Man who pepper sprayed Confederate re-enactors is former Burke County principal

NEWTON, N.C. — The man charged with pepper spraying Confederate re- enactors at the 128th annual Soldiers Reunion Parade in Newton last Thursday is a former Burke County principal.

Karl Smith previously served as principal at East Burke High and W.A Young Elementary School, our partners at the Morganton News-Herald reports.

The district said he retired from being a principal but is still a system employee.

[READ MORE: Trump calls efforts to remove Confederate monuments 'so foolish']

Thousands filed into Newton Thursday afternoon for the Soldiers Reunion Parade.

During the parade, Channel 9 saw Smith, who also had a gun, was taken into custody. Eyewitness News reporter Dave Faherty witnessed the incident and said Smith went over to some Civil War re-enactors and pepper sprayed them.

The Civil War re-enactors and members of the Sons of the Confederacy were protecting a Confederate monument at the old courthouse.

Two parade participants notified police that a man with pepper spray was following the Confederate veteran re-enactors.

The two complainants said that when the re-enactors would stop to discharge their weapons, the man would discharge his pepper spray.

The suspect was described and pointed out to law enforcement, who immediately took the suspect into custody without incident.

"He just walked up to the backside of the fellas that were fixing to do the salute," witness Amanda Chandler said.

Karl Smith, 56, of Morganton, was charged with two counts of misdemeanor assault and was also cited because he did not tell officers he had a gun on him.

Police seized a small canister of pepper spray and a Smith & Wesson .38 caliber revolve from Smith. He has a concealed carry permit, which carries certain rules.

"They are required to identify that they do have a permit and are carrying a weapon as soon as they are addressed by law enforcement," Newton police Maj. Tim Hayes said.

"Did that happen in this case?" reporter Glenn Counts questioned.

"That did not happen," Hayes said.

Smith was released from jail on the promise he would appear before a magistrate.

Two victims were treated for pepper spray exposure by Newton Fire Department and Catawba County EMS.

They were released at the scene.

It was the only incident during the entire week of reunion events, police said.

Gary Dellinger from Conover has been going to the parade for years and he said the parade is not about hate.

"The people that understand the flag is not a hate group," he said.

Erica Derr came to the parade to support her nephew, but not the cause.

"I feel it is a put down because of what the flag resembles, so I don't agree with it," Derr said.

"If there's any trouble on the square, or any organization, we're not going to ask questions,” Jerry Poovey, with the Sons of the Confederacy, said earlier in the day. “We're going to lock them up. Durham will not be re-enacted here."

Channel 9 reporter Dave Faherty was also in Newton earlier Thursday as final preparations took place before the parade, and noticed a number of police officers and deputies along the route.

Each year, the parade attracts close to 10,000 people to Newton. A festival was underway Thursday morning on the town square ahead of the parade, which starts at 5 p.m.

"It's a peaceful parade,” Catawba County Sheriff Coy Reid said. “We hope everyone enjoys the parade.  Of course, anyone who comes here and breaks the law is going to go to jail."

Channel 9 did see the Sons of the Confederacy set up right next to the Civil War monument, but they said they have set up there every year for the last decade.

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