The eight activists who still face charges in last summer’s toppling of the Confederate monument in downtown Durham no longer face felony charges.
“We won’t try them on the felonies, only the misdemeanors,” Durham County District Attorney Roger Echols said.
Echols’ comments immediately followed a Thursday morning court hearing in which all eight activists appeared before District Court Judge Frederick S. Battaglia Jr.
All eight activists are represented by attorney Scott Holmes.
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Holmes, an N.C. Central University law professor and supervising attorney of the school’s Civil Litigation Clinic, did not directly comment on Thursday’s hearing or future actions in the case.
“I prefer to let those I represent speak for themselves,” Holmes said.
The hearing saw the activists’ cases continued to a later date. Battaglia set a trial date for Feb. 19.
Twelve people were initially charged with felonies accusing them of participating in a riot with property damage over $1,500 and inciting others to riot with property damage over $1,500. They also faced misdemeanors accusing them of injury to personal property over $200, injury to real property, and defacing or injuring a public monument.
Although the defendants no longer face felonies, they each now face an additional misdemeanor charge of conspiracy to deface real property.
Holmes had said in November that the felonies were being dropped, but Echols said at the time that he could not confirm or comment on that.
The prosecution of the activists has generated different opinions.
After a November hearing, representatives from groups including the Durham Human Relations Commission, the People’s Alliance and the Jewish Voice for Peace Triangle NC, spoke out in favor of the activists’ Aug. 14 actions and called for the charges to be dropped.
The North Carolina Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans responded with a statement expressing “outrage and disgust” at any failure to “pursue full justice in this matter against the self-styled communists and activists that took the law into their own hands.”
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Charges were dropped against three – Aaron Caldwell, Taylor Cook and Myles Spigner – of the of the 12 protesters originally charged for toppling the Confederate monument in the early weeks of last November.
“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 at the time.
Later, another protester agreed to deferred prosecution.
Loan Tran accepted the deferment of prosecution on three misdemeanor charges – injury to real property, damage to personal property and defacing a public monument – for helping to topple the statue. Tran also agreed to pay $1,250 in restitution and perform 100 hours of community service. Tran will also pay $180 in court costs.
Thursday morning, spectators nearly overloaded courtroom 4D. Most were supporters of the eight protesters and occupied much of the room’s seating.
Defendants who’d gone to court to stand before Battaglia themselves – for issues unrelated to the summertime toppling – were forced to wait their turns before the judge on their feet near the door. Several leaned on the back wall.
After the hearing, activist supporters filed out of the courtroom, joined others and formed a semicircle composed of around 30 individuals for what amounted to an impromptu press conference on the courthouse steps. Many of the activists worn black baseball caps with the white lettering, “Do It Like Durham.”
Tran told a small crowd, through a microphone, that many of the 13 original defendants have “continued” to receive threats. “Several have had car windows smashed on multiple occasions,” Tran said.
It was announced that an event titled “First People’s Tribunal!” would take place Jan. 13 between 2-5 p.m. at the City Well Church where its participates will “testify” against “racist police, deportations, jail conditions” and more.