A group had threatened to turn the Jefferson Davis chair monument into a toilet, but it later showed up unscathed in New Orleans.
(CN) – Police in Selma, Alabama, have obtained an arrest warrant for a man after a Confederate monument was stolen from a cemetery in March only to have the stone chair show up on the streets of New Orleans weeks later.
The case received national attention in April after a demand letter sent to media outlets threatened that the monument would be turned into a toilet if the United Daughters of the Confederacy did not fly a banner from their headquarters in Richmond, Virginia.
On Friday, the Selma Police Department obtained an arrest warrant for Jason Warnick, 32, that said there was probable cause to charge the owner of a New Orleans tattoo shop with one count of first-degree theft of property.
Last month, police in New Orleans arrested Warnick and a woman and charged them with possession of stolen property after they searched Warnick’s shop but did not find the monument.
Michael Kennedy, the attorney representing Warnick in the Louisiana case, said his client's arrest last month was a misunderstanding and a mistake. Although he had not received a copy of the Alabama warrant as of Tuesday morning, the accusations by the Alabama officials “is just flat out wrong,” he said.
Prosecutors are still reviewing Warnick’s Louisiana arrest and Kennedy said his client maintains that he is innocent.
“He is an active community member and small business owner,” Kennedy said. “He's not part of any groups that would want to make any sort of political statement. He'd not want to be associated with that sort of thing.”
The theft of the chair, the demand letter and the chair’s eventual recovery came as a bizarre twist in the nation’s ongoing debate over memorials commemorating the Confederacy.
"The whole case has been very strange,” said Dallas County District Attorney Michael Jackson.
The stone chair, more than 100 years old, stood in a private section of the Old Live Oak Cemetery as a monument to Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy.
According to the Dallas County complaint against Warnick, Patricia Godwin, an officer with the United Daughters of the Confederacy, told police on March 20 the chair – worth $500,000, she said – was gone.
According to a police affidavit included in the complaint, another woman saw an SUV towing a trailer, “which appeared to have junk on” it, driving away the day before.
The United Daughters of the Confederacy, or UDC, ran an ad in an Alabama paper about the loss of the chair. Two days later, an email signed by “White Lies Matter” landed in the inboxes of media outlets with a ransom note of sorts.
The note demanded the UDC hang a banner from their Richmond, Virginia, headquarters with a quote from a Black Liberation Army activist on the anniversary of the Confederacy's 1865 surrender – April 9 – or else the monument would be converted into a toilet.
Whoever sent the message wanted the UDC to display a quote by Assata Shakur, a woman convicted of killing a police officer in the 1970s: “The rulers of this country have always considered their property more important than our lives.”
The UDC and its Alabama division did not return emailed requests for comment.
According to Nola.com, New Orleans police found the chair on a street corner and returned the chair to the UDC on April 9.
Jackson, the district attorney, noted first-degree theft of property is a felony in Alabama.
From photos of Warnick to records of a rental, “there’s a lot of evidence he stole the chair,” Jackson said.
There are plans to transport Warnick back to Alabama. However, the matter is still an ongoing investigation, according to Jackson.
“The main issue here is you can’t go around stealing property,” the prosecutor said.
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