Durham DA Drops Charges Against Confederate Monument Defendants | News

Durham DA Drops Charges Against Confederate Monument Defendants


Law enforcement looks on after demonstrators toppled a Confederate monument in front of a Durham County building Monday night, before marching down Main Street. - SARAH WILLETS
  • Sarah Willets
  • Law enforcement looks on after demonstrators toppled a Confederate monument in front of a Durham County building Monday night, before marching down Main Street.
Durham District Attorney Roger Echols announced Tuesday afternoon that his office would drop all charges against five people awaiting trial for dismantling a Confederate monument downtown last summer.

The announcement comes the day after Judge Fred Battaglia, citing insufficient evidence, dismissed the cases against two people charged with damaging the monument and found a third defendant not guilty.

"The evidence against the remaining people charged in this case mirrors the evidence presented in court yesterday," Echols said, per a WRAL video of the press conference. "The judge has ruled this evidence was insufficient. For my office to continue to take these cases to trial based on the same evidence would be a misuse of state resources. For that reason I will dismiss the remaining charges against the remaining defendants."

In his brief remarks, Echols said he respected Battaglia's ruling and that the state had presented "all of the admissible evidence in this case" during trials Monday for Dante Strobino, Peter Gilbert and Raul Jimenez.

The defendants still awaiting trial were Takiyah Thompson, Jessica Jude, Joseph Karlik, Qasima Wideman and Elena Everett.

"This victory is the result of one thing and one thing alone: the conviction and determination of a mighty movement against white supremacy and the racist system that it upholds," Defend Durham, a group encompassing the defendants and their supporters, said in a statement about the announcement.

Last month, Echols dropped felony charges for inciting a riot that had been filed against the defendants, because, as he said Tuesday, he did not believe the evidence supported those charges.

"I do believe the evidence supported misdemeanor charges and we proceeded on those charges," he said. "Acts of vandalism regardless of noble intent are still in violation of the law."

Echols also said "in fairness" a plea deal already offered to one defendant would be dismissed. He didn't name the defendant, but Loan Tran had accepted a deferred dismissal contingent upon paying restitution and completing community service.

"While the outcome here may not rest well with all, it is my great hope that this continues the conversation and addresses how we can make Durham a community for everyone," Echols said.

The monument was pulled down August 14 during a rally in response to a violent white supremacist gathering in Charlottesville the weekend before. Initially twelve people had been charged in connection with the incident. Charges against three people were dropped in November.

On Monday, charges were dropped against Strobino and Gilbert and Jimenez was found not guilty. All three had been charged with injury to real property, damaging public property and conspiring to damage public property.

The prosecution called five witness and showed two videos taken during the August 14 rally, but Battaglia questioned whether the videos and witness testimony proved the defendants were guilty of the charges.

Read the full statement from Defend Durham:
"On February 20, Durham District Attorney Roger Echols announced that all charges had been dropped against the eight anti-racist freedom fighters stemming from the righteous people’s toppling of the Confederate monument in Durham, N.C., on Aug. 14. This includes not only the five who were to return to court on April 2 - Takiyah Thompson, Elena Everett, Jess Jude, Q Wideman, and Joe Karlik - but additionally overturns Loan Tran’s earlier plea. On February 19, Raul Jimenez was found not guilty on all charges, and the cases against Dante Strobino and Peter Gilbert were dismissed.

This victory is the result of one thing and one thing alone: the conviction and determination of a mighty movement against white supremacy and the racist system that it upholds.

Shame on Durham County Sheriff Mike Andrews, who unleashed a witch-hunt against anti-racist activists in the days and weeks following the toppling, who has defended the lethal conditions in the Durham county jail despite the countless jail deaths that have occured on his watch, and other political officials who were content to issue statements but did nothing to stop the charges from moving forward or to resist white supremacy in action here in our city and state, allowing gentrification to amplify the eviction crisis, the state of police and ICE terror, and racial injustice here in Durham. How many tens of thousands of dollars were wasted by the city in pursuit of these frivolous charges that could have been put towards people’s needs in our community?

Power to the people! Fighting white supremacy is not a crime!

The Aug. 14 action liberated our community from a symbol of terror. Erected in 1924 at the height of Ku Klux Klan membership and strength, the monument, which stood outside the old Durham County Courthouse, was a reminder to Black and Brown people that although the physical chains of slavery may be no more, there would never be justice under this white supremacist system.

Members of the Durham community had traveled to Charlottesville on Aug. 12 and defended themselves there against the violence of the fascists. Upon returning to Durham, we decided to make a bold response to the outright terror inflicted there, terror committed in an attempt to threaten into silence the voices of people of color and their anti-racist allies. Tearing down the Confederate statue not only strengthened the national movement against white supremacy at a critical time, but made clear that the racist practices of Durham’s government officials and institutions — including the cops, courts and jails — would not be tolerated.

We express continued solidarity with Chris Brazil, who still faces charges stemming from the anti-Klan uprising in Durham on Aug. 18. We encourage supporters to continue pressuring the DA’s office until every last charge is dropped.

We know that this victory is a step in the struggle against white supremacy, and that the struggle is long and continues. It will continue as long as people are locked up in the Durham County jails, suffering from horrific conditions there. It will continue as long as our communities are being destroyed by gentrification, and our immigrant community members are subjected to raids and deportations. It will continue until every monument to racist oppression is taken down. One day soon, we will tear down things bigger than statues, and build a world based on justice and liberation.

We say: Do it like Durham! Topple racism and white supremacy!"

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