All charges dropped in case of toppled Confederate monument

February 20, 2018
FILE - In a Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017 file photo, from left, Ngoc Loan Tran, 24, Peter Gull Gilbert, 36, and Dante Strobino, 35, leave a courtroom in the Durham County Courthouse after their first court appearance after being arrested for the toppling of the Durham County confederate statue during a protest, in Durham, NC. A North Carolina judge trying protesters accused of toppling a Confederate statue on Monday, Feb. 19, 2018, dismissed the criminal case against Strobino. (Casey Toth/The Herald-Sun via AP, File)

DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — A North Carolina prosecutor gave up Tuesday trying to prosecute people charged with yanking a Confederate monument off its base after last summer’s white supremacist protests in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Durham District Attorney Roger Echols’s decision came a day after a judge dismissed criminal charges against two defendants and found a third not guilty. Trials for five others on misdemeanor charges were to be held later, but were likely to be plagued by problems identifying protesters on video.

“For my office to continue to take these cases to trial based on the same evidence, would be a misuse of state resources,” Echols said, according to local news outlets. “For that reason, I will dismiss the remaining charges against the remaining defendants.”

The toppling of the statue in front of a Durham County government building helped thrust North Carolina into a national debate on Confederate monuments in the aftermath of the Charlottesville protests that left one counterdemonstrator dead. The Virginia demonstrations were triggered by a dispute over another Confederate monument there.

North Carolina is among a handful of Southern states with the most Confederate monuments. It also has a law preventing local officials from removing the statues.

Twelve people were initially charged with felony rioting and misdemeanors including defacing a public building or monument after the Aug. 14 demonstration. Echols later decided to not to pursue the felony charges and then dropped charges against three defendants for insufficient evidence.

Echols added that charges also would be dropped against another defendant who had previously agreed to a plea deal. He defended his earlier decisions to take the cases to trial.

“Acts of vandalism, regardless of noble intent, are still violations of law,” he said.

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