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Ex-principal denies pepper spraying Confederate re-enactors at Catawba County parade

The Sons of Confederate Veterans marched in the 2017 Soldiers Reunion parade in Newton in August. Prosecutors dismissed charges against a retired Catawba County principal accused of pepper spraying Confederate veteran reenactors during the parade.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans marched in the 2017 Soldiers Reunion parade in Newton in August. Prosecutors dismissed charges against a retired Catawba County principal accused of pepper spraying Confederate veteran reenactors during the parade. WBTV

A retired Catawba County principal said he took pepper spray to the 2017 Soldiers Reunion parade in Newton in August in case someone tried to cause trouble with the Confederate veteran re-enactors, one of whom was his 23-year-old son.

Karl Smith, 54, told The (Morganton) News Herald that he feared someone might attack his son, Garrett, who carried a Confederate flag in the parade. He was concerned because of the violence the weekend before at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., he told the newspaper.

Police arrested Smith after witnesses accused him of pepper-spraying them, but Smith said the two women who complained breathed in black powder from a musket.

The Catawba County District Attorney’s Office recently dropped all charges against Smith because of a lack of evidence and uncooperative victims, court records show.

Victims in the case “have been uncooperative in that they have failed to return phone calls after repeated contacts by law enforcement,” prosecutor J. Kyle Smith said on a dismissal form filed in Catawba County District Court.

Prosecutors also had “insufficient evidence to prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt,” although Newton Police “had probable cause to arrest this defendant,” Smith, a Catawba County assistant district attorney, wrote on the dismissal form. “This case is being dismissed in the best interests of justice.”

Newton Police issued a news release at the time of the incident saying two victims were treated at the scene for pepper spray exposure and then released.

Two parade participants notified police that a man armed with pepper spray was following the re-enactors, according to police. Witnesses told police that when the re-enactors stopped to fire their weapons, the man discharged pepper spray at them.

Witnesses pointed out the man to police, who immediately took him into custody without incident.

Police seized a small canister of pepper spray and a Smith & Wesson .38-caliber revolver from Smith. He had a concealed weapons permit for the gun, police said at the time.

Newton Police Maj. Tim Hayes referred questions from the Observer recently to the district attorney’s office, saying police had no further comment on the case.

Joe Marusak: 704-358-5067, @jmarusak

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