimate the value of the monument. The Board of Commissioners last month delivered two financial estimates, but in a letter to Echols added that the statue has “no moral value for our community.“
“With respect to these charges that were dismissed, the value of the monument has no impact on their charges because he could have reduced them to a misdemeanor if he believed they had participated in any act of vandalism,” Holmes said. “The valuation may be important for the cases that are still pending.”
Seven other demonstrators are due in court Tuesday, although it’s likely their cases will be continued to December 5, along with others in the group.