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Sylva Police Chief Confirms Weapons Were Present At Downtown Vigil

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Lilly Knoepp
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Blue Ridge Public Radio
Sylva Police Chief Chris Hatton confirms that there were two unloaded assault rifles at the Sunday vigil.

Two demonstrations this week in Sylva remained peaceful. But rumors continue to swirl that weapons were present at each. BPR spoke with Sylva’s Police Chief: 

 

Police chief Chris Hatton says rumors are rampant right now. 

 

“I have been on rumor patrol for three days,” says Hatton. 

 

Most rumors have been associated with how the community is reacting to the death of George Floyd and protests across the nation. Some were specifically about the recent demonstrations in Sylva.

 

Organizers were in contact with the Sylva Police Department while setting up both the Sunday NAACP/Indivisible vigil and the Tuesday march. Officers were stationed along the streets and directing traffic during both events. 

 

 First, Hatton explains what happened at the vigil on Sunday: “We had two folks show up with assault rifles on their backs and no magazines in them but they never did anything with them.”

 

According to witnesses, both people had signs in support of George Floyd. Hattons says he spoke with friends of the individuals. He told them that they could not bring the rifles to the upcoming protest and learned the reason the unloaded weapons were brought to the vigil. 

 

“They felt like liberals have the reputation of being scared of guns or not being pro gun and they wanted people to know that there is a section of liberals who do have guns and embrace guns,” explains Hatton, who reiterated that he did not talk directly to the two people. 

 

The police estimate that there were over 200 people at the vigil and about 380 people at the march.  

 

Hatton explains based on his discussions with the district attorney, firearms are constitutionally allowed at vigils but not at protests. He says officers did not see any protesters with firearms Tuesday at the solidarity march but he did hear that those watching might have had weapons. 

 

“Everybody that I’ve spoken to has said, ‘That was really scary for me.’ And I'm like, ' Yeah I get it. It’s scary for us too as the police because it’s our job to keep everybody safe,” says Hatton. “When we know that there is a firearm there, we’re on edge too - just like everybody else. But still can’t step on someone’s constitutional rights.”

 

Even if the rumors are true, he says, “There wouldn’t be sufficient evidence to file a charge against those folks even if they did have a weapon.” 

 

Recently in Raleigh, an armed group advocating for the state to open up coronavirus restrictionswas not charged because they said they were not protesting. The group is stillbeing investigated. 

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Credit Lilly Knoepp
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Members of the local Sons of Confederate Veterans group, Jackson Rangers, posed for a picture after the march on Tuesday.

There were also reports the Sons of Confederate Veterans group that has been guarding the confederate monument on the Jackson County courthouse steps throughout this week were armed. Hatton didn’t see any weapons but says that they could have had firearms. He doesn’t see the group as part of the protest therefore he doesn’t believe they are breaking any laws. 

“Those guys were there before the protest and those guys have been there since then,” says Hatton. 

Hatton says overall that he believes Tuesday’s march was positive for the community and that the local police force who told him they, “got more ‘Thank You’s’ than they could even count” at the event. 

 

Lilly Knoepp serves as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina. She is a native of Franklin, NC who returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.
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