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.

An East Feliciana Parish judge on Tuesday dismissed the case against a black defendant who had unsuccessfully challenged the location of his trial — arguing all the way to the state Supreme Court — because a Confederate statue stands outside the rural courthouse.

Ronnie Anderson was charged with possession of a stolen firearm after a 2017 traffic stop when officers found the gun inside his vehicle. But attorney Niles Haymer said the misdemeanor case against his client was dismissed after going to trial Tuesday because the judge found insufficient evidence to support a conviction.

"The monument still stands, but our fight is over," Haymer said Tuesday. "We felt this case was unfair from the outset."

Anderson had requested that his case be decided in another parish, arguing the statue of a Confederate soldier outside the Clinton courthouse symbolizes "oppression and racial intolerance" in addition to "nostalgia over the institution of slavery."

The statue was installed in 1909. Parish officials considered moving it in 2016 during widespread discussion about the presence and impacts of Confederate monuments across the South, but ultimately they decided there was no need. 

State District Judge Kathryn "Betsy" Jones called the statue "just a piece of granite" when she denied Anderson's request for a new venue. 

East Feliciana Parish District Attorney Sam D'Aquilla has said he believes justice in the parish is colorblind, and the presence of a statue doesn't change that. He declined to comment further on the outcome of the trial Tuesday.

Haymer said he hopes the case will be remembered for raising awareness about an issue that has received heightened attention in recent years.

"I think people in the state of Louisiana — white and black — have to come to terms with how we remember the Civil War and whether it's appropriate to revere the Confederacy at courthouses," he said. "There's something deeply wrong with that."

Haymer also likened mass incarceration to "modern day slavery" and pointed to entrenched racist attitudes and practices that have historically defined the treatment of African Americans within the criminal justice system and allowed them to be incarcerated at a disproportionate rate.

"I want people to put themselves in the shoes of Ronnie Anderson, an African American man, and the first thing he sees at this courthouse is a monument to the Confederacy," Haymer said, adding that he believes such monuments will eventually be removed.

"I know that day is coming," he said. "And I hope I'm alive when it gets here."

Email Lea Skene at lskene@theadvocate.com.