Charlottesville Response to White Supremacist Rally Sharply Criticized in New Report

Joe Heim, Washington Post, December 1, 2017

The Charlottesville Police Department was ill-prepared, lacked proper training and devised a flawed plan for responding to the white supremacist rally that rocked the city in August, according to an independent report commissioned by the city that was released Friday.

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“The planning and coordination breakdowns prior to Aug. 12 produced disastrous results,” the report states. “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.”

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At a press conference Friday morning, Heaphy [Heaphy, a former U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia hired by Charlottesville to assess the city’s response,] said he heard from a couple of officers in the police command center that Charlottesville police chief Al Thomas said, “Let them fight for a little. It will make it easier to declare an unlawful assembly.”

But Heaphy said police were not given a “stand-down” order. Instead, they were told not to intervene except in cases of extreme violence or when there was a risk of serious injury or worse. {snip}

Heaphy said he talked with more than a dozen police officers who said they wanted to act, but the plan constrained them. Heaphy said officers told him: “We let the community down.”

“Early on Aug. 12, [Charlottesville Police] had placed a school resource officer alone at the intersection of Fourth Street NE and Market Street,” the report states. {snip} “The officer called for assistance and was relieved of her post. Unfortunately, [Charlottesville Police] commanders did not replace her or make other arrangements to prevent traffic from traveling across the Downtown Mall on Fourth Street.”

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Heaphy said the city missed an opportunity to restrict the use of weapons at the rally. While it could not have banned participants from carrying guns because of Virginia’s open carry law, it could have prohibited the carrying of sticks, shields, clubs and other weapons used by some protesters and counterprotesters.

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