City Police Chief Al Thomas retires amid criticism of response to 'Unite the Right' rally

Retirement comes just over two weeks after release of highly critical report

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Former Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas speaking at a press conference after the Unite the Right rally on Aug. 12. 

Tim Dodson | Cavalier Daily

Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas announced Monday that he is retiring, effective immediately.

A release from the city did not provide the specific reason for Thomas’s retirement, but the announcement comes just over two weeks after a highly critical report from former U.S. Attorney Tim Heaphy was publicly released and presented to the Charlottesville City Council.

Heaphy’s report concluded that the Charlottesville Police Department had not been adequately prepared for the violent rallies on Aug. 11 and 12. The independent review commissioned by the city had sparked uproar among the residents of Charlottesville. The report criticized and placed blame for the violence on the police department, the City Council and the University Police, in addition to the Virginia State Police.

Part of the report alleged that Thomas had told Charlottesville police officers, “Let them fight for a little. It will make it easier to declare an unlawful assembly.”

Thomas had not previously replied to this accusation directly, but his attorney, Kevin Martingayle had said that Thomas never used the words, “Let them fight.”

The report published on Dec. 1 also alleged that Thomas “deleted text messages that were relevant to our review.” Martingayle denied this allegation, stating, “Any allegations that he attempted to cover up or mislead anyone, he absolutely disputes.”

“Chief Thomas’s attempts to influence our review illustrate a deeper issue within CPD — a fear of retribution for criticism,” the review stated. “Many officers with whom we spoke expressed concern that their truthful provision of critical information about the protest events would result in retaliation from Chief Thomas.”

The city’s release announcing Thomas’s retirement did not mention Heaphy’s report. Amid speculation that Thomas was fired, City Manager Maurice Jones said at the City Council meeting Monday evening that Thomas voluntarily retired from his position. 

"Nothing in my career has brought me more pride than serving as the Police Chief for the City of Charlottesville," Thomas said in the city’s release. "I will be forever grateful for having had the opportunity to protect and serve a community I love so dearly. It truly has been an unparalleled privilege to work alongside such a dedicated and professional team of public servants. I wish them and the citizens of Charlottesville the very best.”

According to the release, Deputy Chief Gary Pleasants will lead the police department until Jones appoints an interim police chief within the next week. 

The press release also said the City of Charlottesville will begin searching for a new police chief immediately. 

Thomas began his term as Chief in May 2016 after Tim Longo retired. Thomas has served in law enforcement for 27 years and is a veteran of the United States Air Force. Thomas was the first black police chief of Charlottesville.

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