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No charges to be filed in protest incident at Walton County Courthouse (VIDEO)

Jim Thompson
jthompson@nwfdailynews.com
Northwest Florida Daily News

DeFUNIAK SPRINGS — Cellphone video from a Sunday incident at the Walton County Courthouse, where advocates of removing a Confederate memorial held a rally as a group of counter-demonstrators stood around the memorial, shows apparently accidental contact between an opponent and supporter of the memorial, not a deliberate attack.

RELATED: Scuffle mars protest seeking removal of Civil War memorial from Walton County Courthouse grounds

No charges will be filed in the incident, according to Corey Dobridnia, public information officer for the Walton County Sheriff’s Office.

“It was an accident. That is our take on it,” Dobridnia said Tuesday.

Referencing a TV news report that called the incident “an altercation between the groups” and other public comment on the incident, Dobridnia added, “It’s so dangerous to make assumptions when things happen that quickly.”

The video, posted on Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson’s Facebook page, shows a monument opponent walking up to a flagpole at the memorial that holds a Confederate States of America flag (not the more well-known Confederate battle flag routinely displayed by some hate groups), and being met by a handful of monument supporters.

Subsequently, the video, one of two bystander cellphone videos reviewed in the investigation of the incident, according to a Sheriff’s Office report, shows a second monument opponent approaching the memorial, apparently to pull the initial opponent away from the area. As he approaches, a woman sticks her arms out and tries to stop him, remaining in close proximity to him.

As the two men move away from the monument, one of them stumbles into the woman, knocking her down onto a concrete walkway. Immediately after the woman falls, the man raises his hands into the air, signaling that whatever happened was not intentional.

As the two men walk away, toward the courthouse steps where monument opponents were gathered for their rally, a woman’s voice, off-camera, is heard screaming, “I want him arrested now! Right now! Get him arrested now!”

The incident created some tense moments on the courthouse lawn. At one point, not shown on the cellphone video, DeFuniak Springs Police Chief James Hurley tells organizers of the monument protest that their rally could be shut down by law enforcement.

“It will be an unlawful assembly if it keeps up,” Hurley tells organizers before they return to the courthouse steps to continue their rally.

Walton County Sheriff’s deputies also were on the scene, and began an investigation into the incident, indicating their interest in obtaining cellphone video as part of that probe.

The woman who was pushed to the sidewalk, a 73-year-old resident of Bonifay in neighboring Holmes County, said Sunday that she would be pressing charges, but deputies explained that the bringing of any charges would depend on the results of their investigation.

In a message accompanying the video from a citizen’s cellphone, the Monday post on the sheriff’s Facebook page said the footage was posted “in order to quell rumors in the community and misinformation in the news.”

In its review of the footage, the Facebook post notes that at “no time did the (initial) protester put hands on the flag, the flag pole, or anyone” and goes on to say that the clear intent of the second protester was to lead the initial protester away.

The review goes on to note that the woman “walked up to the second man to try to prevent him from reaching the monument and as the two men were walking backward, away from the flag, she was accidentally knocked over.”

The Sheriff’s Office investigative report released Tuesday identifies the two monument protesters as a DeFuniak Springs man and his son.

The father was interviewed Tuesday by two Walton County sheriff’s lieutenants — the son was unable to attend — and was “adamant his sole purpose for going toward the flag pole was to get his son and remove him from the situation.”

The man went on to say that he “felt as though (the woman) grabbed him from behind and he did not think she should have done that since he was trying to deescalate the situation.”