Durham County District Judge Fred Battaglia.
A North Carolina judge who released three protesters accused of topping a Confederate statue last summer, has come under fire after he referred to the African-American prosecutor in the case as “third string” in a meeting with local Republicans last Friday.
According to The Herald Sun newspaper, Durham County District Judge Fred Battaglia framed his comments about the prosecutor, Assistant district Attorney Ameshia Cooper, around a metaphor that night, in the ACC Tournament basketball game between Duke and North Carolina.
“If the third string is tonight at 9 pm, what do you think is going to happen?” said Battaglia, who later added, “I grew up old school. If you try a case, you try it hard. But if you’re third string, you know what will happen.”
On Monday, Durham County District Attorney Roger Echols — who, like Cooper, is black — hit Battaglia, calling his comments “inappropriate, unnecessary, and incorrect.”
“In a time when women, especially women of color, are still marginalized,” Echols said in a statement to the Herald-Sun, “it is a pity that a member of the judiciary would refer to a woman with so little respect.”
In February, Battaglia dismissed three criminal offences against two people accused of yanking down the statue in front of a local government building in August 2017.
In dismissing the charges against the two suspects, Battaglia agreed with the defense lawyers that the researchers had failed to prove that the video of the statue being toppled showed the defendats. The judge refused to dismiss against a third party defendant, but later found him not guilty.
Durham County District Attorney Roger Echols and Assistant district Attorney Ameshia Cooper
(Durham County District Attorney’s Office/LinkedIn)
The next day, Echols refused to bring charges against the five remaining defendants, citing a lack of evidence in the wake of Battaglia’s statements.
Prosecutors had argued that the defendants broke the law by destroying county property. North Carolina also has a law preventing local officials from the removal of Southern monuments.
“This was not a spontaneous event,” Cooper said at the time, “but a well orchestrated plan of organized destruction.”
The overthrow of the Durham statue helped thrust North Carolina into a national debate about the Southern monuments in the aftermath of the white supremacy protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, which collapsed into violence, death of a counterdemonstrator last August. The Virginia demonstrations were sparked by a dispute over a other Southern monument.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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