Durham County Sheriff Mike Andrews says his agency will use video taken Monday of demonstrators removing of a Confederate monument in front of a county building to seek charges against the protesters.
The statue, erected in 1924, was easily toppled Monday night during a rally held in response to deadly violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville on Saturday.
In a statement, Andrews says he is “not blind to the offensive conduct of some demonstrators, nor will I ignore their criminal conduct.” During the demonstration, officers largely stood by, with at least one filming the events.
Andrews’s posture is in sharp contrast to the Durham Police Department’s reaction to the protest, and could further alienate him (ahead of a 2018 election) from Durham residents who already hold a deep mistrust of him and his agency.
Although demonstrators marched through Durham city limits, the statue was on county property and therefore under the jurisdiction of the Sheriff’s Office. The Durham Police Department issued a statement Monday night saying it had made no arrests as “no infractions occurred within city jurisdiction.”
Here’s Andrew’s full statement:
“I am grateful the events that unfolded Monday evening did not result in serious injury or the loss of life, but the planned demonstration should serve as a sobering example of the price we all pay when civil disobedience is no longer civil. Before the protest, my staff met with our community partners to discuss how to safely and appropriately respond to the protest. County leaders were aware of the risk of damage to the Confederate statute, as well as, the potential risk of injury to the public and officers should deputies attempt to control the crowd. Collectively, we decided that restraint and public safety would be our priority. As the Sheriff, I am not blind to the offensive conduct of some demonstrators nor will I ignore their criminal conduct. With the help of video captured at the scene, my investigators are working to identify those responsible for the removal and vandalism of the statue.
My deputies showed great restraint and respect for the constitutional rights of the group expressing their anger and disgust for recent events in our country. Racism and incivility have no place in our country or Durham. I am asking both city and county leaders to establish guidelines and safe spaces for protesters to prevent demonstrations from becoming disruptive and as we witnessed in Charlottesville, dangerous. Rightfully, Durham County and the City of Durham have a longstanding respect for the right of peaceable assembly. Recently, the Sheriff’s Office’s decision to arrest demonstrators at a public meeting was challenged in the court of law. My Agency has been the focus of demonstrations for more than a year, most of them peaceful. However, now may be the time for Durham to consider what is the best way to respond to continued protests while respecting every resident’s right to voice their opinion.”
Andrews has been under for his oversight of the Durham County jail, where seventeen-year-old Niecey Fennell was found hanged in March. A state inspector recently found that guards had not checked on Fennell as often as required by the state, and ignored a report from another inmate that she had talked about harming herself, which should have placed her on suicide watch and under even more regular checks.
Demonstrations have been held weekly outside the jail in response to conditions in the facility and plans to implement video visitation, which critics fear will ultimately replace in-person visits. The Sheriff’s Office has also faced criticism for honoring requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold inmates at the Durham County jail.
Earlier this month, Durham County commissioners agreed, without a formal vote, to not give Andrews a raise, the Herald-Sun reports.
On social media, the DCSO’s statement quickly prompted talk of raising money to bail out anyone charged in connection with the demonstration. At least one local attorney, T. Greg Doucette, is offering to represent demonstrators pro bono.
Demonstrators chanted “no cops, no KKK, no fascist USA,” before pulling down the monument. Once the figure came down, the crowd cheered, with some kicking the statute, before marching down Main Street.