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GoFundMe for woman accused in toppling Soldiers Monument obelisk draws ire

A GoFundMe page was set up to raise legal defense funds for Dawn Furlong, who faces charges in connection with a protest that resulted in the removal of a monument from the Santa Fe Plaza.

GOFUNDME

By SEAN THOMAS | The Santa Fe New Mexican | Published: November 21, 2020

(Tribune News Service) — A GoFundMe campaign to raise legal fees for one of six people accused of helping to topple the Santa Fe Plaza obelisk has grabbed the attention of some local residents who believe the account should be closed — or donations repurposed to pay for a new monument.

The fundraising account seeks to collect $10,000 for local tattoo artist Dawn Furlong, who is facing several charges on suspicion of playing a role in destroying what was sometimes called the Soldiers Monument, a 152-year-old structure.

The incident occurred during an Indigenous Peoples Day rally in October that began as a peaceful event and then turned chaotic as demonstrators swarmed the obelisk — long a source of controversy due to an inscription viewed by many as racist and in celebration of military campaigns against Native Americans.

Dozens of demonstrators eventually toppled the obelisk using rope and chain.

Santa Fe police announced charges against Furlong, 46, nearly four weeks after the incident. She was the third of the six suspects identified. Most recently, police filed charges Friday against 72-year-old gallery owner Steven Fox.

More suspects could still be identified in the ongoing investigation, police have said. Santa Fe Crime Stoppers also is offering up to a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of anyone involved.

Furlong, who owns Dawn's Custom Tattoos on Hickox Street, was arraigned Friday in Santa Fe County Magistrate Court. She is charged with criminal damage to property, conspiracy, unlawful assembly, criminal trespass and unauthorized graffiti.

As of Friday afternoon, 78 people had donated more than $8,000 to the GoFundMe campaign for her.

Daniel Ortiz of Santa Fe, one of several residents who opposes the fundraiser, said he doesn't think it fits the crowdfunding site's goal of helping those in need.

"These people have committed a criminal act," Ortiz said of Furlong and others accused in the obelisk's destruction. "They are charged with felonies. GoFundMe should not support people who broke the law."

Defendants Lily Schweitzer, 33, and Ryan Witt, 29, were arraigned Thursday, while Melissa Rose, 44, and her daughter Lauren Straily, 28, are set to make their first court appearances next week.

None of the suspects arraigned this week has been arrested or jailed, and none has made a plea.

Furlong would face almost five years in jail and more than $10,000 in fines if she were convicted of all the counts against her.

The counts of criminal damage to property and conspiracy are felony charges that each carry a potential penalty of 18 months in jail and a $5,000 fine. Criminal trespass is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. The other two charges are petty misdemeanor, and each carries a penalty of up to 180 days in jail and a $500 fine.

Magistrate Donita Sena released Furlong — who also uses the surname Purnell — on a $2,500 unsecured appearance bond, meaning she doesn't have to put up any money now but will owe the court if she fails to appear at her next hearing.

Schweitzer and Witt received the same conditions of release.

Attorney Kathryn T. Fischer, who represented Furlong at Friday's hearing, declined to comment on the case.

The GoFundMe page, created by a man with the name Christopher Harris, says that because Furlong "is well known in the community and because she is easily recognizable, she was singled out by Santa Fe police."

"So many of us know and admire Dawn as a person of the highest integrity and with a strong commitment to love and unit," the post continues.

It calls the obelisk a "racist monument."

The 33-foot monument, erected in 1868, was initially dedicated to Civil War Union soldiers who died in the Battle of Glorieta Pass in 1862. But an inscription added to the base of the obelisk said it was also dedicated to soldiers who died fighting "savage Indians."

Neither Harris nor Furlong responded to multiple requests for comment.

A spokesman for GoFundMe said in an email the company looked into the page and confirmed the "fundraiser does not violate any of GoFundMe's terms of service."

But Ortiz and others said the site should not be a venue to raise legal fees in criminal cases.

Summer Valdez, who helps moderate a Facebook group called Rebuild Santa Fe Obelisk, said money raised on the GoFundMe account should go toward rebuilding the monument.

"I feel like if you are going to participate in something knowing it's criminal, you should also be willing to accept the consequences," Valdez said. "She basically participated in a crime and is now having the people pay for her legal fees."

Valdez said she takes particular issue with language on the GoFundMe page suggesting Furlong was being singled out by police.

"That was the one thing that irritated me more than anything," Valdez said.

Valdez said she and others have reached out to the First Judicial District Attorney's Office to see if there is a possibility of putting a freeze on the account and redirecting the funds to pay for any potential restitution costs.

The District Attorney's Office did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Outgoing District Attorney Marco Serna had said when the first charges in the case were announced he did not intend to offer any plea deals for anyone charged in the obelisk's destruction. He pledged to charge the suspects to the full extent of the law.

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Staff reporter Phaedra Haywood contributed to this report.

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