Protesters will face felony charges for toppling a nearly century-old Confederate statue in front of a North Carolina government building, the sheriff said Tuesday.
Durham County Sheriff Mike Andrews said some of the protesters who tore down the statue Monday had been identified, and investigators were preparing arrest warrants.
"Let me be clear. No one is getting away with what happened yesterday. We will find the people responsible," Andrews said, declining to specify the charges.
Law enforcement officers took video throughout the protest but didn't intervene as protesters brought out a ladder, climbed up to attach a rope and then pulled the bronze Confederate soldier from its pedestal. After it fell, some began kicking the statue, while others took photos standing or sitting on it. The protest was in response to violence and a death at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend.
Andrews said his staff met with community leaders before the Durham demonstration, and he was aware of the potential for vandalism. But he said he used restraint because of the risk of injuries if deputies moved in.
"Had I ordered my deputies to engage a hostile crowd, there would have been serious injuries," he said. "Statues can be replaced. Lives cannot."
The Confederate Soldiers Monument, dedicated in 1924, stood in front of an old courthouse building that serves as local government offices. The crumpled and dented bronze figure has been taken to a warehouse for storage.
The leader of the local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Doug Nash, said Tuesday that he's disappointed by the toppling of the statue as well as other recent violence.
"The only thing I'd like to say is that I'm very saddened by all this mess that's going on," Nash said by phone.
Although the violence in Virginia has prompted fresh talk by government officials about bringing down symbols of the Confederacy around the South, North Carolina has a law protecting them. The 2015 law prevents removing such monuments on public property without permission from state officials.
North Carolina is one of only three states — along with Virginia and Georgia — that have 90 or more Confederate monuments, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. A state tally shows at least 120 Civil War monuments around North Carolina, with the vast majority dedicated to the Confederacy. Around 50 are located at contemporary or historic courthouses. There are Confederate statues at the state's flagship university and Capitol grounds.
In response to the statue in Durham being torn down, Democratic North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper tweeted: "The racism and deadly violence in Charlottesville is unacceptable but there is a better way to remove these monuments."
Some people who passed by the empty pedestal on Tuesday expressed mixed feelings about the statue and its fate.
"I've walked by this statue several times in the last few weeks. And I've wondered, if it is appropriate," said Emily Yeatts, an attorney in Durham. "If there IS a way to remember and honor, as it says, 'The boys who wore the gray,' without also lending some legitimacy to the cause for which they fought. This statue has struck me as out of place in Durham, for some time. And while I was surprised to see the news footage last night, it seemed right."
Associated Press National Writer Allen G. Breed contributed to this report.