A Texas judge is under criminal investigation for what prosecutors have described as an act of vandalism against “historic, segregation-era signage” in a local courthouse, The Dallas Morning News reports. Ellis County Judge Todd Little has found himself in hot water after a YouTube video emerged apparently showing him instructing another man to paint over a courthouse sign that said “negroes”—a sign that local authorities say should be preserved and allowed to remain in the courthouse as a reminder of the past. The sign in the basement of the Ellis County courthouse became the subject of controversy in November after the only Black candidate elected to a county-level position this year was given an office near the sign, forcing him to look at it every day.
That official, Constable Curtis Polk Jr., called it a “disgrace” to have to work near the sign. Little, who at that time said the sign was preserved so that the “evil” of segregation would never happen again, gave Polk a new office and, according to prosecutors, had the sign painted over a short time later. Little can be “prominently heard and seen” in a video of the incident as he “encourages and directs” another man to spray paint over the sign, while also telling two sheriff’s deputies to “stand down and take no action,” outgoing district attorney Patrick M. Wilson wrote in a court filing. Rather than forcing local authorities to rethink the sign’s place in the courthouse, the incident only led the Ellis County DA to consider charging Little and double down on keeping the sign. It’s expected to be restored, with authorities categorizing its destruction not as an act of protest, but an act of vandalism that caused about $750 in damage. Potential charges that could be filed include criminal mischief; reckless damage or destruction; and graffiti involving a public monument.