The family of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest and the Sons of Confederate Veterans filed a petition Wednesday seeking legal action against the city of Memphis for its role in taking down three Confederate statues last month.
The petition, filed with the Tennessee Historical Commission, accuses the City and nonprofit Memphis Greenspace Inc. of violating “numerous” state laws on Dec. 20, when Greenspace removed the Forrest statue from its pedestal atop his and his wife’s graves in Health Sciences Park, and statues of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and war correspondent and Capt. J. Harvey Mathes from Fourth Bluff Park.
The petition asks the commission to rule that the city and Greenspace violated the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act, which requires commission approval prior to removal of monuments from public property; laws against misconduct by elected officials; and laws prohibiting the desecration of gravesites.
“You can’t disturb graves,” said Sons’ attorney Doug Jones. “They knew that but conspired to rip it apart despite knowing state law. They ripped the top off the grave. They damaged that, and they can’t deny that.”
The city has maintained that the grave markers inscribed with the names of the Forrests remain at the base of the pedestal and that the statue wasn’t the headstone.
“The city has not been served with the lawsuit but I have reviewed it and remain confident all of our actions with regard to the sale of the parks and statues are legal,” said City Attorney Bruce McMullen.
City attorney Allan Wade didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment, and Mayor Jim Strickland’s communications team said he wasn’t available for an interview.
Separately, the Sons’ Nathan Bedford Forrest Camp 215 filed a lawsuit Thursday in Chancery Court in Davidson County seeking a temporary restraining order and an injunction to prevent the city or the nonprofit from selling or harming the stowed statues.
If granted, the restraining order and injunction would require court approval for any further actions related to the statues; their former homes, Health Sciences and Fourth Bluff parks; or the graves of the Forrests.
The petitioners included Forrest descendants listed in the petition were Walter Law Jr., Sidney Law, Brooks Bradley, Thoms Jesse Bradley III and Kevin Bradly, the “closest living relatives” of Forrest and his wife, Mary Ann Montgomery Forrest.
The Sons also asked that the commission consider bringing official misconduct charges against city officials, who advised and assisted Shelby County Commissioner Van Turner as he created Greenspace and raised funds to buy and maintain the parks.
“They would like for this to be over,” Jones said. “But it’s not close to being over.”
LITIGATION ALSO PENDING IN ALABAMA
Jefferson County Circuit Judge Michael Graffeo has scheduled a hearing for April 13 on a state lawsuit challenging the City of Birmingham’s decision to shroud the stone obelisk of a Confederate monument in plywood.
The judge’s decision comes after the state attorney general’s office and the city filed a document agreeing to certain facts about the case. That includes the history of the 113-year-old memorial and its location in a downtown park.
The city built a plywood structure to hide inscriptions on the base of the monument amid national protests over Confederate memorials. The state filed suit claiming the move violates a new state law that bars the removal or alteration of historic monuments.
The Judge has ruled that the plywood structure can remain until the hearing.