Police Jury eyes removal of statue _lowres

A statue stands as monument to the Confederate soldiers of east Feliciana Parish in this 2010 photo. The East Feliciana Courthouse was being repaired at the time. On Monday, May 2, 2016, the Police Jury sent to committee a request to consider moving the statue to the Clinton Confederate cemetery.

A black defendant pushing for the removal of a Confederate monument from the grounds of the East Feliciana Parish courthouse in Clinton now wants 20th Judicial District Attorney Sam D’Aquilla and his office removed from handling the criminal case.

Claiming D’Aquilla has a “personal vendetta” against them, Ronnie Anderson and his attorney, Niles Haymer, filed a motion Tuesday to recuse, or disqualify, D’Aquilla and his office from prosecuting Anderson on a charge of firearm possession by a convicted felon.

The motion claims D’Aquilla has taken things personally since Anderson, of Plaquemine, asked two weeks ago that his trial be moved out of East Feliciana due to the presence of a statue of a Confederate soldier in front of the parish courthouse in Clinton.

After the change of venue motion was filed, Haymer says in his motion for recusal, D’Aquilla called the request insulting and stated that Anderson should stay out of East Feliciana and stop committing crimes there if he doesn’t like the monument and doesn’t want to go to the courthouse.

“Ronnie Anderson contends that the statements on record from the District Attorney stating that Defendant’s motion is an `insult’ and that Defendant `should stay out of East Feliciana Parish’ is enough to show that D’Aquilla has turned a legal motion filed by the Defendant into a personal vendetta,” Haymer states in the recusal motion.

D’Aquilla accused Anderson and Haymer of “grandstanding” and denied any personal vendetta. He said Haymer is upset because the District Attorney’s Office recently filed a misdemeanor sexual battery charge against another of Haymer's clients.

D’Aquilla said his office “ensures the public is safe and criminals are removed from the streets,” and the East Feliciana Parish Police Jury determines whether a statue is removed.

“Our office is not going to be intimidated or swayed by criminals and/or criminal defense attorneys grandstanding to attract media attention,” the district attorney said Tuesday.

A day earlier, Haymer sent a letter asking the town of Clinton to remove the Confederate monument from the courthouse grounds.

“It is my stance that the monument is offensive speech endorsed by your town and the 20th Judicial District Court,” he states in the letter to Clinton Mayor Lori Ann Bell.

Anderson claims he cannot get a fair trial in East Feliciana when there is a symbol of "oppression and racial intolerance of the African American community" towering in front of the courthouse.

His change of venue request is pending before 20th Judicial District Judge Kathryn "Betsy" Jones.

Haymer urged Bell in his letter to recommend to the Police Jury that the monument be removed from the courthouse grounds.

The statue has stood outside the 1839 antebellum courthouse since 1909. The Police Jury determined in 2016 that it didn't have the money or a reason to relocate the monument.

Haymer said he wants the town to "send a message that offensive symbols do not belong at a court of law" by voting for its removal.

"The cost of removal should not outweigh its offensiveness to African Americans who have no choice but to walk through those courtroom doors under a towering display of reverence to the Confederacy," he argues in the letter.

The mayor could not be reached for comment.

D’Aquilla has said the presence of the Confederate statue is no reason to change the location of Anderson’s trial.

Follow Joe Gyan Jr. on Twitter, @JoeGyanJr.