A new lawsuit challenges the city of Richmond’s authority to remove its Confederate statues and requests that those already taken down be put back up.

The lawsuit, filed in Richmond Circuit Court on Friday by two Monument Avenue residents, says Mayor Levar Stoney unlawfully ordered the iconography taken down last week on the first day of a new law that gave the city control of the statues’ future. Stoney rejected advice from the city attorney and skirted a state-established 60-day process for removal, citing public safety.

That justification, according to the complaint, was “pretextual and arbitrary.”

“Mayor Stoney had available means to safeguard public safety within the Monument Avenue Historic District and in the locations in which the other monuments were located without removing the monuments at issue,” the lawsuit reads. “Removal of the statues would not and did not enhance or protect public safety.”

Stoney spokesman Jim Nolan said: “The city does not comment on pending or ongoing litigation.”

The lawsuit also names each member of the City Council. Council President Cynthia Newbille did not return an email requesting comment after normal business hours Friday.

The filing comes a day after Richmond Judge Bradley C. Cavedo issued a 60-day injunction in a separate case that bars the city from removing more Confederate iconography. The city has already taken down statues of Matthew Fontaine Maury, Stonewall Jackson and J.E.B. Stuart from Monument Avenue, along with several others across the city, leaving only A.P. Hill in the North Side standing among the city-owned memorials.

Cavedo has also blocked the state from removing the Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue, the best-known statue in the former capital of the Confederacy.

Helen Marie Taylor, a longtime Monument Avenue preservationist, is among the plaintiffs suing the state over the future of the Lee statue. Taylor is one of two plaintiffs in the new lawsuit, along with fellow Monument Avenue resident Evan Morgan Massey.

Their lawsuit asks for a stoppage of Confederate iconography removal and the restoration of those already taken down.

“Even if there were a potential threat of harm to protesters and bystanders if monuments were pulled down illegally by protesters, [Stoney] had the means available to the City to avert that threat, as had been demonstrated by the City in response to previous protests,” the lawsuit says.

“[Stoney] arbitrarily issued his removal order without considering alternative responses.”

No hearing has been scheduled in the case, according to online court records.

State Government Reporter

Justin Mattingly covers Virginia politics and policy. He previously covered education. A northern New York native and Syracuse University alumnus, he's worked at the RTD since 2017. You can follow him on Twitter at @jmattingly306.

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