Memphis officials respond to ruling on Confederate statues

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - City of Memphis is responding one day after a judge ruled Memphis legally removed Confederate statues in late December.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans can still appeal to a higher court. And while the group hasn't decided yet if they will appeal, Lee Millar said they're still reviewing their options.

"This is vindication that we were able to execute this process and do it legally," said Bruce McMullen, Chief Legal Officer for City of Memphis.

McMullen said a Nashville chancery court judge's ruling Wednesday is confirmation the city didn't hide anything.

"We vetted every step in this process and made sure it was legal," McMullen said.

Through city council ordinance and Mayor Jim Strickland's signature, the city sold two parks to a nonprofit group Memphis Greenspace, who removed three Confederate monuments.

The judge's ruling said the sale was legal and Memphis Greenspace is "not a sham."

Tennessee lawmakers closed the loophole that allowed the sale this year, but the judge wrote the implications of the new legislation can't be retroactively applied, saying "the court is not authorized to read provisions into the law that are not there."

"We are very interested in transferring the statues to a memorial park, to a museum, someone that's interested in telling the story of the Civil War," said Memphis Greenspace President Van Turner.

Turner said the group remains under court order to protect the monuments until the case is resolved, and they're being kept at a private company in a private space in Shelby County under surveillance.

Turner also said Memphis Greenspace is working to ensure the grass is trimmed at the parks on a routine basis, but they remain cautious about touching weeds around the Forrest site so as to not disturb the graves.

"If you want us to run the parks to make it look good, move on, drop the legislation," Turner said.

It's unclear how long the legal battle will last, and the city said they're prepared to go to Tennessee's highest court.

"This probably won't be over finally until we get to the state Supreme Court," McMullen said.

The next stop would be the Tennessee Court of Appeals and then the Supreme Court.

Millar said they will determine next steps in the coming days.

Copyright 2018 WMC Action News 5. All rights reserved.