Qasima Wideman, right, speaks through a megaphone to a group of protesters gathered gathered the site of the new police headquarters, still under construction, after they toppled a Confederate soldier statue at the old Durham County Courthouse during an 'Emergency Durham Protest' in response to the violent protests Saturday in Charlottesville, on Monday, Aug. 14, 2017, in Durham, NC. Casey Toth ctoth@heraldsun.com
Qasima Wideman, right, speaks through a megaphone to a group of protesters gathered gathered the site of the new police headquarters, still under construction, after they toppled a Confederate soldier statue at the old Durham County Courthouse during an 'Emergency Durham Protest' in response to the violent protests Saturday in Charlottesville, on Monday, Aug. 14, 2017, in Durham, NC. Casey Toth ctoth@heraldsun.com

Durham County

Durham sheriff’s major says county creating ‘absolute anarchy’ in Confederate statue case

By Virginia Bridges

vbridges@heraldsun.com

August 28, 2017 05:41 PM

UPDATED September 18, 2017 06:50 PM

Durham

A major in the Durham County Sheriff’s Office says county commissioners are setting a dangerous precedent by questioning the felony charges in the toppling of a Confederate statue.

“Should law enforcement determine the severity of charges for persons who destroy or deface monuments based upon the political leanings of county commissioners?” Maj. Paul Martin said in a statement.

“Is it alright (sic) for the left to destroy or deface a monument but not the right?” he continued. “Are statements concerning the severity of criminal charges by county commissioners an effort to obstruct justice since they control the budget for the sheriff as well as raises for the sheriff and all his personnel?”

In an interview and emails, Martin criticized “political interference” by county leaders in the Sheriff’s Office’s obtaining warrants and indictments against those accused in the destruction of the statue on Aug. 14.

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While the Sheriff’s Office levies the initial charges, District Attorney Roger Echols ultimately decides what charges to pursue. So far 11 people have been charged with one or two counts of felony inciting a riot with property damage in excess of $1,500 along with two to three misdemeanors, such as injury to personal property.

At least two county commissioners, Heidi Carter and James Hill, have said they don’t think the activists should face felonies. Others have asked for leniency.

“The fact they are making a statement, and at the same time they control our raises, our budget, even the sheriff’s raises,” Martin said. “I am concerned about the political interference. I am concerned that everybody should be treated equally under the law. Just because you agree with someone’s underlying political leanings doesn’t mean you should try obtain favors for them.”

Commissioner Chairwoman Wendy Jacobs disagrees with Martin’s assessment.

“I do not agree with the comments that Major Martin said, but I also recognize that people have a lot of passionate feelings about the events of the last few weeks,” Jacobs said. “There are a lot of accusations about people’s motives and people’s actions, but the bottom line is that I think everyone is united in this community in that we all care deeply about Durham.”

Jacobs said that some time in the future she hopes to sit down with various individuals and have a constructive dialogue from different points of view.

“I think it is going to be a really important process for our community,” Jacobs said.

Martin, however, says the commissioners’ interference on the front end equates to “absolute anarchy that totally undermines the constitution of this country.”

“Anarchists are using the volatile issue of race to accomplish destruction and spread hatred. Is this what our political leadership desires? Is this leadership?” he wrote.

The dialogue appears to highlight a continued rift between the Sheriff’s Office and county commissioners, which declined to give Sheriff Mike Andrews a raise earlier this year due to a number of concerns about the jail and a former deputy charged with sexual misconduct with a minor.

Echols has asked County Manager Wendell Davis to consult with the commissioners and give him a financial value for the monument. The value could determine whether to press felony charges.

A just resolution includes an analysis of property damage and “balancing accountability for the actual destruction of property in violation of the law with the climate in which these actions were undertaken,” Echols said.

Hill wrote in a Facebook post that the charges should be limited to misdemeanors.

“Unfortunately the N.C. General Assembly passed a law in 2015 that took away Durham’s county commissioners’ ability to make any decision about the future of these monuments, and in that political climate without local recourse the protesters may have likened their actions of toppling a statue to the hurling of tea into Boston Harbor,” Hill wrote.

In an interview, Carter said felony charges are too extreme.

Virginia Bridges: 919-829-8924, @virginiabridges

Maj. Paul Martin’s statement:

Some of the political leadership in Durham is in the process of establishing a dangerous precedent. Should law enforcement arrest a white nationalist carrying a rifle at a demonstration and not arrest a member of the IWW?

Should law enforcement determine the severity of charges for persons who destroy or deface monuments based upon the political leanings of county commissioners? Is it alright (sic) for the left to destroy or deface a monument but not the right? Are statements concerning the severity of criminal charges by county commissioners an effort to obstruct justice since they control the budget for the Sheriff as well as raises for the Sheriff and all his personnel?

Is it okay for IWW members to destroy or deface a book at the library whose philosophy they despise but not okay for white nationalists to do the same?

Political leanings must not constitute the elements of a crime. Murder is murder and vandalism is vandalism.

Are the county commissioners stating that it is okay to burn a building in Durham if segregationist practices occurred in that building 50 years ago? Perhaps burning one of these buildings should only be a misdemeanor. The climate into which we are being guided by some of our political leadership encourages anarchistic and destructive actions as long as the political leadership agrees with the underlying philosophy of those engaged in such activities.

This is a recipe for absolute anarchy that totally undermines the constitution of this country. Anarchists are using the volatile issue of race to accomplish destruction and spread hatred. Is this what our political leadership desires? Is this leadership?

Meanwhile citizens are being shot at an alarming rate, citizens are the victims of armed robberies at an unprecedented rate, citizens are victims of aggravated assaults at an alarming rate, gunfire is so rampant in some neighborhoods to the point that a gas line was ruptured in one neighborhood and people had to be evacuated. Where is the concern for victims of gunshot wounds? How are they supposed to provide for their families? What are we doing for children who are traumatized by violence and death, sometimes of their own family members?

When leaders turn their heads away from the danger of anarchistic behavior ,the poor and the vulnerable suffer disproportionately. Yet these are the very victims the anarchists say they are helping.