Judge issues temporary injunction in Confederate statues lawsuit

An injunction issued by a judge Monday was “a partial, if unsurprising, win for the Sons of Confederate Veterans” in a lawsuit filed against Memphis Greenspace Inc., the nonprofit that recently removed Confederate statues from two former city parks, reports the Commercial Appeal.

 Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle barred the nonprofit from selling, gifting or moving the statues of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, President Jefferson Davis, and Capt. J. Harvey Mathes pending a “contested case hearing” before the Tennessee Historical Commission sometime within the next 60 days.

The commission, which rejected the city’s request for a waiver to remove the Forrest statue in October, will determine whether the city violated state law when it sold the parks and statues to Greenspace for a total of $2,000 on Dec. 20, making the parks and the statues private property.

State laws require the commission’s approval before removal of historical monuments — but only if the monuments are on public property.

After reviewing the case, Lyle said a “pause” in the case was “warranted.”

“That is because the record thus far shows a speedy sale to Greenspace; removal of the statues at night within hours of council approval of the sale terms; and from the face of the sale documents indications of continuing de facto management by the city, and low sales prices,” she wrote in her order.

But Lyle also denied a request by the Sons to inspect the statues for potential damages during their removal, and required Greenspace to “securely store and preserve” the statues — something Greenspace was already doing, according to the nonprofit’s president and founder Van Turner, who is also a Shelby County commissioner.

… The order followed arguments made last Thursday in Nashville. In addition to claiming the city violated state preservation laws, the Sons of Confederate Veterans also argues that the city violated government transparency laws and laws protecting gravesites. The statue of Forrest sat atop his and his wife’s graves, and was the official grave marker, according to the Sons.

The city argues that the markers are the names at the base of the pedestal, which remains at the site.

“It’s thieves in the night,” (Sons of Confederate Veterans attorney Doug) Jones said of the city’s secret sale of the parks and statues. “That’s the way to describe what happened.”

Whether the graves were desecrated is a matter for Shelby County courts, the city argued Thursday. Lyle seemed to agree in her order Monday, saying the “claim of desecration of graves and criminal conduct … can not be determined in this lawsuit.”

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