Confederate statue vandal must pay $16,000

The Confederate soldier monument Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019, on the Bentonville square. The lower part of the soldier's rifle is missing after the statue was vandalized. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/BEN GOFF)
The Confederate soldier monument Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019, on the Bentonville square. The lower part of the soldier's rifle is missing after the statue was vandalized. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/BEN GOFF)

BENTONVILLE -- A Bentonville woman involved in vandalizing the Confederate statue on the downtown square won't face a felony charge after she agreed Wednesday to pay $16,000 in restitution for damaging the monument.

Prosecutors agreed to divert Laura Hammarstrom's criminal case.

Hammarstrom, 45, and Jeremy Ordaz, 41, of Bella Vista were charged with felony criminal mischief. Ordaz's case has not been resolved. They were arrested in September after they attempted to pull the statue down, according to court documents.

Bryan Sexton, deputy prosecutor, agreed Wednesday to resolve Hammarstrom's case by a diversion agreement. She must not commit any criminal acts in the next six months and must pay the $16,000 in restitution by a Dec. 15 hearing.

Hammarstrom will be charged with disorderly conduct if she abides by the terms of the diversion, Sexton said.

Police officer David Leehans observed a crowd gathered on the square about 10:45 p.m. Sept. 22 and a man flagged him down, according to a probable cause affidavit. Leehans said a man with a bandanna over his face left the area, and Hammarstrom was standing on a pedestal near the statue, according to the affidavit.

Hammarstrom told Leehans she was trying to tear down the statue, the affidavit says. She said she works on the square and has to see the statue every day, and she had been trying for five years to get it removed, the affidavit said.

Hammarstrom and some friends were discussing the statue during dinner at a restaurant on the square and returned later to tear it down, according to the affidavit.

Police were told Ordaz climbed on the statue and broke the depicted rifle with a hammer, according to the affidavit.

A company estimated it will cost $12,000 to $16,000 to repair the statue, the affidavit said.

Sexton told Benton County Circuit Judge Brad Karren that Joey McCutchen, the attorney who represents the owners of the statue, objected to the diversion agreement.

Sexton said he believes diversion is a fair resolution since the Arkansas chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which owns the statue, will get restitution and because of Hammarstrom's had no criminal history.

John Mikesch, Hammarstrom's attorney, told Karren his client has a cashier's check to pay $8,000 toward the restitution.

McCutchen described the diversion agreement with Hammarstrom as a slap on the wrist and said it sends the message that someone can just pay the restitution and face no other consequences.

"We don't think it's right or fair," he said. "That just condones criminal conduct."

McCutchen said he wants Ordaz convicted of a felony, especially since he was the one who damaged the statue with the hammer.

The monument has been on the square since 1908 in an agreement with Benton County. The Daughters of the Confederacy announced June 1 it has agreed to move the statue to a private location, according to a news release from the group.

The Daughters of the Confederacy will work with the Benton County Historical Society and other community members to move the monument to James H. Berry Park, a private park adjacent to the Bentonville Cemetery, where Berry is buried.

McCutchen said the monument with be repaired and refurbished after it is removed from the square.