Attorney leading review of city response to Aug. 12 responds to citizen concerns

City Council passes resolution to redesignate portion of Fourth Street in honor of Heather Heyer

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Tim Heaphy addressing  City Council at its recent meeting.

Geremia Di Maro | Cavalier Daily

Former U.S. Attorney Tim Heaphy and Charlottesville City Manager Maurice Jones responded to concerns raised by citizen speakers at the Sept. 18 City Council meeting Monday night relating to the ongoing review of the city’s response to and management of recent white supremacist events, including the deadly Aug. 12 “Unite the Right” rally.

Heaphy, a former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia, was tasked by the city with conducting the independent and external review 

The city launched the review Aug. 25 in response to citizen concerns expressed at an emotional City Council meeting in which speakers demanded answers from Council concerning the management of the “Unite the Right” rally.

Before Heaphy addressed the Council, Jones stated his confidence in the integrity of the review process and the expertise of Heaphy’s team. 

“We are partnering with Mr. Heaphy, [and] we hired [him] to conduct this independent review because of his critical eye, his experience and his understanding of law enforcement procedures and practices,” Jones said. “We fully expect Mr. Heaphy to come back with a detailed report that will explain to us what we did well, what we didn't do well, not only on Aug. 12 or July 8 but May 13 as well.” 

Throughout his statement, Heaphy emphasized the independence of the review process from city influence.

“I don't really think we consider the city to be our partner,” Heaphy said. “I frankly think that we were hired to be critical of the city, to look hard at what occurred with respect to those protest events and provide a candid, objective assessment of how those events were handled.”

“The direction I have received from Mr. Jones, [City Attorney Craig Brown] and his office is to get the facts, wherever those facts lead,” Heaphy added. “This is not … a witch hunt to point a finger necessarily at any individuals.”

Heaphy also emphasized that the review process was thorough in its conduct and is investigating all avenues of interest in seeking out answers.

“The process is fulsome and comprehensive,” Heaphy said. “We have already obtained tens of thousands of documents … that reflect reports, assessments, plans, emails, text messages and really anything at all relevant, we've asked for and are going over.”

In relation to the collection of information for the review process, Heaphy was hopeful that it would ultimately allow for citizen input.

“We continue to believe it's important to try to gather the perspectives of people who came at this event from lots of different places,” Heaphy added. “We are trying our best to get a comprehensive report from various perspectives about how these events were handled.”

Heaphy also acknowledged what he called the “skepticism” of community members concerning the independence of the review process from the city. 

“There is some skepticism about this process that we've confronted,” Heaphy said. “The fact that our client is the city and the information will be presented to the city makes some people frankly skeptical that this isn't a truly independent exercise.”

“We have worked hard to try to disabuse people of that skepticism and reinforce that our intention is to do a truly candid assessment, critical as I said, of law enforcement and our client,” Heaphy added. 

Heaphy said he was hopeful that the final report would be released around Thanksgiving. 

Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy asked Heaphy if a “mini-update” on the status of the review could be released in the next couple weeks to reveal answers to pressing questions, including the opening of Fourth Street and the ability of individuals to openly carry firearms on the Downtown Mall Aug. 12. 

Fourth Street crosses over the mall and was the site of where a car plowed into a crowd of people Aug. 12, injuring at least 35 people and killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer. The crossing was not supposed to be open to vehicular traffic during the events of Aug. 12. 

“If there are discrete questions that are factually oriented or are easy to verify, then yes, I would be happy to answer them,” Heaphy responded. “I can't give you answers to those now because those are questions that are complicated. I feel like, rather than starting to answer one off questions, my strong preference is to give you a comprehensive answer.”

Councilor Kathy Galvin asked Heaphy if there would be any information that the city would not be able to legally divulge to the public after the review process was completed. 

“As far as I am aware, no, there is nothing that will be prevented from being disclosed, and that is a decision frankly for the City Manager,” Heaphy said. “There is nothing that we are gathering that will have a legal prohibition on public disclosure.”

After Heaphy addressed the Council, many citizen speakers still criticized the review process during the matters by the public section of the meeting. 

Don Gathers — who has served as chair of the city’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials and Public Spaces —  suggested that he and other activist groups may launch their own investigation into the city’s response to and management of white supremacist events. 

“[It has been] 51 days since [Aug. 12] the hounds of hell marched down our streets, and we still have no answers,” Gathers said. “This is not just going to go away, we will not just let it go. If necessary, I will call upon other community activists and panel our own review board and preset answers that we come up with to both the citizens and the media, possibly then we will get some viable responses.”

Dave Ghamandi, who was also critical of Heaphy at a previous Council meeting, claimed that Heaphy and his firm, Hunton & Williams, would profit from the review process and were exploiting the tragedy of Heyer’s death.

Council unanimously passed a resolution Monday to honorarily designate Fourth Street between East Market Street and Water Street as “Heather Heyer Way” in memory of Heyer. 

Susan Bro, Heyer’s mother, made a statement after Mayor Mike Signer announced the resolution to honor Heyer’s life.

“[Heyer] being memorialized in this way — I deeply appreciate the honor,” Bro said. “I would hope that the city, though I’m not a resident of Charlottesville, would also consider [honoring] other African-American leaders who've made an impact.”

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