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Governor's Task Force Issues Final Report on Unite the Right Rally

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) -

A task force created by Governor Terry McAuliffe to review Virginia's response to the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville has released its final report and recommendations [PDF].

The Governor's Task Force on Public Safety Preparedness and Response to Civil Unrest met a total of four times since September. Its report includes an after-action review with some findings similar to the Charlottesville-commissioned independent review done by former U.S. Attorney Tim Heaphy and his team.

Gov. McAuliffe is reviewing the final report, and legislators have said they would also like Heaphy to present his team’s review.

The task force’s review points out problems with Virginia State Police and Charlottesville police developing separate plans for the controversial rally. It finds those plans unclear on who was in charge.

“The state put all the resources there to assist. We were there to assist the city of Charlottesville,” McAuliffe said.

The task force is making 16 recommendations, which includes that the commonwealth develop a planning template for future incidents of civil unrest and improve information sharing with local governments.

“I believe local jurisdictions ought to have the authority. We knew, the FBI had told us in advance, that these folks were coming, they were armed. We ought to have a right, the local jurisdictions should say, ‘you can come and protest and I may not like what you're going to say, but you do not have the right to come here and threaten and put us in extreme danger by allowing firearms to be present,’” the governor said.

The governor was critical of Charlottesville's late action to try to move the rally from Emancipation Park to McIntire Park: “I'm still outraged that was put in Emancipation Park in the middle of downtown Charlottesville. I had called and told the mayor way in advance you need to get this out of downtown,” he said.

McAuliffe said he urged Mayor Mike Signer to attempt to change the event’s location far in advance of August 12. Charlottesville officials waited until August 7 to announced that the city would only permit the rally if it was held at McIntire Park. The American Civil Liberties Union and Rutherford Institute filed a lawsuit on behalf of organizer Jason Kessler, and a judge granted an injunction in their favor.

Signer confirmed that conversation with the governor happened in the week after the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan held a rally in Justice Park on July 8.

The mayor said in a statement:

I haven’t had a chance to review the report yet but will do so carefully this week.

The governor is correct. I spoke with him the week after the KKK rally on 7/8, and I shared with him the idea of moving the rally to an open space, which he supported based on his experience doing the same with another protest as DNC chair in LA. I also shared the idea with my colleagues on [Charlottesville City Council], who were generally supportive.

I shared this support with our staff, including [City Manager] Maurice Jones and [Charlottesville Police] Chief Thomas, several times after 7/8. I had my first conversation with Mr. Jones about relocation on 7/12.

The idea did not get traction with our staff at that earlier stage. As we seek to learn lessons from the record and improve, without pointing fingers, I regret that the Heaphy report does not attend to this earlier phase of the effort to relocate the rally. As his report makes clear and as he stated on Monday night, the plan the police prepared for McIntire Park would have been safer for all groups and for the city.

The mayor has cast blame on Jones and Thomas before. Jones has claimed Signer threatened his job and the police chief's job twice.

Governor McAuliffe is urging the city to take action as Kessler recently announced that he plans a “reunion” rally next August.

“Now this clown wants to come back again and do it again. Well we ought to start thinking, the locality, the city of Charlottesville ought to start thinking get it up into McIntire Park and keep the sides separated,” said McAuliffe.

The governor said he will send legislation to the General Assembly before he leaves office to allow communities to ban firearms at protests.


12/06/2017 Statement from Charlottesville:

The city of Charlottesville has reviewed both the report of the Governor’s Task Force and the IACP After Action Report.

As we move forward from the events of the summer, we will consider the recommendations in the documents, as well as those in the Independent Review by Hunton & Williams presented to City Council on December 4th. All of the reports point to the need for better cooperation and coordination between the state and localities.

We look forward to working with our partners at the state level to better respond to future events. We also will continue to advocate for changes to the state code that will give Charlottesville, as well as communities across the commonwealth, additional tools to prevent the type of violence we experienced on August 12th.