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Heaphy presents report on handling of white supremacist events to City Council

Citizens weigh in on report during public hearing

Former U.S. Attorney Tim Heaphy presented a report to the Charlottesville City Council  on Monday, detailing the findings of his team’s third-party review of the city’s response to and management of this year’s white supremacist events, including the deadly Aug. 12 ‘Unite the Right’ rally.

Heaphy’s presentation was followed by a public hearing and an action plan presented by City Manager Maurice Jones based on Heaphy’s findings.

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.

According to Heaphy, his team interviewed about 150 people, and reviewed half a million documents, over 300 hours of video footage and 2,000 still images during the process. Heaphy also said that his team incurred a fee of $1.5 million dollars in the process, but made an agreement in which the City of Charlottesville would only have to pay $350,000. 

Much of Heaphy’s presentation emphasized what the report identified as flawed management and response measures conducted by the Charlottesville Police Department and Virginia State Police during the Aug. 12 ‘Unite the Right’ rally.

During the review, Heaphy claimed to uncover evidence that Police Chief Al Thomas intentionally allowed for conflict to occur between ‘Unite the Right’ demonstrators and counter-protesters in order to be able to declare an unlawful assembly. Thomas has since disputed the assertion.

Heaphy said that Charlottesville police officers were told to intervene between protesters only when life-threatening violence was possible while Virginia State Police personnel — stationed behind barricades in Emancipation Park — were specifically instructed to protect the park Aug. 12.

Heaphy also said the white nationalist torchlit march through University Grounds the evening of Aug. 11 was a major factor in the events of Aug. 12 due to the University’s insufficient and late response.

During the public hearing, a number of speakers expressed their frustrations toward the Council regarding the findings of the report, specifically with regards to the response of police personnel Aug. 12. 

Dave Ghamandi, an Albemarle County resident, said that the report was not comprehensive enough and did not absolve the Council of any blame for the events of Aug. 12.

“So this is what a world class city looks like?” Ghamandi said. “Right now you couldn't run a PTA. This so-called independent review is not going to wash the blood off your hands. The review is full of errors and omissions and is an insult to the dead and wounded and the community.”

Ghamandi also said that local police departments should be held accountable for the events of Aug. 12 amidst cheers and applause from the audience. 

“You need to defund the police department,” Ghamandi said. “You need to unarm the police department. That’s C’ville Police, U.Va/ Police, Albemarle and State Police. Racism is in their DNA … No one in their right mind can argue that police deserve more money; slash their budget and let’s work toward a police-free society.“

Star Peterson, a Charlottesville resident, said she witnessed police laugh as counter-protesters were assaulted Aug. 12., and she said she believes that police personnel were the root of the problem. 

“This past summer was a prime example of the police force’s decision not to protect or serve the most marginalized members of our community,” Peterson said. “On Aug. 12 I watched an officer smirk and laugh as anti-racist activists were hurt defending our city. 

“The police performed their designated role on Aug. 12 — to protect and serve themselves and the people already in power,” Peterson said. “The police are not the answer, the police are an integral part of the problem.  

Don Gathers, former chair of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials and Public Spaces, echoed the complaints of other speakers in asking why race wasn't included as a factor of analysis in Heaphy’s report. 

“[The report] does not address the specific issue that brought the Nazis here in the first place, and that’s racism,” Gather said. “You cannot direct or issue a report that deals specifically with racism when you don't address race in the people who did [the report].” 

After the hearing, Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy asked Heaphy why race wasn’t included as a factor during his team’s review. 

“There’s no way you can talk about these events without the context of race, it's crucial and informed so much of what occurred,” Heaphy said. “It did not, however, in our view, in our findings influence directly how the city prepared for those events. I don't believe our task was to identify the roots of white supremacy or to talk more broadly about the corrosive effect about that among communities in Charlottesville, but those are real issues.”

Nancy Carpenter, a Charlottesville resident, said that the University and President Teresa Sullivan in particular need to be held accountable for the events of Aug. 11 at the University. 

“U.Va., Terry Sullivan, needs to be held accountable,” Carpenter said. “She’s leaving Charlottesville with a bad taste in our mouth … I'm ashamed that I stood up for her several years ago when the Board of Visitors wanted to get rid of her. They should have.”

Ben Doherty, a Charlottesville resident, also said that the University needed to be held accountable for the events of Aug. 11 and should be more involved in combating white supremacy in Charlottesville.

“It was the University's failure to protect its own community from white supremacists on Aug. 11 that started this whole thing, that started the whole cycle of violence,” Doherty said. “To this date they refuse to be held accountable for that failure … you really can't move forward with combating white supremacy in this community until you require President Sullivan to put one of her employees at the table with you [Council] and talk about combating white supremacy in the community.”

In their report, Heaphy’s team criticized the University Police Department’s preparation and response to the events of Aug. 11, writing that UPD failed to collaborate with law enforcement partners, which contributed to a “woefully inadequate” response. 

In an interview with The Cavalier Daily last Friday — the same day Heaphy’s report was issued — Sullivan said she had not read the report at the time of the interview, but said, “I think all of us could have done better, if we had known what was going to happen.” 

“Obviously, if we had had perfect knowledge of this, we would have designed things differently,” Sullivan added. “And I do think that if there is a next time — and I hope there won’t be — but if there is a next time, I think you’ll see a rather different response from us.”

The University also issued a statement in response to the report Friday, highlighting efforts of the Deans Working Group that was formed after the events of Aug. 11 and 12 to review the University’s response to the torchlit march on Grounds. The report also noted the University’s passage of new open flame regulations and the hiring of a firm to evaluate the University's security and safety policies.  

City Councilor-elect Nikuyah Walker also spoke during a public comment period at Monday night’s meeting and said it was problematic for all of the blame for the events of Aug. 12 to fall upon City Manager Jones and Chief Thomas as African-American men when there is evidence that the state response was also flawed. 

“I just think that we're still missing a lot of the root causes of a lot of this,” Walker said. “Until you talk about white supremacy, white dominance, you cannot start having conversations, there cannot be rumors that the two people that are going to be asked to leave potentially are two black men … We’re supposed to be okay with the decisions being made about two black men being the face of who is accountable for centuries of oppression in this community? That is absolutely unacceptable.”

After the public hearing, at which a total of 27 local residents spoke, Jones presented an action plan detailing steps the city is taking or will take to move forward and improve after Aug. 12. 

In particular, Jones cited better training of police personnel in de-escalation tactics, the development of a city emergency management team and increased cooperation and training with the Virginia State Police for large events in which there may be violence. 

Jones cited the Council’s decision earlier in the meeting to create a police civilian review board in order to increase accountability and transparency of the Charlottesville Police Department as a step forward in addressing the flawed response to Aug. 12. 

Jones said that the mistrust in local government in the Charlottesville community needs to be addressed. 

“There is a lot of mistrust in our community right now,” Jones said. “There’s a lot of folks who are really concerned about the future of our city. We do need to have conversations about it, we do need to have solutions about it.”

Jones also stated that racial disparity is an ongoing issue in the city which needs to be addressed and hoped it would be in some capacity during the next few months.

“We know that race is an issue in Charlottesville. It has been for a long time, and we’re trying to do something about it and we're going to continue to do something about it,” Jones said. “Hopefully we'll be able to address a lot of the concerns people have had over the course of the last few months of how things went this past summer.”