The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

Everything that led to Silent Sam being toppled, according to an independent report

Breakdown After Action Report
UNC Department of Public Safety Officers confer with one another on how to best handle protesters zip-tying large banners around Silent Sam on Aug. 20, 2018.

An independent report on the toppling of Silent Sam, released to The Daily Tar Heel on Friday, found "serious deficiencies" in how the Aug. 20 protest was handled by UNC administration and UNC Police.

To compile the 64-page report, which was commissioned by the UNC-system Board of Governors, law firm Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein LLP and security consulting firm Hillard Heintze LLC analyzed media and news reports, reviewed relevant documents and interviewed 44 people. 

Of the 44 interviewed, 42 were associated with UNC Police, UNC-Chapel Hill or the UNC system; the remaining two were Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue and Chris Otto of the North Carolina Information Sharing and Analysis Center, a statewide law enforcement center run by the State Bureau of Investigation. 

Several administrators interviewed have since unexpectedly stepped down, including former UNC Chancellor Carol Folt, former UNC-system President Margaret Spellings, Vice Chancellor and General Counsel Mark Merritt and former Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Winston Crisp, who announced his resignation two weeks after being interviewed.

Although the report maintains that all at UNC are "properly concerned with the safety of human life and dedicated to protecting First Amendment rights," it says that UNC "struggled to communicate, prepare, and execute their plans for the August 20, 2018 demonstration."

The completed report was sent to Harry Smith, chairperson of the BOG, and BOG members Robert Rucho and Philip Byers on Oct. 22, 2018. The BOG voted during its January 2019 meeting to release the document to the public in the interest of transparency.

'Optical eyesores'

Immense miscommunication surrounded the decision of whether or not to use barricades at the protest due to a breakdown in the established administrative reporting procedure.

Initially, Chief of University Police Jeff McCracken recommended that bike rack barricades be used to prevent vandalism to Silent Sam.

According to the University's organizational chart, the Chief of University Police confers with his or her superior, the Associate Vice Chancellor for Campus Safety and Risk Management, Derek Kemp in this case, on all law enforcement matters. The associate vice chancellor next reports to the Vice Chancellor of Finance and Operations, who in turn reports to the Provost, who ultimately reports to the Chancellor.

However, Kemp reported directly to Amy Hertel, chief of staff to Folt, an arrangement which Kemp said had been in place since his arrival in 2015.

Hertel said that during an Aug. 17 meeting where the upcoming protest was discussed, Kemp said that police intended to use bike barricades. Hertel said that according to Kemp, the event was expected to be attended by less than 100 people and one-sided.

According to the report, several police and administrative sources said barricades are typically used in cases where two opposing groups are expected to attend the same event.

"Hertel was also concerned that barricades might cause new students and their parents to fear for their safety on move-in weekend," the report said, adding that barricades could be perceived as "optical eyesores," and saying that Hertel wanted to confer with Folt.

Next, Hertel called Kemp and said that Folt did not want to put barricades up over the weekend, but that the issue should be readdressed Monday. According to the report, Kemp said that "no differentiation was ever made between the use of barricades over the weekend versus on Monday."

Aug. 18, Kemp shared his and Hertel's conversation with McCracken. According to the report, McCracken told an officer to cancel the order for barricades which otherwise would have been set up Aug. 19. The decision was relayed to the officer responsible for putting together the operations plans, who had only previously planned for football and basketball games.

According to the report, McCracken has since said that he believed Folt's preference not to use barricades was an order. The report also says that Folt said her message was only a desire "based upon her understanding of the intelligence and her belief that law enforcement ultimately makes the decisions on the ground."

At a 5:00 p.m. briefing on Aug. 20, several officers were "confused and uncomfortable after hearing that barricades would not be used," the report says.

In a letter to the lawyers that conducted the report, dated Oct. 19, Folt said that according to McCracken, "the use of barricades probably would not have made any difference and, in fact, may have endangered the safety of the police officer on the scene."

'Scared for their and other persons' safety'

Many have questioned how police allowed anti-Silent Sam protestors establish enough control over Silent Sam to hang gray banners around the statue.

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.

According to the report, while protestors hung the banners, officers were distracted by a "melee" while attempting to arrest a man wearing a mask, illegal under North Carolina law.

One officer wrestled with protestors on the ground while attempting to arrest the man, the report says, as another officer came to help. A different officer also attempted to help but was grabbed from behind and punched in the back of the head. Two officers tried to hold back the crowd, while a third chased the individual who threw the punch. Meanwhile, an entirely different officer was "also assaulted," the report says.

By the time the masked man was arrested, rings of protestors surrounded the enshrouded monument, linking arms and chanting.

"All of the officers we interviewed believed that it would have been impossible for University Police to break through the rings of protestors without resorting to extreme physical violence," the report said. "Even if they could have broken the line, they emphasized that doing so would likely have resulted in physical injury to both officers and demonstrators alike."

When protestors later moved to Franklin Street, officers surrounded the statue. The banners were not cut down due to concerns that the bamboo poles could be used as weapons, the report says McCracken suggested.

The report describes the crowd that returned to McCorkle Place as "hostile and physical," saying that the crowd threw frozen water bottles and eggs at the officers.

"A number of the officers stated that this was one of the only times in their careers where they felt scared for their and other persons' safety," the report said.

UNC Police Captain Tom Twiddy gave officers the order to "pull out," due to fears regarding the safety of the officers and others. Approximately five minutes later, Silent Sam was pulled down.

"It should be noted that it is extremely fortunate no one was injured or killed when the statue was toppled," the report said. "This was, in large part, due to actions taken by an undercover police officer at the scene who moved people out of the way when it was apparent the statue would be toppled."

'Infinitely more well-organized'

Multiple times, the report refutes the idea that UNC administration worked with protestors to allow Silent Sam to be toppled, saying that no evidence was found to support that theory.

"Instead, we found that protestors were infinitely more well-organized and prepared than originally expected," the report said.

Five recommendations are made in the report for future proceedings. 

First, the report recommends that "key decision-makers" meet before major campus events and that the Chief of University Police should be able to directly contact the Chancellor to discuss major events involving law enforcement.

The report also recommends that multiple officers should share information-gathering responsibilities and that a wide variety of intelligence sources should be used, beyond social media and historical tactics.

The report also recommends that department-wide ongoing training for crowd control planning, including "using less-lethal crowd control devices" and "implementing de-escalation techniques when interacting with protestors," should be implemented.

Finally, the report recommends that the University Police Department should consider creating a Special Operations Team tasked with leading crowd control efforts when needed.

In a letter sent to the lawyers after receiving a draft report, Folt said that she agreed with the overall message of the report and would "direct implementation of measures to adopt all five recommendations of the draft report."


Special Print Edition
The Daily Tar Heel Women's Tennis Victory Paper

More in Carol Folt