A 33-year-old man has been convicted of vandalizing a Civil War monument in front of the Murray County Courthouse in Georgia in July.
Ryan Dean Nichols, a resident of Chatsworth with a California identification card, pleaded guilty Sept. 14 to one count of defacing a public monument.
Burt Poston, district attorney of the Conasauga Circuit, said Nichols was sentenced to five days in jail, plus the balance of 12 months on probation, plus court costs, 60 hours of community service, and as part of his probation, to undergo alcohol and drug abuse treatment and random alcohol and drug screenings.
"Obviously, what he did was wrong and offensive, and he admitted to it and was sentenced for it," Poston said in a phone interview. "He had no prior record before this, and we think the sentence was reasonable."
The Conasauga Judicial Circuit includes Murray and Whitfield counties.
County officials have restored the monument, and there was no physical damage beyond the spray paint, Poston said. Murray County did not request any additional restitution beyond the court costs, he said, which totaled $110 and some other additional percentages and fees.
Poston has served in the District Attorney's Office for 30 years and has served as district attorney for about 10 years, he said. There have been no similar vandalism incidents in the area, Poston said.
In a police report about the vandalism incident, Chatsworth police said they were told the Confederate States of America monument on the east lawn of the Murray County Superior Courthouse was vandalized with pink spray-painted letters saying "(expletive) yall."
Consisting of three sections, and erected more than 20 years ago, one side of the monument bears the seal of the state of Georgia.
In the middle, "C.S.A. 1861 - 1865" is engraved, and beneath that is a metal plaque stating that the monument is "dedicated to the men of Murray County who served the Confederate States of America."
On the third section, the seal of the Confederate States of America is engraved. Below that, it states, "This monument made possible by S.C.V. (Sons of Confederate Veterans) Camp 938 and S.C.V. Ladies Auxiliary."
A man later identified as Nichols was seen on courthouse surveillance footage at 1:30 a.m. July 19.
In the incident report, a Chatsworth police officer said Nichols admitted to spray-painting the monument in question due to "issues" that he has with the Southern states.
"Ryan Dean Nichols stated that he had been wronged since he had returned to the Southern states," the police report said.
After speaking with officers, Nichols retrieved the can of spray paint and gave it to the officers, the report said.
Sheila Simpson, Murray resident, business owner and chairwoman of the Murray County Chamber of Commerce, condemned the vandalism in an emailed comment.
"I find the defacing of our memorials to be one of the most inhumane acts and of high disrespect," Simpsons said. "It's a crime indeed, and one that should not be tolerated regardless of your views on war and any brave soul that is serving or has served this country."
Wendell Bruce, commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp 938, said his organization protects and maintains Civil War cemeteries and monuments. The Macon-based Georgia chapter of the organization also conducts Civil War re-enactments at battlefields such as the one in Chickamauga, he said.
The vandalism conviction sets a good precedent, especially because a lot of bigger cities have "turned a blind eye" to vandalism of Civil War monuments, he said. In a phone interview, Bruce said he thought the sentence was fair and he was happy Nichols was held accountable for his crime.
"The biggest problem we're having right now is that the history is being forgotten. The War Between the States was very divisive for the country at the time," Bruce said. "And it's over, but we have to remember it so we don't make the same mistakes. We can't bury the past."
He said the monuments aren't there to celebrate slavery or oppression, they're there to honor the people who died for their country. As part of the nation's efforts for reconciliation, he said that in 1912, Confederate veterans were given the "same rights as Union veterans," or any veterans who have served the United States.
Many of the men who served the Confederacy were drafted, Bruce said, and were "no different than being drafted for World War I or World War II. They were drafted to defend their homes and families and beliefs they had. They're Americans who passed away who fought for what they thought was right."
Bruce said that, as in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, "every day Americans" are the one who die in wars -- and no one wants that outcome.
"The wills of our politicians have to be kept in check to stop this," he said. "So that's where we are."
The country shouldn't be divided over "race or religion," Bruce said, and people need to respect each other's beliefs.
"That's what America is all about," he said.