CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — A police chief assisting with crowd control during a protest at the University of North Carolina told his officers to stand aside as protesters tore down a century-old Confederate monument, according to documents obtained by a television station.
The messages obtained by WRAL-TV show Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue closely monitored the Aug. 20 protest as his officers backed up the UNC police force that takes the lead in policing the Chapel Hill campus. The station used a public records request to obtain about 400 pages of emails and texts to and from Blue on the day of the protest and the day afterward.
During the protest around the statue known as "Silent Sam" in a main campus quad, Blue instructed officers "Let's give them lots of space" and "stay way out," the messages show.
At one point Blue sent a message saying Chapel Hill officers were "too close." Shortly thereafter protesters pulled down the statue.
UNC campus police also took a non-confrontational approach. The UNC police have primary responsibility for patrolling campus, but the two departments assist each other. The protest had started at a plaza in Chapel Hill before several hundred demonstrators marched across the street onto campus.
A Town of Chapel Hill spokeswoman referred an Associated Press reporter asking about Blue's emails to an online public records request form.
The actions by UNC campus police are also under scrutiny from university and legislative leaders. A separate AP records request seeking information from UNC officials is pending.
No injuries were reported during the protest. Three people face misdemeanor charges of rioting and defacing a public monument.
Blue received several emails after the protest criticizing how his officers handled the incident. Still, Blue emailed is officers on Aug. 21 and thanked them for their efforts.