Protesters accused of toppling a Confederate statue in downtown Durham in August may avoid felony charges, an attorney said Tuesday.
Defense attorney Scott Holmes said Durham County District Attorney Roger Echols indicated “in the last day or so” that the state will not to move forward with felony charges against the remaining nine people accused in the Aug. 14 incident, which came a few days after a march by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which one counterprotester was killed.
Echols’ response to Holmes’ comments wasn’t as clear.
Holmes may be “responding or speaking about what he expects to be the case based on conversations” with the DA’s office, Echols said.
“Unfortunately or fortunately I cannot talk about what our conversations have been or even what our negotiations have been,” Echols said. “That would even include confirming whatever (Holmes) said or denying it’s accuracy. Of course I don’t know what has been said or not said in court by those prosecutors representing the state.”
Holmes first made the statement about the felony charges in a Tuesday morning court appearance for seven of the nine charged with the toppling. Their cases were continued to Dec. 5. Holmes said at that date a plea deal could be announced or they could go to trial on the remaining misdemeanor charges.
Twelve people were initially charged with felonies participating in a riot with property damage in excess of $1,500 and inciting others to riot where there is property damage in excess of $1,500. They also faced misdemeanors injury to personal property in excess of $200, injury to real property and defacing or injuring a public monument.
Echols recently dropped charges against three of the people charged in the toppling, saying there was no evidence to support their involvement.
Loan Tran, who was charged in the case, said the District Attorney’s Office faced pressure from the community and others across the country.
“We do consider it a win for our movement and it really demonstrates when people organize, and when we fight back we are able to win,” Tran said.
Still, she said, they are still facing a fight against the misdemeanor charges as well as others who face charges for wearing a mask or bringing a gun to the Aug. 18 gathering to counterprotest a rumored white supremacist rally that never materialized.
A group supporting the activists, Defend Durham, held a press conference following the court hearing in which a number of organizations, They called for the formation of an independent commission of inquiry to investigate direct and circumstantial evidence on a number of charges of crimes against the people perpetrated by local, state, and federal officials.
Defend Durham described the commission as an independent body that includes arrestees, community lawyers, organizers and community members.
“The Commission of Inquiry seeks to shed light on crimes against the people, including repression and intimidation of organizers and other vulnerable communities impacted by police brutality, immigration raids and deportations, low-wage work, LGBTQ discrimination, and more – which are the true crimes being committed by the (N.C.) General Assembly, the Trump administration, local sheriff’s department, and others in power,” the release states.
In coming months, the commission will gather evidence and hear testimony.
“When evidence sufficient to sustain convictions is obtained, the findings will be presented at an Independent People’s Tribunal, where the accused will be given full opportunity to present their own defense,”the release states.