Judge declines to dismiss lawsuit over Gaston Co. Confederate statue removal

GASTON COUNTY, N.C. — A Gaston County Confederate monument has been at the center of controversy for years and now, it’s back in the spotlight.

A judge ruled against Gaston County government’s request to dismiss a lawsuit to remove the statue. He also refused to move the case to Raleigh to decide if removing the statue violates a state law about monuments.

The suit was filed about a year and a half ago and was one of the efforts to get the monument, which has stood for more than 100 years, taken down.

On Monday, the judge heard the motion for dismissal, and on Wednesday, the judge denied to throw it out.

“We will consult with the outside law firm we retained to handle this litigation and will make a decision on how to proceed in the coming days,” Gaston County officials said in a statement in response to the judge’s ruling.

Statement is on behalf of all of the Plaintiffs:

“The Judge’s decision rejected Gaston County’s argument that they were unable to remove and relocate the Confederate Monument because of the Patriotism Act. The County Commission has long argued that they could not voluntarily remove the Monument because of this law. We hope that they will now explore the various avenues for removal and relocate the Monument as many different counties and municipalities across the state have already done.”

Last week, attorneys said a lot was riding on the outcome.

In a sense, this is a case of a local NAACP president -- the face of the suit -- hoping to move a Confederate monument. The statue has been the center of rallies and counter-rallies for years.

NAACP president Chris Thomason said the three-story monument is a symbol of a time when Black people had no rights under the law.

“I feel like I’m less than a man,” Thomason said. “I feel like I don’t have equal protection under the law.”

The attorney for the county didn’t address Thomason’s concerns Monday. He said the case must be thrown out because a North Carolina monuments act says only the general assembly can remove a monument erected for an event, person or military status.

“If the monuments law does not apply to the monument outside of this courthouse, I don’t know of a circumstance where it can apply,” said defense attorney Brad Overcash.

He said the attorneys demanding the county remove the monument haven’t clearly stated why the county and commissioners must act.

“The county doesn’t have the power to do what’s being asked,” Overcash said.

The plaintiff’s attorney, Abraham Rubert-Schewel, said that wasn’t true.

“The monuments act applicability is a giant red herring,” he said.

Rubert-Schewel pointed out that Gaston County commissioners voted to have the Sons of Confederate Veterans remove the monument, but the group backed out of the deal.

He said even if the state monuments act applies here, the court can decide that having a large Confederate monument at the front door of the courthouse breaches a greater law -- the Constitution.

“Every time [Thomason] walks past that monument, his equal protection rights are violated,” Rubert-Schewel said. “That would take supremacy over the monuments act.”

The judge, who was critical of both sides, said he needed a couple of days to make his decision. That left the plaintiffs waiting to see if their case moves forward.

“I’m in it for the long haul so I’m going to stay as long as it takes,” Chris Thomason said.

Controversy has swirled around the statue for years, especially following the Charleston church shooting in 2015 and then again in 2017 when residents petitioned to remove it.

In a 6-to-1 vote in June 2020, county leaders decided to gift the monument to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, but when those plans fell through, commissioners voted to keep it.

(WATCH BELOW: Uptown Charlotte street officially drops name tied to Confederacy)