Man seeks change of venue due to Confederate monument outside courthouse
CLINTON, LA (WAFB) - A black man awaiting trial in East Feliciana Parish is seeking a change of venue because of a Confederate monument located near the entrance to the courthouse. He says the presence of the monument would "prevent him from having a fair and impartial jury trial."
Ronnie Anderson is charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. He has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial. In the lawsuit, Anderson alleges the monument could prevent him, an African American, from getting a fair trial.
"The Confederate monument features a Confederate soldier on a pedestal, which was erected in 1909 and stands at least 30 feet in height," the lawsuit says.
"Defendant believes that this Confederate monument displayed prominently in front of the East Feliciana Parish Courthouse sends a message to African Americans of intimidation and oppression, communicating that justice may not be fair and impartial at a courthouse that was nostalgic and sentimental over the institution of slavery that the Confederacy fought for in the American Civil War," the lawsuit goes on to say.
Anderson's attorney, Niles Haymer, says his client is very offended by the statue.
"It's symbolism of oppression and hate," said Haymer. "We feel as though a political statement such as a Confederate monument in front of the entryway of the courthouse should not be in the year 2018."
Haymer's client says the monument makes him uncomfortable and believes because of what it stands for, he will have a hard time having a fair shake in court. "You go to court to seek justice. You're seeking to be treated fairly no matter what your socioeconomic background is, no matter what your racial background is," said Haymer. "This just seems like hypocrisy to me."
East Feliciana District Attorney for the 20th Judicial District Court, Sam D'Aquilla, calls the move shocking. "If he doesn't like it, then he can just stay out of East Feliciana Parish and don't commit a crime up here and he won't have to go to the courthouse," said D'Aquilla. "I was just quite surprised. I never saw a motion with that content in it."
D'Aquilla says the issue of moving the monument has already been decided more than once and to suggest racial inequality within the parish's legal system is a slap in the face. "It's just insulting to me as an elected local official," said D'Aquilla. "We strive to do our best to do what we can for racial equality."
Haymer though, is sticking to his guns and says a courthouse is no place for a political symbol, especially one he believes does not value everyone.
"The monument itself is what's divisive to me, so if I have to file a motion so my client can have a fair trial in a venue outside of East Feliciana Parish, then I'll do it every time as long as that monument is standing there," said Haymer.
While it's ultimately up to the court to decide, Haymer says he hopes this will at least spark a constructive conversation about the Confederate statue.
"I am hoping for that," he added. "It is time."
The next hearing in the trial is set for Tuesday, August 7.
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