Two of four defendants found guilty in Silent Sam trial
A judge found two defendants guilty and dismissed the charges against two others Thursday in connection with last year’s toppling of the Silent Sam Confederate statue on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus.
One defendant faces new charges, however, after the Orange County Sheriff’s Office said he brought a knife into the courthouse before his hearing
Lauren Aucoin, Raul Arce Jimenez, Shawn Birchfield-Finn and Jonathan Fuller were charged with injury to real property, misdemeanor riot and defacing a public statue or monument, Assistant District Attorney Billy Massengale said.
District Court Judge Lunsford Long found Jimenez and Birchfield-Finn guilty of all three charges.
“There’s no place in a civilized society for citizens to take the law into their own hands. That’s not the way our culture works,” Long said. “There have to be consequences for those actions.”
Jimenez and Birchfield-Finn were sentenced only for the injury to public property charge, receiving 24 hours in jail. The judge suspended the rest of a possible 45-day sentence but also sentenced them to 18 months of supervised probation, a $500 fine and court costs, and 250 hours of community service.
Jimenez read from a prepared statement after the hearing. The judge’s decision is a partial victory, he said, because the charges were dropped against two defendants and many others.
“We intend to keep fighting these charges, just as we continue to fight white supremacy all across North Carolina,” he said. “We are disappointed — yes, we are — with the way the judicial system treated us today. It did not treat us fairly, and we will hold them accountable for that.”
Long dismissed the charges against Aucoin and Fuller after defense attorney Scott Holmes argued that the prosecution did not offer witnesses or evidence that proves they were there or that they were involved in pulling down the statue.
Birchfield-Finn was arrested on new charges Thursday after he passed through the metal detector in the courthouse lobby with a 3.5-inch Buck pocketknife.
A deputy took Birchfield-Finn to a corner of the lobby and searched him before putting him in handcuffs and taking him away to be charged with possession of a weapon on state property or courthouse grounds. He also was charged with an outstanding warrant out of Durham County for simple assault before returning to the courtroom, an Orange County Sheriff’s Office news release stated.
A fifth defendant on Thursday’s court calendar, Margarita Sitterson, has a different attorney, defense attorney Scott Holmes said. It was not clear when her case would be heard in court.
Sitterson, who was charged Aug. 20 with misdemeanor riot and misdemeanor defacing of a public monument, is the granddaughter of J. Carlyle Sitterson, the university’s chancellor from 1966 to 1972, CBS17 and Spectrum News have reported.
‘We are fighters’
Before the hearing began, a crowd gathered Thursday on the lawn of the Historic Orange County Courthouse to address the media.
Jimenez, who previously was found not guilty of toppling a Confederate statue in Durham in 2017, said the crowd was standing in solidarity with those “who have been beaten and brutalized by the police, who have constantly been persecuted because they believe that we deserve a South free of racism, free of white supremacy and free of the monuments to white supremacy.”
The statue and its base are gone now, he said, and it should remain that way. Others will fall, he said.
“We are fighters,” Jimenez said. “We fight for the liberation of all, and we will continue to fight until every single monument, from the White House to Chapel Hill to Winston-Salem to Durham, until every single monument and symbol of white supremacy is eradicated.”
The trial started with a lengthy discussion of whether former UNC Chancellor Carol Folt, Associate Vice Chancellor for Campus Safety and Risk Management Derek Kemp and UNC Police Chief Jeff McCracken should be subpoenaed to testify.
Holmes also argued UNC has not provided extensive documents dating back to August 2017 about the protests, the cost of security for protests and guarding Silent Sam, and other details. The administrators were not at the scene, he said, but they do have knowledge of what happened.
It’s unreasonable to request documents that are not relevant to the charges being heard in court, Long said. He agreed to allow Kemp — but not Folt or McCracken — to be on standby if needed to testify.
Three UNC Police officers took the stand Thursday morning, describing what they saw on the night the statue was toppled.
The protest started at Peace and Justice Plaza on Franklin Street with a few hundred people, UNC Police Officer Matt Dodson said. As the protesters carried large banners across the street to McCorkle Place, he testified that some removed their masks when asked and some didn’t.
He and Investigator Ray Oliver testified that a “melee” broke out on campus and an officer get punched while trying to make an arrest. A smoke bomb landed at his feet, Oliver said, and another officer kicked it away. Dodson said he tried to control the crowd and called for backup.
The crowd raised the banners around the statue and then marched up Franklin Street, Dodson said. UNC officers surrounded the statue, he said, and the crowd started throwing things when they returned. He saw eggs hit the ground. Oliver said he heard a plastic bottle fly past his head.
The officers were told to pull back, they said. As they stood behind the statue, they saw movement under the banners.
“I could see the crowd pulling on the rope,” Dodson said. “I could hear a loud metal on metal type sound. Then I saw the monument fall.”
Neither Dodson nor Oliver saw who was under the banners around the statue, they said. They both testified that officers then moved toward the statue to make sure no one was hurt.
When he arrived at work the next day, Oliver said he began to review news, YouTube and other videos of the event to identify possible suspects. He compared the people in the videos to DMV photos, he said. Holmes challenged Oliver’s attempt to tell the judge what he saw in the videos.
The judge was shown a brief segment of an WRAL video shot at the event instead. Another segment of the video was shown as the trial continued Thursday afternoon.
Thursday’s hearings came a day after a rally against racism and alleged police violence on the UNC campus — and an attempt to deliver student activists’ demands to interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz.
Guskiewicz has tasked a new Campus Safety Commission to study policing on campus and said UNC has hired an outside consultant to review several months of incidents.
In previous cases, 11 protesters have had their charges dismissed, and two were found not guilty. Four more will have their charges dismissed if they complete community service and pay fines.
In addition, these protesters were found guilty:
▪ Ian Broadhead: Resisting a public officer and concealing his face during a public rally. He received a prayer for judgment continued, which does not include a punishment.
▪ Barry Brown: Simple assault, but a judge did not punish him for punching a UNC student, saying “the university is the proximate cause of this conflict.”
▪ Maya Little was found guilty of disorderly conduct and given a prayer for judgment continued after she poured red ink and her own blood on the Silent Sam statue in April 2018.
▪ Joshua Mascharka was found guilty of resisting an officer, but not guilty of assault on a government official. A third charge for having weapons on educational property (two knives) was dismissed. Mascharka has appealed his guilty verdict and is scheduled for a May 13 hearing.
▪ Julia Pulawski: Resisting a public officer and assault on a campus police officer. Pulawski was sentenced to 24 hours in jail, six months of probation and fined $250. She has appealed her conviction and accused UNC Police Sgt. Svetlana Bostelman of lying under oath at her trial. Bostelman’s testimony played a role in Pulawski’s conviction.
▪ Brandon Webb received a prayer for judgment continued for a charge of disorderly conduct at a protest (setting off smoke bomb). A charge of resisting a public officer was dismissed.
▪ Gary Williamson: Resisting a public officer. He paid a $20 fine and court costs.