Eight of the activists who participated in the toppling of a Confederate statue in front of the old courthouse in downtown Durham, N.C., will no longer face felony charges, the county district attorney said Thursday.
The activists appeared before District Judge Frederick S. Battaglia at a hearing Thursday morning, the Herald-Sun reports. Their cases were continued for a later date, and a trial date has been set for Feb. 19.
Immediately after the hearing, Durham County District Attorney Roger Echols said, “We won’t try them on the felonies, only the misdemeanors.”
The eight activists are represented by North Carolina Central University law professor Scott Holmes, who is also the supervising attorney of the school’s Civil Litigation Clinic.
Holmes, who had said in November that the felony charges would be dropped, did not have a comment on Thursday’s hearing.
“I prefer to let those I represent speak for themselves,” he said.
From the Herald-Sun:
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.
Now that the felony charges have been dropped, each of the activists now faces a new misdemeanor charge of conspiracy to deface real property.
Of the 12 original activists charged in connection with the toppling of the statue, charges against three were dropped in November because of a lack of evidence that they participated in the act at all.
A fourth activist took a deferred prosecution agreement on three misdemeanor charges—injury to real property, damage to personal property and defacing a public monument—and in exchange will pay $1,250 in restitution and $180 in court costs and perform 100 hours of community service.
The felony charges would have had to be dropped against the activists because North Carolina law classifies a riot (pdf) as “a public disturbance involving an assemblage of three or more persons which by disorderly and violent conduct, or the imminent threat of disorderly and violent conduct, results in injury or damage to persons or property or creates a clear and present danger of injury or damage to persons or property.”
You have to be able to prove that all of those things are true in order to make a felony riot charge stick.
Sheriff’s investigators used video of the toppling to identify those involved and make arrests. Those videos showed that the assembly was not violent, and therefore refute the idea that there was a riot.
The sheriff likely knew that when he made the charges in the first place, but, you know, grandstanding and what not. He’s currently up for re-election and already has a primary opponent, so there’s that.
Read more at the Herald-Sun.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story indicated that the district attorney pressed the charges. The charges were pressed by the sheriff.