Two Virginia men were found guilty of trespassing and vandalism as they tried to appeal their cases in Charlottesville Circuit Court and were given jail time for removing tarps from the statues of Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.
Thursday’s decisions are the latest in the ongoing saga over the Confederate statues in Market Street and Court Square parks in downtown Charlottesville. The statues were covered in tarps in August 2017 as a sign of mourning for Heather Heyer, who was murdered while protesting the Aug. 12, 2017, white supremacist Unite the Right rally.
Brian Roland Lambert, 50, of Charlottesville, was found guilty in March 2018 of misdemeanor charges of destruction of property and trespassing after a Nov. 5, 2017, incident. He was also convicted of destruction of property, trespassing and public intoxication in a Jan. 9, 2018, incident. For all of the charges, Lambert was initially ordered by a Charlottesville General District judge to serve eight months in jail, with credit for good behavior.
After appealing all the charges, save public intoxication, Lambert was again found guilty Thursday in Charlottesville Circuit Court on all counts and given a lesser sentence of 55 days.
In March 2018, Christopher James Wayne, 35, of Highland County, was found guilty of trespassing and destruction of property on Feb. 16, 2018, and trespassing on Feb. 23, 2018. Wayne was ordered by Charlottesville General District judge to serve five months in jail and pay $445 in restitution, the cost of the tarp he took down.
However, Judge Richard E. Moore on Thursday found Wayne guilty only for the two trespassing charges. Moore said he found the evidence that Wayne damaged the tarp to be circumstantial and did not believe it was enough to convict Wayne beyond a reasonable doubt.
Initially, Moore sentenced Wayne to 45 days in jail, but he added an additional 10 days for contempt of court after Wayne screamed “go f--- yourselves” at the courtroom while being escorted out.
Prior to his sentencing, Wayne and Moore verbally sparred as the judge took issue with the defendant’s aggressive attitude and damage to a community where he does not live.
Wayne argued that though the statues are located in Charlottesville, they “belonged to him” because he was a resident of Virginia.
“I feel like this is a farce of justice and you do what you need to do,” Wayne seethed at Moore before being sentenced.
Moore agreed he was going to do what he had to.
“I think you don’t know how to think or perceive the damage you’ve caused to this community,” he said to Wayne.
During the argument portion of the trials, the defendants’ attorney, Joshua Wheeler, argued that both men had been acting in accordance with a Virginia statute that prevented the removal or encroachment of war memorials.
“They perhaps exceeded what was proper by damaging the tarps and the barricades around them, but they did not violate the statute,” Wheeler said.
Nina-Alice Antony, Charlottesville senior assistant commonwealth’s attorney, argued that though the statute allows for citizens to challenge a locality’s removal of a war monument, it does not intend to allow this through illegal means.
“It does not stand to reason that proper measures and proper means is intended to allow someone to engage in whatever criminal activity they choose,” Antony said. “It would not be difficult to extend that thinking to harming someone who tried to, on legal behalf of the city, put the tarps back on.”
For example, Antony said a “proper measure” and “proper mean” was the current ongoing lawsuit from the Monument Fund against Charlottesville and several city councilors who made votes in 2016 and 2017 to remove the two Confederate statues.
Moore, who is hearing that case, ruled prior to Lambert and Wayne’s Charlottesville General District Court hearings that the shrouds constituted encroachment and ordered them removed. However, in a subsequent hearing, Moore has not allowed the Monument Fund to add the cost of destroyed tarps to the damages the plaintiffs seek because they were destroyed illegally.
Regardless, Moore said his encroachment ruling had not been issued at the time of the incidents and would not have an influence on his decisions Thursday.
The lawsuit over City Council votes to remove the Confederate statues is currently slated for a jury trial in September.