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Probe: Miscommunication over barriers preceded statue’s fall

January 17, 2019
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FILE - In this Aug. 20, 2018, file photo, police stand guard after the Confederate statue known as Silent Sam was toppled by protesters on campus at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C. The chancellor of North Carolina's flagship public university said Monday, Jan. 14, 2019, the school will remove the pedestal where the Confederate statue stood until protesters tore it down. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome, File)

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — University of North Carolina police didn’t put up portable barricades around a Confederate statue the night it was toppled because of administrators’ concerns that the barriers would be unsightly, according to an investigative report by the statewide university system.

WBTV, which obtained a draft of the findings by an outside law firm , reports that the UNC-Chapel Hill campus police chief believed the concerns from Chancellor Carol Folt’s office amounted to a directive not to use the barriers. Folt said she hadn’t meant for her concerns to be perceived as an order, according to the report.

The report cites miscommunication between police and administrators, as well as insufficient staffing and training for officers as contributing factors that allowed the statue to be torn down in August 2018. Protesters argued it was a racist symbol.

The report was prepared by an outside law firm at the request of the statewide Board of Governors. A spokesman for the statewide university system, Josh Ellis, said the version of the report cited by the television station wasn’t final. He said he didn’t have a final version of the report to release Thursday.

Folt announced this week that she would be resigning at the end of the school year, but the statewide board sped up her departure to the end of January.

While planning for the demonstration at the start of the school year, Campus Police Chief Jeff McCracken suggested deploying the portable metal barricades that had been used before to keep protesters away from the statue, according to the report.

But the report said Folt’s chief of staff, Amy Hertel, questioned using them.

“While there is significant evidence that barricades can serve as force multipliers for police in controlling crowds, some perceived barricades could also be optical eyesores. ... Hertel was also concerned that barricades might cause new students and their parents to fear for their safety on move-in weekend,” the report said.

According to the he report, Folt also said she didn’t want the barriers up during the weekend leading up to the protest, and that message was relayed to McCracken.

McCracken felt he had been ordered not to use the barriers for the protest, according to the report, though Folt said her concerns weren’t meant to be a directive not to use them.

“The Chancellor has always maintained her message was never a directive or an order, but was rather a desire based upon her understanding of the intelligence and her belief that law enforcement ultimately makes the decisions on the group,” the report said.

UNC-Chapel Hill spokeswoman Joanne Peters Denny said that campus administrators provided a response that was included in the report and didn’t have further comment.

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