A lawsuit filed in St. Johns County Circuit Court seeks to force the city of St. Augustine to review plans to remove its Confederate memorial to ensure the 19th century obelisk won’t be damaged.
Specifically, descendants of men listed on the memorial are asking for the court to keep the city from relocating the memorial until the city’s Historic Architectural Review Board looks into the removal process, according to a press release.
The lawsuit claims that “Mayor Tracy Upchurch persuaded the St. Augustine City Commission to by-pass the legally required review by the Historic Architectural Review Board,” according to the release.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Jill Pacetti and other descendants of men named on the memorial, the Veterans Council of St. Johns County and the Military Officers Association of America, Ancient City Chapter.
The memorial was placed in the Plaza de la Constitucion in the late 1800s. It lists names of local men who died serving the Confederacy.
“The city certainly has the authority to move it if they choose to, but this is not in my opinion and the opinion of the plaintiffs — this is not a Jim Crow Civil War memorial. This was done by widows and orphans,” said Daytona Beach attorney George Burden, who prepared the lawsuit.
Burden, a Republican, is running for public defender in the 7th Judicial Circuit. DeLand attorney John Terhune, who filed the lawsuit, is a supporter of Burden’s campaign.
Burden’s opponents, all Republicans, are Anne Marie Gennusa and Matt Metz.
The press release about the lawsuit came from Vic Baker, a Volusia County Republican state committeeman who hosts “Trump Talk Now,” a weekly internet broadcast that is supportive of the president.
Burden represented a woman in a case involving the New Smyrna Beach Flagler Avenue Business Association’s “Personalize a Brick” program, according to an article in The Daytona Beach News-Journal.
New Smyrna resident Afien Casey bought a brick in 2018 with the phrases “TRUMP 2020” and “DRAIN SWAMP,” which prompted pushback about having a political message on Flagler Avenue, according to the article. The association removed the brick but put it back 10 days later after the possibility of a legal challenge arose.
Descendants of men on the memorial and others recently filed a separate lawsuit in federal court seeking to stop the city from moving the memorial. That lawsuit was dismissed, but the attorney in that case planned to seek to amend the lawsuit and move forward with the case.
Ian Auld, of St. Johns County, said he and Pacetti organized an event on Sunday inviting people to place flowers and messages of remembrance on the fence that surrounds the memorial, as a way to remember the men listed on the obelisk. Auld is a Navy veteran.
City crews placed the fence there to protect the memorial until it is taken down.
“Being a veteran myself, to see something like that just taken down, it’s very tough to see something like that here in America, especially since our history is what we have to grow on ... The way I look at it is it’s Marxism, taking down monuments and history to try to cover it up, to try to push a narrative that doesn’t exist,” he said.
Auld said after the Commission’s vote, he wanted to do something to remember veterans. He took his son, 4, and his nephew, 13, to the memorial to place flowers and a prayer card on the fence. He said he wanted them to see the memorial before it’s taken down.
“We put, ‘Your sacrifice will never be forgotten,’” he said.
He posted on social media about it, and the idea for the event unfolded from there.
On Sunday, he estimated 300 people came over the course of the day to put flowers, American flags and other items on the fence.
St. Augustine police began removing the items from the fence on Sunday, and video taken from the scene shows people arguing with police.
Police Chief Barry Fox said he was aware of the plans and had worked out an arrangement ahead of time. The plan is to remove items from the fence each night, he said.
If one group is allowed to put up items, then all groups have to be allowed the same right to express themselves, Fox said. Removing the items nightly is a precaution in case something offensive is placed on the fence, he said.
″(So) that it doesn’t become 800 feet of division within our community, we’re going to clean it up each night,” he said.
Fox said he miscommunicated with officers, which is why they began removing items from the fence too early on Sunday.
Items that have intrinsic value, such as flags, will be kept at the police station so people can pick them up, Fox said. One flag was thrown away by mistake, he said.
Before city commissioners made their decision to remove the memorial on June 22, they heard hours of public comment.
Some, like Auld, believe the memorial is an important part of history that should be kept in the Plaza.
Auld said he hopes to convince officials to keep the memorial.
“I just want people to know that none of this was about hate,” he said. “We’re not hateful people. It’s about love.”
But some see the memorial as a reminder of racism and slavery.
In 2017, the Commission, which had a couple of different members at that time, voted to keep the memorial and add historical context to it.
Regular protests have been held in the city since then.
Jaime Perkins has been part of the efforts to get the memorial removed. In an interview with The Record in 2017, she described the memorial as a reminder of racism and experiences of discrimination she’s had in St. Augustine.
On June 22 shortly after commissioners voted to remove the memorial, she shared her thoughts as people argued near the obelisk.