A black man charged with a gun offense claims he can't get a fair trial in East Feliciana Parish because a statue of a Confederate soldier that has stood outside the parish’s antebellum courthouse in Clinton since 1909 symbolizes "oppression and racial intolerance of the African American community."
Ronnie Anderson wants 20th Judicial District Judge Kathryn "Betsy" Jones to move his trial outside the parish.
Anderson's attorney, Niles Haymer, filed the change of venue motion Monday and said Tuesday he has been unable to find any case where such a motion was filed for that particular reason.
However, Haymer said he and his client feel strongly that Confederate monuments in the entry way of a courthouse "symbolize oppression and nostalgia over the institution of slavery."
As the issue of Confederate monuments was being discussed across the South, the East Feliciana Parish Police Jury decided in 2016 not to move the statue to a Confederate cemetery in Clinton. The panel determined it didn't have the money or a reason to relocate the statue.
Let's take a look back at the news residents of East and West Feliciana parishes were talking about in 2016.
Twentieth Judicial District Attorney Sam D'Aquilla said the presence of a statue outside the 1839 courthouse is no reason to change the location of Anderson's trial.
“The issue about the statue removal has arisen over the last few years and our local governing authority … has determined it is not inflammatory but actually a part of history and voted against removing the statue,” he said.
"We have a great community and all elected officials constantly strive to suppress racial inequality,” the district attorney added. “Filing a motion to change venue for this reason is insulting.”
Anderson, of Plaquemine, is charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
His motion says the Confederate soldier statue “is not just memorializing the Confederacy but revering the Confederacy and what it stood for, right in front of the very place that African Americans go to seek fairness and impartiality in the court system.”
"The Courthouse is not a place for Confederate artifacts and political messages of any kind, and in the year 2018, a Confederate Monument in the entry ways of the Courthouse is a divisive political statement," Haymer argues in the motion.
"No court system would expect a Jewish person in Germany or America in 2018 to enter a Courthouse with Nazi monuments and symbols engrained in its architecture," the motion adds. "Nevertheless, the same absurdity is taking place every day in front of the East Feliciana Parish Courthouse every time African Americans are forced to walk into a Courthouse with a towering display of Confederate reverence."
A statue stands as monument to the Confederate soldiers of east Feliciana Parish in this 2010 photo. The East Feliciana Courthouse was being r…
Haymer notes in the motion that there were no African-American attorneys, judges, jurors or registered voters in East Feliciana Parish when the monument was erected in 1909.
“The monument was erected at a time when Jim Crow became the `legal’ way of life in East Feliciana Parish and all over the South and it symbolized a society that embraced racial intolerance,” he argues.
The most common reason cited in many change of venue motions is extensive pretrial publicity.