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Police told to stand down before protesters toppled monuments, officials explain why

One of the main questions about Friday's protest in downtown Raleigh -- where two Confederate statues were torn down by protesters -- was the lack of police presence at the height of it all.

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Aaron Thomas
, WRAL reporter
RALEIGH, N.C. — One of the main questions about Friday's protest in downtown Raleigh — where two Confederate statues were torn down by protesters — was the lack of police presence at the height of it all.
A spokeswoman for the State Capitol police said officers were told to stand down not long before protesters toppled monuments on the capitol grounds. She said the chief of State Capitol police made the call to "protect protesters, bystanders and law enforcement."

Capitol Square is executive branch territory, but a spokeswoman for Gov. Roy Cooper said the governor's office did not tell officers to stand down.

N.C. Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Pam Walker said State Capitol Police Chief Chip Hawley was the incident commander and that he consulted with Cooper's secretary of public safety, Erik Hooks, "who was in support of the chief's response to a continuously evolving and volatile situation."

Officers initially prevented protesters from pulling statues down, cutting ropes and scuffling with protesters at one point. One man was arrested. Several officers were injured, Walker said.

When protesters tried again to remove parts of the monument, "the chief determined it was best to not re-engage," Walker said.

Once police dropped back, protesters used straps to pull down two statues of confederate soldiers. They dragged them through the streets and hung one on a downtown traffic light.

Republican General Assembly leaders, who passed a law in 2015 protecting these monuments, questioned the decision to pull out.

"I'm aware of only one person in this state who has final authority over state law enforcement," Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said in a statement. "Did Gov. Cooper order the police to abandon the Capitol grounds? If not, who is in control of this state?"

Speaker of the House Tim Moore said in a statement that "Cooper's administration ordered law enforcement to stand down while a lawless mob destroyed state property."

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Audio obtained by WRAL News reveals the incident commander calling for assistance and telling officers to back off for their safety.

"I want some assistance so we can peacefully back away and leave it alone, because I don't care about it ... I just want to get my officers where they're safe," the incident commander said.

Saturday was a much different scene. Protesters gathered and marched in the same area where the Confederate statues were torn down on Friday, and Cooper ordered other statues removed for safety.

Protesters on Saturday marched through traffic and eventually made their way to Nash Square Park.

Sam Puckett said he felt the need to make his voice heard by standing against police brutality.

"I get my rights ... until I get what's right and what's fair for us."

As for Friday night, officials said one officer got a fractured wrist, another had lacerations to the hand and another had to have their eyes flushed due to an unknown liquid being thrown in their face. Numerous officers also had paint and what is believed to be urine thrown on them, as well as getting pelted with rocks and frozen water bottles.

A protester arrested Friday is now facing additional charges connected to an officer's injury. James Storelli was arrested for trespassing, but authorities said another warrant was issued for assault. Investigators said Storelli shoved a police officer to the ground and hurt his wrist.
WRAL Statehouse Reporter Travis Fain contributed to this report.