Photograph: Contractors apply a pressure washer to the cleaning of the Confederate monument located on the Courthouse Square. (Photograph by Freddie Herpin.)
The Confederate monument on the St. Landry Parish Courthouse Square has undergone a cleaning process, marking the first step towards removing the statute that is scheduled for relocation, according to parish president Jessie Bellard.
Bellard said on Tuesday that private contractors spent the past weekend and most of Monday pressure washing the monument and removing black paint apparently applied by an Opelousas man that court records indicate has been charged with one felony count of simple criminal damage to property in connection with an alleged Jan. 2 incident.
The cleaning process Bellard said, is expected to continue as the mortar which lies between sections of the monument is cleaned in greater detail.
Following the end of that process Bellard said the monument sections will eventually be dismantled and shipped off courthouse property.
There is currently no timetable for the cleaning to be completed, Bellard said.
The Parish Council last year voted to donate ownership of the monument to the local camp chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Bellard said on Tuesday that no parish funds will be used to clean the monument.
“The cost for the cleaning will be sent to the District Attorney and it will be up to him to decide how to handle the matter and costs of cleaning as the procedure for prosecution begins to move forward,” Bellard said.
Court records show that Don Leger, 66, was booked into the parish jail Jan. 5 on a simple criminal damage charge.
An arrest affidavit filed in connection with the parish jail booking indicates that Leger at this point is being prosecuted for property damage of $1,000 to $5,000.
District Attorney Chad Pitre wrote in a text message that he is still reviewing contents of the case file before deciding how to proceed with the charges against Leger, a licensed appraiser.
In an email received last week, members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans wrote that they are seeking to meet with Pitre in order to discuss the possibility of expanding the original charges against Leger into a hate crime which is allowed by state law.
The arrest affidavit also says that Leger became a suspect when courthouse video footage determined that an elderly white male allegedly attempted to first pull down the monument by tying a rope and chain around the statue and attempting to pull it down with a late model dark-colored pickup truck.
When that did not occur, the affidavit said the individual returned to Courthouse property and allegedly began painting portions of the monument.
Bellard said during an interview Jan. 3 that the license on the truck was sent to the Louisiana State Police for image enhancement in order to ascertain vehicle ownership.
Opelousas police officer Michael Hidalgo wrote in the affidavit that a truck Leger was driving in the neighborhood where Leger lives matched the description of the one shown on the courthouse surveillance cameras.