Federal report on Charlottesville, blames city leadership

Discussion in 'Hot off the Wire' started by Twinkle Toes, Dec 1, 2017.

  1. Twinkle Toes Social Drinker

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    Cross posting from TRS



    A string of law enforcement errors contributed to the eruption of deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, during a white nationalist rally there in August.


    “Because of their misalignment and lack of accessible protective gear, officers failed to intervene in physical altercations that took place in areas adjacent to Emancipation Park. VSP directed its officers to remain behind barricades rather than risk injury responding to conflicts between protesters and counterprotesters.”

    Excerpts from the report

    Many members of our community embraced the effort to remove the statues, believing them symbols of white supremacy. They began talking not just about the statues, but more systemic issues like race, immigration, and economic opportunity. The election of President Trump further motivated progressives in Charlottesville. City leaders encouraged this liberal activism and declared Charlottesville the “capital of the resistance” to oppressive policies and systemic inequality.

    Over 100 people attended both events, carrying flags and chanting Nazi slogans such as “blood and soil” and “you will not replace us.”

    Jason Kessler obtained a permit to convene a rally at the Lee statue at which he planned to bring together a wide array of right-wing and white nationalist groups. This event was called “Unite The Right” and was expected to be a much larger event and more significant public safety challenge than the July 8 Klan rally. Counter-protesters began mobilizing for this event and similarly recruited a range of left-wing groups to come to Charlottesville to confront the racist ideology of the Unite The Right groups.

    Local anti-racist groups prepared to disrupt the event and hinder law enforcement response to specific threats.

    In the face of strong community opposition to the Unite The Right rally, City leaders wanted to deny Kessler’s permit application. City Councilors responded to this pressure by injecting themselves into the operational details of the City’s response to this event—a function typically reserved for City staff.

    The planning and coordination breakdowns prior to August 12 produced disastrous results. Because of their misalignment and lack of accessible protective gear, officers failed to intervene in physical altercations that took place in areas adjacent to Emancipation Park. VSP directed its officers to remain behind barricades rather than risk injury responding to conflicts between protesters and counter-protesters. CPD commanders similarly instructed their officers not to intervene in all but the most serious physical confrontations. Neither agency deployed available field forces or other units to protect public safety at the locations where violence took place. Instead, command staff prepared to declare an unlawful assembly and disperse the crowd. When violence was most prevalent, CPD commanders pulled officers back to a protected area of the park, where they remained for over an hour as people in the large crowd fought on Market Street.

    Once the unlawful assembly was declared, law enforcement efforts to disperse the crowd generated more violence as Alt-Right protesters were pushed back toward the counterprotesters with whom they had been in conflict.

    Early on August 12, CPD had placed a school resource officer alone at the intersection of 4th Street NE and Market Street. This officer feared for her safety as groups of angry Alt-Right protesters and counter-protesters streamed by her as they left Emancipation Park. The officer called for assistance and was relieved of her post. Unfortunately, CPD commanders did not replace her or make other arrangements to prevent traffic from traveling across the Downtown Mall on 4th Street. A single wooden saw horse was all that impeded traffic down 4th Street as large groups of people continued to roam the streets. This vulnerability was exposed when James Fields drove his vehicle down the unprotected street into a large crowd of counter-protesters at the intersection of 4th Street SE and Water Street, killing Ms. Heyer.

    In contrast to the July 8 event, the City of Charlottesville protected neither free expression nor public safety on August 12. The City was unable to protect the right of free expression and facilitate the permit holder’s offensive speech. This represents a failure of one of government’s core functions—the protection of fundamental rights. Law enforcement also failed to maintain order and protect citizens from harm, injury, and death. Charlottesville preserved neither of those principles on August 12, which has led to deep distrust of government within this community.

    City leaders should provide comprehensive information to the public about plans for future large demonstration events. Operational plans that ensue from this process should seek to protect both free expression and public safety.

    The Virginia General Assembly should criminalize the use of a flame to intimidate. The General Assembly should empower municipalities to enact reasonable restrictions on the right to carry firearms at large protest events.

    In sum, we received nearly 2,000 still images and over 300 hours of video footage over the course of our review. [...] We also obtained more than seventy hours of radio communications of Charlottesville Police Department from July 8 and August 12. We were able to synch the radio communications to the video images, creating a real time account of the tactical decisions made by police agencies during the events.

    [Charlottesville Police Department] Chief Al Thomas initially attempted to sequence our review by limiting our access to information about various topics. He directed subordinates to provide us only with information regarding the planning for the protest events, not the events themselves. He later admitted to us in an interview that his goal in this process was to educate our review team in a methodical process which he controlled.

    In our interviews with CPD personnel, we learned that Chief Thomas and other CPD command staff deleted text messages that were relevant to our review. Chief Thomas also used a personal e-mail account to conduct some CPD business, then falsely denied using personal e-mail in response to a specific FOIA request.

    Chief Thomas asked his captains to create a “checklist” to document CPD’s preparation for each event. In response to the Chief’s direction, Captain David Shifflett located a Department of Justice Document entitled “Checklist for the Preparation of Mass Unrest Events.” This document is essentially a planning guide, designed to be used in advance of large demonstrations. Captain Shifflett asked the Chief’s executive assistant to convert this checklist to a format in which it could be edited. She did so, and sent the template to Captain Shifflett for his use in creating a checklist for the July 8 event. Captain Shifflett then went through the various items in the checklist and “checked” each task that had been performed. He then sent the completed document to the Chief’s assistant, who affixed a CPD logo to the front of the document and created a finished checklist for delivery to our independent review team.

    When the July 8 checklist was uploaded to the system created for production of documents to our review team, Deputy City Attorney Lisa Robertson noticed that it was undated. Ms. Robertson then directed that the checklist and other documents created for our review be dated to reflect the time of their creation and contain a footer that makes clear the document was created for Hunton & Williams for the purpose of the firm’s provision of legal services to the City of Charlottesville. Captain Shifflett then complied with that request and produced a finished checklist with the footer included. Chief Thomas and Captain Shifflett both denied any intent to “back-date” the checklist or any other document.

    Many officers with whom we spoke expressed concern that their truthful provision of critical information about the protest events would result in retaliation from Chief Thomas.
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