With graffiti and gun, Confederate monument debate escalates
Denton County sheriff’s investigators are looking for a trio of suspects in connection with the vandalism of the Denton County Confederate Soldier Memorial.
Surveillance video shows that sometime between Sunday night and Monday morning, two individuals used large stencils and red spray paint to write the words “This is racist” near the top of the arch of the embattled monument on the south side of the Square. The duo then met a third person near the Square and the three fled on foot, the video shows.
Sheriff’s officials learned of the vandalism shortly before 9 a.m. Monday. County Commissioner Hugh Coleman said he was on the Square enjoying his morning coffee when he was told and took a look for himself.
“Whether you like something or not, there are better ways to express yourself,” Coleman said.
According to sheriff’s officials, the vandalism is a felony that carries a fine of up to $10,000 and from six months to two years in jail. Sheriff’s officials posted still images of the suspects on the office’s Facebook page and issued a news release asking for the public’s help in finding the suspects.
County personnel started working on the damage Monday morning, and by evening the monument still bore faded red marks.
Damage to the monument could exceed $50,000, according to Peggy Riddle, executive director of the Denton County Office of History and Culture. A conservation specialist will be called in if necessary, she said.
“This is not an easy shoot-it-with-graffiti-cleaner-and-go kind of thing,” Riddle said. “It leaches into the porous granite and marble. After that, we will have to do a type of special wax that conservators use so the monument will not look bleached-out in certain areas and all go back to being a cohesive color.”
Riddle said the suspects’ ultimate punishment will include a lifetime ban from the Courthouse on the Square.
Surveillance video from Denton County Sheriff's office
“They will never be able to attend any activities or events on the courthouse lawn ever in their lives — that’s one of the penalties of this kind of crime,” Riddle said. “It’s unfortunate that this happened, but we’re going to get it cleaned up and do what we can to repair any of the damage. I am just hoping it’s reversible.”
County Judge Mary Horn wondered if the vandalism was in retaliation for county efforts to crack down on activity that is not conducive to families enjoying the Square.
“We have closed the lawn between midnight and 6 a.m. and had several people arrested for public intoxication. We’re trying to take some action that will protect the courthouse and surrounding area; hopefully, that will encourage better behavior,” Horn said.”
Jonathon Vann, a co-founder of Dentonites Against Racist Traditions, swiftly denied any involvement by members of the group.
“We have never wanted the monument to be defaced or destroyed in any way,” Vann said in a statement posted in a closed Facebook page for the group. “The only change we encouraged was location. While we obviously believe that it [the monument] is racist, we also believe in democracy and the rule of law as ways of getting things done.”
The group formed after a June 17 mass shooting in South Carolina touched off a national campaign to remove Confederate flags from prominent public displays. Suspect Dylann Roof, charged in what’s been called a racially motivated hate crime, was photographed posing with the Confederate flag.
Dentonites Against Racist Traditions has a single mission: to urge local officials to move the Confederate soldier monument to another location. Soon after the group formed, a leader announced they wouldn’t discuss or condone vandalism or demolition of the monument.
Anyone who may have information about the graffiti is asked to call Lt. Larry Kish at 940-349-1665 or Denton County Crime Stoppers at 1-800-388-TIPS.
Staff writers Megan Gray-Hatfield and Cindy Breeding contributed to this report.
BJ LEWIS can be reached at 940-566-6875 and via Twitter at @BjLewisDRC.