A 33-year-old man was convicted of vandalizing a Civil War monument outside the Murray County Courthouse in Georgia in July.
Ryan Dean Nichols, a Chatsworth resident with California ID, pleaded guilty Sept. 14 to one count of defacing a public monument.
Conasauga Circuit District Attorney Burt Poston said Nichols was sentenced to five days in jail, plus the balance of 12 months probation, plus court costs, 60 hours of community service and, in as part of his probation, to undergo alcohol and drug treatment and random alcohol and drug testing.
“Obviously what he did was wrong and offensive, and he admitted it and was convicted for it,” Poston said in a phone interview. “He had no prior criminal record, and we believe the sentence was reasonable.”
Conasauga’s judicial circuit includes Murray and Whitfield counties.
County officials restored the monument and there was no physical damage beyond spray paint, Poston said. Murray County did not seek any additional restitution beyond the court costs, he said, which amounted to $110 and a few other percentages and additional fees.
Poston served in the district attorney’s office for 30 years and was a district attorney for about 10 years, he said. There have been no similar incidents of vandalism in the area, Poston said.
In a police report into the vandalism incident, Chatsworth Police say they learned the Confederate States of America monument on the east lawn of the Murray County Superior Courthouse was vandalized with painted pink letters bombshell saying “(expletive) yall”.
(READ MORE: Chief Vann House of Chatsworth recognized by the National Underground Railroad Network for Freedom)
Consisting of three sections and erected over 20 years ago, one side of the monument bears the seal of the State of Georgia.
In the middle, “CSA 1861 – 1865” is engraved, and below is a metal plaque stating that the monument is “dedicated to the men of Murray County who served in the Confederate States of America.”
On the third section, the seal of the Confederate States of America is engraved. Underneath it is written: “This monument made possible by Camp 938 of the SCV (Sons of Confederate Veterans) and the SCV Ladies Auxiliary.”
A man later identified as Nichols was seen in courthouse surveillance footage at 1:30 a.m. on July 19.
In the incident report, a Chatsworth police officer said Nichols admitted to spray-painting the monument in question because of “problems” he had with southern states.
“Ryan Dean Nichols said he has been wronged since returning to the Southern States,” the police report said.
After speaking with officers, Nichols retrieved the spray paint can and gave it to officers, according to the report.
(READ MORE: 20-year-old woman killed at historic equestrian event in Chatsworth, Georgia)
Murray resident, business owner and president of the Murray County Chamber of Commerce Sheila Simpson condemned the vandalism in an emailed comment.
“I find the defacement of our memorials to be one of the most inhumane and disrespectful acts,” Simpsons said. “It is a crime indeed, and one that should not be tolerated, regardless of your views on the war and any brave soul who serves or has served this country.”
Wendell Bruce, commanding officer of Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp 938, said his organization protects and maintains Civil War cemeteries and monuments. The organization’s Georgia chapter, based in Macon, also organizes Civil War reenactments on battlefields such as Chickamauga, he said.
The vandalism conviction sets a good precedent, especially because many major cities have “turned a blind eye” to the vandalism of Civil War monuments, he said. In a phone interview, Bruce said he thought the sentence was fair and was glad Nichols was held accountable for his crime.
“The biggest problem we have right now is that history is forgotten. The war between the states was very divisive for the country at the time,” Bruce said. “And it’s over, but you have to remember that so you don’t make the same mistakes again. You can’t bury the past.”
He said the monuments are not there to celebrate slavery or oppression, they are there to honor people who died for their country. As part of the nation’s reconciliation efforts, he said that in 1912, Confederate veterans were given “the same rights as Union veterans” or as all veterans who served the United States. United.
Many of the men who served the Confederacy were drafted, Bruce said, and were “no different from those who were drafted for World War I or World War II. They were drafted to defend their homes, their families and their beliefs. They are dead Americans who stood up for what they thought was right.”
Bruce said that, like in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, “everyday Americans” are the ones who die in wars – and no one wants that outcome.
“The will of our politicians must be harnessed to stop this,” he said. “So that’s where we are.”
The country shouldn’t be divided on “race or religion,” Bruce said, and people should respect the beliefs of others.
“This is America,” he said.