DECATUR, Ga. - The Georgia chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans is suing officials in the City of Decatur and DeKalb County to overturn a judge’s order to remove the Confederate statue from the town’s square last summer.
The lawsuit alleges that that Decatur’s city attorney colluded with county officials in a decision that was made in haste and in violation of Georgia state law.
"We believe that the monument is an important and significant memorial to the Confederate veterans," said Martin O’Toole, a spokesperson for the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
O’Toole claimed that when DeKalb County Judge Clarence Seeliger declared the monument a public nuisance after it had been covered with graffiti in the midst of the protests over the death of George Floyd, he did so illegally.
"Public nuisance, as defined in Georgia law, it has to be offensive to everybody. Not just some people, not even a majority of people," O’Toole said. "Everybody must be offended."
Bryan Downs, the city attorney who is named in the lawsuit, fired back in a statement to FOX 5 blasting the litigation.
"This lawsuit is a tardy, vexatious attack on properly entered rulings by a Georgia court of law," Downs said. "During the three and a half months between the time of Judge Seeliger’s initial order in June 2020 and the date final judgment was entered in late September 2020, these petitioners had every opportunity to ask the DeKalb Superior Court to allow them to intervene in the case. But they did nothing."
Activists who helped champion the monument’s removal contend that there was more than enough support in the community to get rid of it.
"There was enough outrage and enough threat to people safety that the judge made the decision that was in the best interest of the overall community," said Fonta High, co-chair of the Beacon Hill Black Alliance For Human Rights.
High said she was not surprised to hear of the efforts to bring the monument back to the square. It is currently being stored at an undisclosed location.
"Honestly, it’s what I anticipated, given the current environment with what’s happening in the State of Georgia, what’s happening in education with the fight with critical race theory," she said. "It’s not at all surprising."
The city attorney went on to claim that the lawsuit was meritless.
"The Petition they have now filed is factually incorrect, legally flawed, and procedurally deficient," Downs said.
However, O’Toole said if they are victorious, it would set a precedent for other legal battles over the removal of Confederate monuments across the state.
"We think that this monument fight here and Decatur and DeKalb is significant because if we can win here, then we will send a message across the entire State of Georgia," he said.
Meanwhile, there is an ongoing discussion about another monument in the park which commemorates the Creek War of 1836.
That monument, which depicts a cannon, was erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1836. Activists like High said it glorifies the removal of indigenous peoples.
O’Toole vows to do everything in his power for that one to remain in Decatur square as well.
The officials named in the current lawsuit have 30 days to formally respond before the case can move forward.
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