Charges sought against those who toppled Confederate statue in N.C.

DURHAM, N.C. -- Investigators are working to identify and charge protesters who toppled a nearly century-old Confederate statue in front of a North Carolina government building, the sheriff said Tuesday.

Durham County Sheriff Mike Andrews issued a statement that investigators are using video footage to identify those responsible for toppling the statue during a rally Monday night.

Law enforcement officers took video throughout the protest but didn't intervene as protesters brought out a ladder, climbed up to attach a rope and then pulled the bronze Confederate soldier from its pedestal. After it fell, some began kicking the statue, while others took photos standing or sitting on it.

The protest was in response to violence and a death at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend. Twenty-year-old James Alex Fields Jr. is accused of aiming is car at a crowd demonstrating against a white supremacist rally there on Saturday, injuring 19 and killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.

Andrews said his staff met with community leaders before the Durham demonstration, and he was aware of the potential for vandalism - but also the risk of injuries if deputies moved in.

"Collectively, we decided that restraint and public safety would be our priority," he said, noting that his office was recently challenged in court over arrests of demonstrators at public meetings. "As the Sheriff, I am not blind to the offensive conduct of some demonstrators nor will I ignore their criminal conduct."

Andrews said in a statement he was grateful the events in Durham didn't result in serious injury or loss of life, but  said "the planned demonstration should serve as a sobering example of the price we all pay when civil disobedience is no longer civil."

The Confederate Soldiers Monument, dedicated in 1924, stood in front of an old courthouse building that serves as local government offices. County officials didn't immediately return messages asking whether they planned to put the statue back up.

"My deputies showed great restraint and respect for the constitutional rights of the group expressing their anger and disgust for recent events in our country.  Racism and incivility have no place in our country or Durham," Andrews' statement said. "I am asking both city and county leaders to establish guidelines and safe spaces for protesters to prevent demonstrations from becoming disruptive and as we witnessed in Charlottesville, dangerous." 

The leader of the local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Doug Nash, said Tuesday he's disappointed by the toppling of the statue as well as other recent violence.

"The only thing I'd like to say is that I'm very saddened by all this mess that's going on," Nash said by phone.

Although the violence in Virginia has prompted fresh talk by government officials about bringing down symbols of the Confederacy around the South, North Carolina has a law protecting them. The 2015 law prevents removing such monuments on public property without the approval of the state's legislature.

In response to the statue in Durham being torn down, Democratic North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper tweeted: "The racism and deadly violence in Charlottesville is unacceptable but there is a better way to remove these monuments."

On Monday night, Isaiah Wallace said he watched as others brought the Durham statue down.

"I was a little bit shocked people could come here and come together like that," said Wallace, who is black.

Wallace hopes other Confederate symbols elsewhere will follow.

"I feel like this is going to send shockwaves through the country and hopefully they can bring down other racist symbols," he said.