Editor’s note: this article has been updated since first publication with new information.
DEFUNIAK SPRINGS, Fla. (WMBB) — On Sunday, an altercation occurred at a protest regarding the Confederate monument and flag at the Walton County Courthouse.
Based on witnesses statements and video evidence, police reports said any contact made during the scuffle was incidental.
Wednesday, the Walton County Sheriff’s Office officially ruled the incident an accident and closed the case.
No charges were filed.
DEFUNIAK SPRINGS, Fla. (WMBB) — The Confederate monument and flag were the objects of a protest Sunday afternoon.
When protesters arrived at the Walton County Courthouse, they were met with counter-protesters.
New video released from the Walton County Sheriff’s Office gives us a clearer picture of an altercation that took place during the protest.
The video shows a man, identified by Sheriff’s officials as Willie Lewis Caldwell, Jr., standing in front of the Confederate flag pole.
Deputies say the second man is his father, Willie Lewis Caldwell, running up to his son to pull him away from the flag pole. The woman following the Caldwells to the flag pole is Beth Gates.
As the Caldwells try to leave the flag pole, they appear to back into Gates, knocking her to the pavement. We began recording the scene just as Gates was falling down.
This new video presents a clearer picture of what transpired. Deputies say they spoke to two witnesses who said they thought the men accidentally knocked down Gates. They also say the video seems to confirm the incident was an accident.
When we spoke to Gates shortly after, she claimed to have been pushed.
“Oh, he was charging the flag and I stepped in front and he just pushed me down,” Gates said. “Pushed me out of the way onto the sidewalk.”
When deputies spoke with Caldwell, Sr., he said he was just trying to remove his son from the flag pole and “de-escalate” the situation.
He also said he felt as though Gates grabbed him from behind.
Deputies said based on the evidence, the Sheriff’s office is considering the contact between Gates and the two men incidental.
Protesters on both sides gather regarding DeFuniak Springs’s Confederate monument
DEFUNIAK SPRINGS, Fla. (WMBB) — Across the country, Black Lives Matter protests have broken out calling for the removal of Confederate monuments. Sunday, residents gathered in DeFuniak Springs to protest “Florida’s First Confederate Monument” and the Confederate flag that flies alongside it.
“In my eyes, we can’t have try unity if we have such a divisive symbol, such an oppressive symbol flying at a courthouse where everybody has to go,” said protest organizer Jalen Jones. “A place that represents the city.”
Black Lives Matter protesters began peacefully gathering at Harbeson Field and marched about eight blocks to the DeFuniak Springs Courthouse to demonstrate their disapproval of the Confederate monument and flag that sit in front of it.
“I would just say that it’s no longer glorifying the worst parts of history,” said Adam Clark, a protester and human rights law student at Northwestern University. “The racism and the violence that was perpetuated in this country.”
But not everyone felt that way.
“We offered them boat rides back to Africa several times, the United States has and the South has, and if they want a ticket to go back to Africa where they belong that suits me,” said Bobby Edge, a counterprotester standing up for the flying of the Confederate flag and Vietnam War veteran. “I’ll even donate some money for them to go.”
The marchers were met with a counterprotest to defend the monument and flag of about the same size.
“It’s celebrating hard times,” said Rex Ezra Brannon, another counterprotester. “You know, if they start that, my opinion, all the Martin Luther King stuff, everything needs to go; all of it; white and black side.”
The meeting was less than cordial when an altercation between the groups occurred when a man tried to rush the Confederate flag and a woman stepped in his way to defend it.
“Oh, he was charging the flag and I stepped in front and he just pushed me down,” said Beth Gates, the woman involved in the incident. “Pushed me out of the way onto the sidewalk.”
The man involved in the incident could not be located.
The incident was quickly broken up by local authorities and the event returned to peace with speeches from the community.