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Woman charged with felonies in toppling of Confederate statue in North Carolina, sheriff says

Protesters tear down a statue called the Confederate Soldiers Monument in Durham, N.C. (Video: Reuters)

Durham County, N.C., officials said Tuesday they arrested a woman in connection with the vandalism and toppling of a Confederate statue in North Carolina.

A 22-year-old woman was charged with participation in a riot with property damaging exceeding $1,500 and inciting others to riot, which are felonies, Durham County Sheriff Mike Andrews said. She was also charged with two misdemeanor counts of damage to property and disorderly conduct by injury to a statue, CNN reported.

Andrews also said his office expects to make at least one additional arrest, and search warrants are ongoing, the report said.

“I am not blind to the offensive conduct of some demonstrators nor will I ignore their criminal conduct,” Andrews said in a written statement issued just after midnight Tuesday. “With the help of video captured at the scene, my investigators are working to identify those responsible for the removal and vandalism of the statue.”

Hours before, a crowd toppled a bronze Confederate soldier statue that stood in front of a county administrative building in downtown Durham as several dozen “anti-fascist” and community groups rallied in response to a violent white supremacist gathering in Charlottesville Saturday. At that gathering, James Alex Fields Jr., 20, allegedly drove a car into a crowd of protesters who had shown up to oppose a white supremacist gathering. Heather Heyer, 32, was killed and 19 others were injured. Fields has been charged with second-degree murder, hit and run, and three counts of malicious wounding. A former teacher described Fields as a Nazi sympathizer.

Images from Durham Monday show that during what organizers there billed as an “emergency protest,” or a response to events in Charlottesville, an individual climbed a silver ladder and affixed a yellow strap to the head and neck of a bronze Confederate soldier figure. The strap was then pulled, causing the statue to somersault and hit the ground. A mangled bronze mass remained. People in the crowd cheered as some kicked the statue, spat on it and yelled.

The statue of a uniformed and armed Confederate soldier stood atop an engraved pedestal that read, “In memory of ‘the boys who wore the gray.’ ” It was erected in 1924 and stood 15 feet tall, according to a memorial database. On one side of the granite pedestal is an image of a Confederate flag.

At the time the statue was put in place, black residents could not vote, nor safely express a public opinion about placing a Confederate memorial on public land, nor use the same public facilities as whites and Asian immigrants, and could not legally become citizens of the United States. Durham County is now home to a population that is nearly 57 percent black, Latino and Asian. The city of Durham is more diverse than the county, and its politics are generally left- leaning. Most public offices are held by Democrats.

Durham County Commissioners Chairwoman Wendy Jacobs told the News & Observer that she had already directed county staff to begin researching the statue, how it came to be placed on public property, and state laws governing monuments before the Monday night incident. Calls and emails to the county’s public information office were not returned Tuesday morning.

In 2015, the North Carolina General Assembly barred local governments from removing any “object of remembrance” situated on public property. However, Monday night’s events drew a measured response from the state’s chief executive.

“The racism and deadly violence in Charlottesville is unacceptable but there is a better way to remove these monuments,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said via Twitter on Monday evening.

Groups at the rally where the statue was pulled down included members of the Triangle People’s Assembly, Workers World Party, Industrial Workers of the World, Democratic Socialists of America and the anti-fascist movement, the Herald-Sun reported.