Durham County District Attorney Roger Echols said Thursday he has dropped charges against some of the dozen people charged with toppling a Confederate monument in downtown Durham in August.
Echols said he signed the dismissals against three of the 12 people charged in the Aug. 14 toppling.
“There was no actual visual evidence or any type of evidence that they would have participated in the physical toppling or pulling down of the property,” Echols said.
The charges against Aaron Caldwell, Taylor Cook and Myles Spigner were dropped, Echols confirmed.
Scott Holmes, a defense attorney representing all the people charged with the statue toppling, said that the three people whose charges were dismissed were “absolutely innocent.” Holmes doesn’t believe there was even probable cause for their arrest, he said.
Seven of the nine who are still charged with misdemeanors and felonies related to the toppling are expected to appear in Durham County District Court Tuesday. The charges include felony inciting a riot to cause property damage in excess of $1,500 and misdemeanor damage to real property.
So far court hearings have been delayed to a future date. Echols said he is unsure whether this appearance will be any different.
Holmes said he expects the case to be continued to December.
There has been a debate among some city and county elected officials about the statue’s value and whether those involved in the toppling should be charged with a felony.
Typically, felony cases go before a grand jury within 120 days of the accused’s first court appearance. If the grand jury issues a felony indictment, the case would move from District Court to Superior Court.
That leaves another 30 days or so for the cases to move forward after Tuesday’s court appearance.
The felony question could be resolved before then if there was some type of plea deal or if the District Attorney’s Office decided not to pursue felony charges.
Echols said he couldn’t comment at this time on how the case could move forward.
Defend Durham, a loose organization rallying around those who toppled the statue and related issues, issued a statement Thursday that said the dismissal was a small step forward in the fight against white supremacy.
“We must remember that we cannot trust the system to change that which it upholds. This was merely representative of a lack of evidence, not an acquiescence of power and certainly not an admission of guilt,” it said. “We must continue to fight until the remaining 12 walk free, until no Confederate statues remain, until all institutions of white supremacy have been abolished.”
While nine other face charges for toppling the statue, another person is charged with wearing a mask on Aug. 14 and two others face charges for having a weapon at a public assembly or rally at an Aug. 18 gathering in downtown Durham following rumors of a white supremacy rally.
Defend Durham and UE150 NC Public Service Workers Union are also asking people to call Echols’ office and state Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Guilford, on Tuesday. The organizations said callers should ask that all the charges be dropped and urge the repeal of a 2015 state law that prevents the removal of historical — including Confederate — monuments.
On Aug. 14, Echols said he would seek a “just resolution” in the case and requested that county manager consult with county commissioners to provide a “proper financial value for the monument.”
In October, the Durham County Board of Commissioners sent a letter to Echols outlying the statue’s value, but also stating it has “no moral value.”
Commissioners estimated the Confederate soldier statue on top of the pedestal to be worth $23,789 and the replacement cost to be $28,000.
The letter, which is signed by Commissioners Chairwoman Wendy Jacobs, states that the board has received more than 1,000 emails regarding the statue since it was toppled from its base in front of the county’s administrative building.
“Many people feel that the statue has been a harsh reminder of racial discrimination, oppression, pain and suffering. We understand some people in our community feel that the statue has historical, cultural or personal value to them and we also recognize that to many people in our community, the statue has little or even negative value,” the letter states. “Since the statue stood in a place of prominence on public property, its value should include consideration of the overall public good. Given the concern and controversy described above, the statue has no moral value for our community.”