Posted on August 15, 2017

Experts: Police Response Inadequate at Charlottesville Rally

Brian Witte and Michael Balsamo, AP, August 14, 2017

A Virginia police chief said Monday that he “absolutely has regrets” about violence that erupted over the weekend when dozens of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members clashed with counterprotesters.

As the world watched pandemonium in Charlottesville unfold live on television Saturday, officers seemed to stand on the sidelines as fists flew, bats swung and objects soared through the air.

“We were hoping for a peaceful demonstration,” Chief Al Thomas said at a news conference. “Gradually the crowd size increased along with aggressiveness and hostility of the attendees towards one another.”


On Monday, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said he directed his administration to conduct an “extensive review” of how police prepare and respond to rallies. The city’s former police chief and law enforcement experts were critical of the way police responded, saying the ostensibly hands-off approach seemed to allow the violent fracas to grow.

Thomas said his officers were spread thin and had to make quick adjustments to their strategies when white nationalists began swarming the park and violence erupted.

Charlottesville officers called for backup from state police, who helped clear out the park. But police appeared to have no clear plan of what to do after that, as protesters flooded out of the park onto the streets.


“Absolutely I have regrets,” Thomas said. “It was a tragic, tragic weekend.”

Former Charlottesville Police chief Timothy Longo said he was “shocked” that police didn’t block the street where a car plowed into a group of protesters Saturday, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring several others.


Joseph Giacalone, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and former New York City police sergeant, said there should have been a stronger police presence and officers should have created a buffer zone between the two groups. Longo said he also would have expected police to have created buffers.

“When you have a group on one side and another group protesting against them, you have to put yourself in the middle of them,” Giacalone said. {snip}


Thomas denied any accusation that his officers had been told not to make arrests or step in when fights broke out.