Arrest made during Surry protest

Published 11:32 pm Tuesday, June 23, 2020

For a second weekend in a row, protestors returned to Surry on June 12, rallying at the county’s historic courthouse for social justice and calling for the removal of a Confederate monument.

Although authorities reported no violence or property damage, one tense exchange resulted in criminal charges, when, according to Surry Sheriff Carlos Turner, a verbal altercation turned physical. 

Phillip L. Sumrell, 73, of Gates, N.C., was charged with misdemeanor assault as a result of an incident near the Surry monument on the day of the protest. Sumrell is accused of snatching a sign out of a woman’s hands.

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“We had gotten calls that (the protest) might be a little intense,” said Turner, who added that he was prepared to issue an unlawful assembly order if the event got out of hand. But that action wasn’t unnecessary. “All in all, it was peaceful,” he said.

Turner said about 18 of his deputies and five state troopers were present at the event.

Carrollton resident Albert Burckard, who also was present, shared what he saw in an email to the Smithfield Times. He described the event as “agitated but peaceful.”

Burckard said the groups at the protest formed into three rings — anti-monument protestors, observers and those with opposing views in the middle, and law enforcement maintaining a perimeter. 

Several years ago, Burckard donated several Civil War era cannonballs to Surry County which are on display in front of the courthouse. “I was determined to retrieve my donations if anyone had attempted to pick up and hurl any of these 50-pound projectiles,” he stated.

The cannonballs were not disturbed.

The sheriff also confirmed that pro-Confederate flyers were left at Surry residences last weekend. The content on the flyers included a Confederate flag and tombstone. Turner said a handful of residents reported finding the flyers.

Turner said he supports the right of people to peacefully assemble.

But he added, if you want to exercise your rights, “don’t come with bad intentions of any kind or intent to do physical assault. We support peaceful protests and we’ll be there to make sure nothing gets out of hand. Here in Surry, we know one another, we get along with one another and pretty much respect one another’s views.”

At the same time, Turner said he understands why people are frustrated and taking to the streets to rally for social justice and speak out against racism and police brutality. 

“I pray that there will come a day when those injustices come to an end,” Turner said.

In a public notice about the June 12 protest posted on social media, the county said procedural steps to possibly remove, relocate, cover or add context to the monument will be discussed at the July 2 Board of Supervisors meeting.