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Charlottesville residents question review of City’s management of white supremacist events

Speakers criticize absence of transparency, lack of answers to lingering questions on the events

<p>A speaker at the hearing voices his concerns about Tim Heaphy's review. <br>

A speaker at the hearing voices his concerns about Tim Heaphy's review.

Charlottesville citizens expressed their concerns to the City Council Monday night on the legitimacy of a review — currently being conducted by former U.S. Attorney Tim Heaphy — into the response to and management of the white supremacist events this summer, including the “Unite the Right” rally Aug. 12.

The “Unite the Right” rally occurred Aug. 12 following a white nationalist march on Grounds the night before. Events turned deadly during the Saturday rally when a car plowed into a group of pedestrians, injuring at least 35 people and killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer. 

A separate deadly incident occurred when a Virginia State Police helicopter crashed in Albemarle County, killing Trooper Pilot Berke M.M. Bates and Lt. H. Jay Cullen. The helicopter had been assisting law enforcement efforts in Charlottesville that day. 

Heaphy, a former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia, was originally tasked with conducting an independent and external review of the City’s management of the white supremacist events in the Charlottesville community since May by the Council last month. 

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 the Council concerning the management of the “Unite the Right” rally Aug. 12.

Before the regular meeting began, a public hearing on the events of Aug.12 was held to allow for residents to express ongoing concerns relating to that day. Speakers at Monday’s hearing raised concerns about the City’s role in the review and whether or not it would be truly independent of the City’s influence. 

Rosia Parker, a local resident, claimed that Heaphy has had a close relationship with the City through his work in the past and his appointment to lead the review process represented a conflict of interest. 

“To introduce him as an independent investigator to ask questions of the City, expecting ... answers about your dirty work? Please, do we look dumb to you as you do to us, the citizens of Charlottesville,” Parker said. 

Parker continued and told the Council to stop paying Heaphy because she said it doesn’t “benefit the citizens.”

“It wastes taxpayer money. You continue to lie, lie, lie and tell more lies. Tell us the truth now,” Park said. “As Charlottesville citizens we deserve to hear the truth and demand Judge [Richard] Moore resign, and [City Manager Maurice] Jones, [Mayor Mike] Signer, [Councilors Kathy] Galvin, [Bob] Fenwick and [Kristin] Szakos.”

Another speaker at the hearing also criticized the City’s selection of Heaphy to conduct the review process claiming that his alleged association with the City is a conflict of interest.

“I’m very disappointed that the City decided to go with Tim Heaphy,” the speaker said. “The City has a long-standing relationship with him … so that’s a conflict of interest no matter how you try to paint the picture.”

The same speaker also raised concerns on the transparency of the review process, claiming that the City does not have to provide Heaphy with any evidence they do not wish to. 

“If you guys [Councilors] give him [Heaphy] information to not disclose, he is not going to disclose it and this information will not be available for the review,” the speaker said. “That is a kind of a slap in the face to the citizens of Charlottesville … Getting that man to do what you call an independent investigation, it’s definitely not independent … you should have gotten someone from outside of this region to do the investigation with no direct connection to the City.”

Another speaker, who introduced himself as Dave, claimed that Heaphy’s review would likely not result in any criminal charges and could obscure some uncovered evidence as the entire final report would not have to be made publicly available. 

“It [the review] is not necessarily going to lead to charges, that’s not necessarily a criminal investigation,” Dave said. “The entire report will not be made public due to attorney-client privilege but the client is the City or which means the client is us so that is another reason for the City to not divulge information.” 

Attorney Jeff Fogel claimed that Heaphy actively petitioned to be appointed to conduct the review process and compromised the integrity of it as a result. 

“Mr. Heaphy solicited this job,” said Fogel, in reference to an email he received through a Freedom of Information Act request. “He wrote on Aug. 13 to the Mayor [Mike Signer] … and City Manager to say, ‘You need to conduct an independent investigation and I’m the guy for the job.’ Mr. Heaphy can do nothing without your permission. You hold the keys and control the process. You know it's not an independent investigation.” 

Jones made a statement on Heaphy’s management of the review based on citizen concerns from a previous council meeting regarding the timeframe of its completion.

“We believe the full review will take several months,” Jones said. “However, Mr. Heaphy and I have discussed the possibility of coming before the Council in the next few weeks to discuss where he is with the review and to provide an update on any issues that he feels he is at liberty to address at that time.” 

The Council will further consider the implications of the current review process at the Oct. 2 meeting, including the potential formation of a Citizen Review Commission to monitor Heaphy’s review.