Durham District Attorney Roger Echols is responding to comments made by District Court Judge Fred Battaglia that the assistant district attorney who prosecuted protesters accused of dismantling a Confederate monument last summer is inexperienced and "third string."
Echols put out a press release this afternoon defending Ameshia Cooper.
"These comments were inappropriate, unnecessary, and inaccurate," Echols wrote. "At a time when women, especially women of color, are still marginalized, it is unfortunate that a member of the judiciary would refer to any woman with such little regard. As a male, I will never experience the discrimination that women have to endure as they fight for equality and recognition of their talents. However, as the elected District Attorney, my role is to serve all citizens of Durham and to safeguard against such injustices."
Battaglia made the comments last week
before the Durham County GOP after offering to explain to frustrated members why he had not convicted three protesters tried last month for damaging the monument. (He dismissed the cases against two and found a third not guilty. The next day, Echols dismissed remaining pending cases, saying all the admissible evidence had been presented).
"She's a nice lady," Battaglia said of Cooper, "but you can't go into the NCAA tournament with your third string." (Battaglia would not let reporters at the event record his remarks).
Battaglia told the crowd Thursday that he made his decisions based on evidence alone and stood by his rulings. Two videos shown during trial didn't clearly show any of the three defendants, he said.
"Before rendering his verdict, Judge Battaglia spoke highly of Ms. Cooper, saying, 'This case was amply tried by both parties,'" Echols wrote. "One can only hope that those words uttered prior to his verdict were genuine."
Cooper has more than five years of legal experience and, since joining the Durham County District Attorney's Office in 2015, has been promoted to the Superior Court property division, according to the press release.
"ADA Cooper is a professional, and she has earned an exceptional reputation among the defense bar, the judiciary, and the community. I have unwavering confidence in her abilities," Echols said.
As far as Battaglia's assertion that Cooper had "no help" in the courtroom, Echols said that "any narrative that implies that [Assistant District Attorneys] are neglected if and when they need assistance is misleading and inaccurate."
Here's the full statement from Echols: