SUIT BROUGHT AGAINST FOUR HENRY COUNTY COMMISSIONERS INDIVIDUALLY FOR REMOVAL OF CONFEDERATE MONUMENT
(McDonough, GA – 10 September) On Tuesday 8 September 2020, suit was brought by the Georgia Minutemen, LLC, a Georgia corporation, against all four Henry County commissioners who voted in July to remove the Confederate Monument from the McDonough Square where it had stood vigilant for more than 100 years. This suit is different than other suits that have been brought against public officials this year for removing Confederate monuments around the state in that it names all four commissioners in their individual capacity who voted for the removal.
Other lawsuits filed around the state, including Henry County, to force the restoration of monuments moved by public officials have been unsuccessful as yet owing to the onerous doctrine of “sovereign immunity” which protects any subdivision of state government from lawsuits in most cases. The new lawsuit filed by the Georgia Minutemen does an “end around” with regard to the sovereign immunity issue by naming the commissioners in their individual capacity where immunity is limited to lawful acts. Georgia’s Monument Protection Act, arguably the strongest in the nation, allows for both civil and criminal suits against public officials who violate its stringent protections of monuments in Georgia.
This suit is important in that it would be a precedent-setting case which could be used as a tool for preventing the unlawful removal of monuments in other places. If the Minutemen are successful in the prosecution of this suit, public officials everywhere will be reticent to consider removing any monument protected under Georgia Code 50-3-1. If the commissioners lose this case, they will be on the hook as individuals for “treble” (triple) the cost of replacing or restoring the original monument to its rightful place on the McDonough Square, all attorneys fees, and exemplary damages in an amount decided by a jury. Monies collected from the verdict will first be applied to restoring the Monument to its home of more than 100 years before any other distributions are made.
The attorney for the Georgia Minutemen is Todd Harding of Maddox & Harding. The Defendants in the case are the four commissioners who voted unlawfully for the removal of the Monument: Dee Clemmons (D), Vivien Thomas (D), Bruce Holmes (D), and June Wood (R-chairman); and the Henry County Manager, Cheri Hobson-Matthews, who effected the removal.
Speaking to local reporters, Georgia Minutemen founder Ray McBerry had this to say about the new filing: “It is sad when we have reached a point in America when even monuments to our heroes that have stood for more than a hundred years are under attack. It is time that Georgians, and all Americans, begin to stand up together and say, ‘No more!’ Our legislature last year wisely gave the people of the sovereign state of Georgia the tools necessary to prevent this very thing in the form of the strongest monument protection bill in the country… and we intend to use it. Let this be a warning shot to all public officials in this state who are considering removing our monuments… you will be next. We’re coming for you in the courtroom.”
Minutemen founder McBerry is personally facing a state obstruction charge for refusing to vacate the sidewalk in McDonough on the evening that the County brought a crane company to remove the Confederate Monument. He was told that the crane company could not begin work until the sidewalk was cleared, and he refused to move. Mr. McBerry pointed out to the more than 20 officers present at his arrest that the construction permit they were ostensibly using as their authority to clear the Square could not exist because it was nowhere posted publicly on the site as required by law. Officers arrested and detained him anyway, only to learn the following day through Open Records Requests that the County had, in fact, dropped the ball and failed to obtain the permit as required by law. Although Mr. McBerry’s statements to the officers have proven true, the Henry County solicitor’s office have thus far refused to dismiss the charge against him.