Silent Sam report finds deficiencies at UNC but no sign of conspiracy to topple statue
An after-action report on the Aug. 20 toppling of the Silent Sam Confederate statue found “serious deficiencies” in the way it was handled, but “no evidence of a conspiracy” between the UNC-Chapel Hill administration and protesters to bring down the monument.
The 64-page report, conducted by the Parker Poe law firm and ordered by the UNC Board of Governors, was released Friday by the UNC system.
The analysis determined that the statue came down because of a confluence of events, including ineffective communication between senior leaders and UNC police, inadequate planning for protest events and a lack of protocol on decision-making responsibility regarding law-enforcement. The university “struggled to communicate, prepare, and execute their plans for the August 20, 2018 demonstration, which ultimately resulted in the toppling of Silent Sam.”
The report concluded that the protesters were “infinitely more wellorganized” than UNC initially anticipated. “Miscommunication between University Police and UNC-CH senior leadership combined with inefficient and inadequate information-gathering, insufficient staffing, and outdated crowd control training made preventing what happened on August 20 difficult if not impossible to achieve,” the report said.
Among the findings was inadequate early staffing plans by UNC Police for the Aug. 20 protest. The assignments for police personnel were made using Sign Up Genius, an online application, in which the police department asked for seven volunteers.
On the morning before the protest, according to the report, it became clear that more officers would be needed for the event. “Several officers noted that the 9:00 a.m. briefing left them feeling apprehensive and uneasy about the protest later that day,” the report said.
In the end 22 campus police from Chapel Hill were on the scene for the event.
The study also brought to light poor communication among police and former UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt about whether police should erect barricades around the statue on the night of the protest. Barricades were not used as they had been during a previous protest the year before.
The report said that Amy Hertel, chief of staff to Folt, met with Derek Kemp, associate vice chancellor for safety and risk management three days before the protest. There, Kemp told Hertel the protest was likely to be a one-sided event, as opposed to a protest and counter protest. He also told her that police planned to use bike barricades at the event and Hertel questioned the propriety of using them, the report said.
“While there is significant evidence that barricades can serve as force multipliers for police in controlling crowds, some perceived barricades could also be optical eyesores,” the report said. “Hertel was also concerned that barricades might cause new students and their parents to fear for their safety on move-in weekend.”
Hertel said she would discuss it with Folt. Later that day, Hertel called Kemp and told him Folt did not want barricades put up in the days prior to the event, but the issue should be revisited on Monday, the day leading of the protest. According to the report, Kemp recalled that that Hertel told him it was Folt’s “preference” or “desire” not to use the barricades at all.
Folt remembered it differently, the report said. “Chancellor Folt did not believe that she addressed the issue in those terms, but is confident that she did not issue a directive or or order not to use barricades on August 20,” the report said.
On Aug. 18, Kemp told the UNC police chief, Jeff McCracken, that Folt did not want barricades “because of what it would look like to students and their parents on the first weekend of the academic year.” McCracken was skeptical, the report said, but did not overrule or revisit the issue -- and the next day told a police captain to cancel the barricades.
On Jan. 14, Folt announced her resignation, the same day she ordered the base of the statue removed from campus. She cited security threats, and said she had the legal authority to do so, despite previous statements that UNC lacked the authority due to a 2015 state law that prevents the removal of “objects of remembrance.”
Her announcement surprised the UNC system’s Board of Governors, which then acted to shorten her time as chancellor. Her last day was Thursday.
An interim chancellor could be announced this week.
UNC’s executive vice chancellor and provost, Robert Blouin, issued a statement Friday about the report. “We appreciate the findings and recommendations brought forward by the After-Action Assessment Report,” he said. “We believe the learnings from this report will benefit not just Carolina, but other System institutions as well.”
A crowd gathers around the toppled Confederate statue known as Silent Sam last Aug. 20 at UNC-Chapel Hill.