Police Jury eyes removal of statue _lowres (copy)

That statue that stands as monument to the Confederate soldiers of East Feliciana Parish in this 2010 photo. 

A black man has asked a state appellate court to reconsider his request for a new trial location because of a Confederate statue outside the East Feliciana courthouse, appealing a November decision from a district court judge that keeps criminal proceedings in Clinton.

Ronnie Anderson, a 39-year-old Plaquemine man charged with a felony from a 2017 traffic stop in East Feliciana Parish, has filed with the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal, asking for a new venue for his trial. He also is requesting the appeals court dismiss the entire case against him, alleging it is based on faulty evidence and shoddy police work.

"To the Defendant, the monument served as intimidation and a reminder of the way African Americans were treated during slavery and the Jim Crow Era of legal racial discrimination,” Niles Haymer, Anderson’s attorney, wrote in the appeal.

Haymer alleges the statue is “offensive, intimidating and racially insensitive.”

The appeal also notes the extensive media attention the case has received, which Haymer believes could bias potential jurors, especially in the relatively small and rural parish. He notes the Clinton mayor, the parish president and the district attorney have all commented on the case in different media accounts, sometimes multiple times, which he thinks will make it impossible to find an impartial jury.

"The trial court erred in not granting defendant's motion for a change of venue for the alternate reasons of the publicity the defendant’s controversial stance against the confederate monument has caused,” the filing says.

Anderson was stopped by a Wilson Police officer in November 2017 for speeding when the officer saw a stolen gun in the front passenger seat. According to the arrest report written by the officer, a passenger in the vehicle identified the gun as Anderson’s.

Anderson was initially charged with illegal possession of a stolen firearm, illegal possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and speeding — charges than can carry up to 50 years in prison. But the statements from the traffic stop were suppressed by a state judge in a November hearing because she determined the officer did not properly read Anderson his rights. Now, Anderson faces only a charge of illegal possession of a stolen firearm.

“His life was on the line,” Haymer said in an interview, referencing his client’s initial charges. “He wants to make sure he’s tried in a courthouse that’s not revering the Confederacy. … And that’s the message that’s being sent to African Americans when they enter the Clinton courthouse.”

Haymer wanted to be clear that his motion does not ask that the monument be removed from the courthouse grounds — as has been the decision made by jurisdictions across the nation. In 2016, the East Feliciana police jury considered relocating the Confederate soldier statue after a resident brought a proposal to the parish governing board, but ultimately they decided not to act. 

Haymer also requested the appellate court reconsider his motion to dismiss the entire case, which was denied in November, and a motion to suppress evidence, which was partially granted by the district court judge in November. District Judge Kathryn "Betsy" Jones dismissed using statements made at the traffic stop as evidence, but allowed the gun to remain part of the case.

Jones denied the change in venue request, explaining how she was worried about what precedent it could send for whenever someone was offended by someone. She also noted that the statue, which she called "just a piece of granite," is outside of the courtroom, and the only symbol in the courtroom is an American flag.

But Haymer cited a U.S. Fourth Circuit ruling that found “it is not an irrational inference that one who displayed the Confederate flag may harbor racial bias against African Americans” and asked the same logic be applied to the 30-foot Confederate statue outside the Clinton courthouse.

East Feliciana District Attorney Sam D'Aquilla said this week that his position on the matter has not changed from prior proceedings where he countered Haymer’s allegations and noted his office will be filing a response to the new appeal.

In earlier hearings, D'Aquilla disputed claims that the presence of a Confederate statue outside the courthouse would prevent Anderson from being treated fairly under the law. After one of the hearings in the case, he called justice in his parish "colorblind."

D'Aquilla said he found Judge Jones' decision in November just and adequate.

The First Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments on the case within the next two months, and a decision from could be made on as early as June 1 — the court's next decision date — but that will be up to the court’s discretion.

Follow Grace Toohey on Twitter, @grace_2e.