Police seek assistence identifying vandalism suspect
By Wesley Gardner
The Lockhart Police Department is searching for a suspect wanted in connection with the defacement of the Confederate monument early Tuesday morning on the lawn of the Caldwell County Courthouse.
Investigators believe the instance of criminal mischief involving a monument occurred at about 4:40 a.m. Tuesday, August 18, Lockhart Police Department officials said.
According to video surveillance footage, the suspect is believed to be a white or Hispanic male with facial hair in his 20s or 30s. The suspect was recorded wearing a face covering, a backwards baseball cap, a yellow Gadsden Flag t-shirt and dark colored shorts.
The footage can be viewed online by visiting https://youtu.be/Csi3VxGmBoQ and https://youtu.be/7qOYkSHScTY.
Police are asking for the public’s help in identifying the suspect in the photograph. If you have information, please contact the Lockhart Police Department at 512-398-4401.
Caldwell County Commissioners on Tuesday approved a $1,000 reward for anyone who identifies the suspect, though it’s currently being reviewed by officials to ensure it’s legal for the county to offer a reward.
County Judge Hoppy Haden and each of the commissioners spoke at length on Tuesday about the vandalism, which included spray painted phrases derogatory towards white individuals. The. Vandalism occurred only weeks after commissioners voted to move the monument from the courthouse lawn to the Caldwell County Jail Museum.
“This county will never tolerate the defacing of any item on this square – ever,” said Haden. “That is still under investigation.
“It’s a very active investigation. I can assure you that if the person who did this is caught, that we will prosecute them to the fullest extent that we possibly can. That’s never going to be accepted here. It’s never happened before. I hope it never happens again.”Haden noted that the county has stepped up security at the courthouse to ensure such acts don’t occur again. He also touched on the difficulty in making a decision regarding the monument – a decision that took several months and the formation of a committee to eventual reach.
“If you think that it’s easy to sit up here with two very passionate factors talking about a monument and you think it doesn’t take backbone to make a decision on things like this, I can assure you, you’re wrong,” said Haden. “It’s very difficult to sit up here and make these kinds of decisions.
“When this came up and I saw it on the agenda, I was very much in favor of leaving that monument where it sits and putting a plaque next to it to contextualize it, but I did some research, which I will do with every item that comes up, especially with an item as controversial as this. During the course of that research, I looked into the archives at the local newspaper here. When I looked into archives of the local newspaper here, what I discovered surprised me. I discovered that three months before that monument was placed there, there was a very large Klan rally right here on the courthouse square. That very large rally had almost 2,000 people in attendance. It was very well attended. Shortly thereafter, the monument was placed where it was placed, and I believe that part of the intent was to honor our soldiers. That is why I have not voted for the complete removal of that monument. That monument is being moved one block from here. It will be in the clear light of day for all to see. History will still be in place at the museum.”
Precinct 1 Commissioner BJ Westmoreland said he was comfortable with the decision to move the monument.
“We received numerous comments, calls, emails – any sort of communication that you can imagine,” said Westmoreland. “I know that there are a lot of people that don’t believe this, but for me it, it was quite eye opening how 50-50 this issue was with everybody in my constituency I talked to.
“That made this issue even more difficult than it already was. We went through the process to come up with a compromise. We went through a process that I respected the outcome of which, and to rehash everything again – to put the community back through this again — I don’t feel would be a very beneficial process.”
Precinct 2 Commissioner Barbara Shelton said she felt that the compromise reached between those who wanted the monument moved and those who wanted it to remain was sullied by the defacement of the statue.
“I proposed it twice for a ballot vote,” said Shelton. “I feel that we have compromised with the folks that have their agenda item they want to do, and it doesn’t seem to me, in all fairness of the court and the county, that’s enough.
“Because if it had been enough, the defacement of the monument shouldn’t have happened. So, it makes me think, is it going to stop, or is it going to continue? Are they going to be satisfied with what they asked for? Because if they were, that wouldn’t have happened. I don’t know if it happened with local people. I don’t know if it happened from out of town people … It took money. It took people, and it took time to get that off there. So, I think that the people that had this notion of wanting it moved a block, as the judge said, should put it out to all other members of their group that we shouldn’t touch that. We accomplished something and now you’re making it bad for us.”
Shelton also said people have been spreading misinformation about her on social media.
“I’m appalled that this group and part of the people who attended our court have spread lies,” said Shelton. “They’ve spread lies on Facebook, and I’m one of their targets.
“They put on there that I donated money to their fund to remove the monument, then they come back and say that I denied that. I don’t have deny something I’ve never done. I was out of town when that happened, but I was very hurt that we did what we did and a member of their group of the people who came here is putting that out there, and they’ve not targeted any of the other commissioners or the judge, just me.”
Shelton added that she received about 30 phone calls from people asking her whether she donating to the efforts to raise funds to remove the monument.
“I did not and will not contribute to their cause,” said Shelton.
Shelton also added that the push to move the monument, which she said she supported leaving on the courthouse house lawn with a plaque to contextualize it, was no longer about race relations.
“It’s not about race anymore,” said Shelton. “As a matter of fact, if you want to talk about hatred and stuff, we’re seeing it now against each other – against everybody of every color – we’re seeing that.
“The people who are out there and they’re blasting everything and the signs in the window – you know what I say BLM stands for? ‘Barbara’s Life Matters,’ because I can put any word with that. Every life matters, and if you’ve got to put a color in front of it, you are the one that’s racist. That’s just how I feel.”
Shelton noted about 90 percent of her constituency supported leaving the monument on the courthouse lawn.
Precinct 3 Commissioner Ed Theriot said it was unclear who committed the vandalism.
“We don’t know who facilitated that vandalism,” said Theriot. “It could be a person from either side of the issue, actually, that did it just to halt the process, or it could be somebody just along the lines of not satisfied with the decision we made to move it.
“They want it ground into dust. We heard a lot of comments regarding that. I just want to see that person caught.”
Theriot added that he believed moving the monument would also leave it better protected at the museum.
“I think it’s the right decision,” said Theriot. “It’s protecting that monument. I’ve had real strong feelings about it being a soldier’s monument to the folks we’re honoring – the men who were dying off at that time – but I also know what the atmosphere was when it was put up.
“There were a lot of folks who were investing a lot of time in oppressing a big population of the county. I’m comfortable with the decision that was made.”
Precinct 4 Commissioner Joe Roland noted that the decision to remove the monument was the most difficult vote he’s had to make as a commissioner. He also touched on past comments he made that suggested he hadn’t experienced racism growing up.
“I’ve been here almost thirty years, sitting in this same seat, and I’ve had a whole bunch of hard decisions to make sitting here, but nothing rivals this one,” said Roland. “I know some people say that I didn’t talk the right way the first time we had a meeting that I’ve never had any prejudice against me.
“I’ve experienced prejudice, but I didn’t know how to handle it. I’m not going to go off the handle because somebody doesn’t like what I say or what I do. This decision was so tough because I do get along with most people – black, white, Hispanic, Portuguese, Arab – it doesn’t matter. When I meet them and we talk just for a little while, they don’t ever forget me. I’m glad to have a relationship with so many people. There’s no right side. Whichever way we would have voted, there’s not a right side. It’s so divided that somebody on one side or the other wasn’t going to be satisfied, so this could be carried on and on and on, forever and ever. I thought we made the best decision. I don’t know if it was the right one. I thought it was. I kept saying that if we leave this statue there with all these people who are against it being there, it’s a target. Somebody’s going to want to destroy it.”
Roland also said he was brought to tears when he saw what was written on the monument.
“When they told me … they had painted the statue, I came down, took a look and tears just filled my eyes,” said Roland. “That’s not the way you correct stuff.
“You try to do everything decent and in order. That’s what I live by. My mom taught me that when I was a little boy. It was the hardest decision I’ve ever made because I had friends on each side of this. I wanted to back out of it. I wanted to not vote at all, but that’s the coward’s way out. I had to vote, and no matter which way I voted, it was going to wrong to somebody.”