Independent Review of Charlottesville Rallies, Protests Released
Former U.S. Attorney Tim Heaphy has released an independent review of the protests and rallies involving white nationalists and supremacists in Charlottesville.
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia Tim Heaphy has released an independent review of the protests and rallies involving white nationalists and supremacists in Charlottesville. Click here to read the full report [PDF file]
Heaphy held a press conference Friday, December 1, at CitySpace. He said the city and police failed to protect many people during the violence that occurred over the summer.
"The violence that occurred in our community was troubling. It was troubling for the people involved. It was troubling for everyone who watched it unfold," he said to the audience.
According to the former-federal attorney, the major mistakes were a failure to prepare and a serious lack of communication with the community. He believes there were many core issues within the city and Charlottesville Police Department (CPD) that led to the violence and confrontations that occurred in May, July, and August.
Heaphy accused Charlottesville police of tolerating violence during the morning of the Unite the Right rally so that it would encourage an unlawful assembly to be declared quickly: "We have evidence from the command center that the chief actually said 'let them fight. Let them fight for a little while and it'll make it easier to declare an unlawful assembly,’" said Heaphy.
"It is critical of the police and reveals some very damning information about the chief hiding communication and off state platforms, communication platforms," said activist Jalane Schmidt.
Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas briefly addressed the concerns during Friday's press conference, saying it is not a time for finger pointing and that the city needs to come together now more than ever: “We are a community divided. We're still a community in crisis," he said.
The law firm of Hunton & Williams, LLP conducted the independent review over the last few months, which included events connected to the torch-lit rally in May, a rally by members and supporters of the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan at Justice Park in July, and Jason Kessler's Unite the Right rally at Emancipation Park.
"There was a sense that we found of 'we got this.' The police department believed that they could handle this without needing to consult those outside experts," Heaphy said.
Heaphy said city, university, and state police all knew enough information to respond appropriately during all the events but failed to take the threats seriously. As an example, he mentioned during the press conference that Virginia State Police (VSP) showed up 2 hours late on August 12, and did not share its response plans for that day with CPD.
"It’s not an intelligence failure. It's a failure, frankly, to appreciate the significance of that intelligence and prepare adequately for what occurred," he said.
"They are still not taking responsibility for what has taken place. They had ample enough information to have been prepared, to have been out there to protect the citizens," said activist Rosia Parker.
"I have no confidence that the leadership of this community can actually affect a change in the relationship between the police department and the community," said defense attorney Jeffrey E. Fogel.
The independent review also looked at a torch-lit march and rally that occurred at the University of Virginia the night before the Unite the Right rally. Roughly 300 Unite the Right rally supporters had gathered with Tiki torches at Nameless Field at UVA Friday, August 11. They then marched up to the UVA Lawn, around the Rotunda, and surrounded counterprotesters at the statue of Thomas Jefferson. Fights broke out between the students and “alt-right” before police officers stepped in.
Heaphy's team concluded that, "university officials were aware of this event for hours before it began but took no action to enforce separation between groups or otherwise prevent violence."
In a statement released Friday, UVA said," The university has acknowledged that its response to the horrific and unprecedented events in August should have been better."
The report believes Charlottesville's response to the KKK event "adequately accommodated both compelling interests at stake on July 8 - free speech and public safety." However, the report concluded that law enforcement made "critical mistakes":
"[Charlottesville Police Department] and [Virginia State Police] did not operate with sufficient coordination before, during or after the event. There was no joint training, unified operational plan, or joint radio communication between the agencies. VSP operated largely independently throughout the Klan rally, rather than in an integrated multi-agency force. CPD planners failed to anticipate the counter-protesters’ desire to disrupt the event by impeding the Klan’s arrival and departure."
The report does find issue with how Charlottesville responded to criticism from the community over action by law enforcement following the rally:
"The use of military-type equipment, number of arrests, and deployment of chemical dispersants generated strong opposition in the community. City leaders failed to adequately respond to that criticism. They did not provide a complete explanation of the reasons for the use of chemical irritants and other tactical decisions made on July 8."
Heaphy's review listed the following actions that went right:
- City officials provided thorough information to the community
- Law enforcement protected the free speech of all participants
- No significant injuries or property damage
Things that went wrong, according to the review:
- Law enforcement failed to operate within a unified command
- Law enforcement allowed media inside a law enforcement zone
- The operational plan created insufficient space for opposing groups
- The deployment of tear gas was unauthorized by command
- City leadership failed to respond to community criticism
The independent review is most critical of the way the police department conducted itself before and during August’s rally at Emancipation Park.
The report claims Chief Thomas tried to limit information Heaphy was seeking during the review. This includes deleting text messages and using private email to discuss business despite the fact Thomas falsely denied that.
The city was unsuccessful with protecting free expression as well as public safety on August 12, according to the report:
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.
The report concluded the following things went right during the Unite the Right rally:
- Despite the presence of firearms and confrontations, no person was shot and no significant property damage occurred.
- The Charlottesville Fire Department and UVA Health System had effective operations plans that allowed rescue personnel to extract and treat a large number of injured persons within minutes of a violent attack.
- Law enforcement planning and response was informed by thorough, accurate intelligence before and during the event.
However, the review determined the following went wrong that day:
- CPD did not seek input from law enforcement personnel experienced in handling similar events.
- CPD did not provide adequate training or information to officers in advance of the event.
- Charlottesville waited too long to request the specialized assistance of the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.
- Charlottesville City Council unduly interfered with operational planning by directing that the event be moved to McIntire Park just days in advance.
- Charlottesville did not provide adequate information to the public about plans for the event.
- City planners mistakenly believed that they could not limit the possession of certain items used as weapons at the Unite the Right event.
- The owners of private property adjacent to Emancipation Park refused access to their facilities, which hampered law enforcement response during the event.
- UVA Police Department refused multiple offers of mutual aid assistance from CPD, resulting in violent encounters that emboldened protesters at the Unite the Right rally.
- CPD implemented a flawed operational plan that failed to protect public safety on August 12.
- Failure to protect public safety erodes trust in law enforcement
City Manager Maurice Jones issued a statement, thanking Heaphy and his team for their work, but said, "we do not agree with every aspect of the report’s findings."
Jones' statement goes on to say:
"As we digest this report and its recommendations, I think it’s important to note that although mistakes may have been made, there is no indication of malicious intent on the part of the people who were charged with preparing for these unprecedented events and providing safety for our community. Chief Al Thomas and the men and women in his department are dedicated to protecting our City every day and we thank them for their service."
Virginia State Police also thanked Heaphy's team, but stated that "we also await the results of the final report by the Governor’s Task Force on Public Safety Preparedness and Response to Civil Unrest."
Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas stated:
"The goal of this report is a more unified Charlottesville, and I couldn't agree more. My hope now is that, as we move forward, and as we seek common understanding among a diversity of people, that we can learn from the productive elements of this report, work together to address our shortcomings and recommit ourselves to serving the public in a way that gives our citizens the utmost confidence in their safety and wellbeing."
What happened in Charlottesville on Aug. 12, 2017 was unprecedented in Virginia’s history. Aug. 12, 2017 also required the largest deployment of Virginia State Police personnel and resources to a single event in our 85-year history. That decision to assign more than 600 sworn and civilian personnel to this event did not happen overnight. State police, in partnership with local and state public safety agencies and Charlottesville government, spent weeks planning and preparing for a multitude of worst-case scenarios that had the potential to occur because of the unparalleled intelligence gathering and analysis shared among all relevant agencies
Heaphy will present the review to Charlottesville City Council during its meeting on Monday, December 4. A public comment period is expected. He is also expected to present the review to the public safety committees of the House of Delegates during the upcoming General Assembly session.