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Report criticizes law enforcement response to Aug. 11 and 12

Former U.S. Attorney leading review of city’s response to white supremacist events presents final report

<p>Former U.S. Attorney Tim Heaphy was tasked with leading the independent review of how the city responded to the white supremacist events of this past summer. He presented his findings at a press conference last Friday.&nbsp;</p>

Former U.S. Attorney Tim Heaphy was tasked with leading the independent review of how the city responded to the white supremacist events of this past summer. He presented his findings at a press conference last Friday. 

Former U.S. Attorney Tim Heaphy held a press conference at City Space Friday 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, 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, reviewed half a million documents, over 300 hours of video footage and 2000 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. 

Heaphy also emphasized the independence of the review process from city government influence, a topic of controversy discussed by speakers at recent city council meetings.

“It was truly independent,” Heaphy said. “I felt strongly that the only way we would do this was if we were given freedom to follow the facts wherever they lead … At no time did the City Manager [Maurice Jones], the City Attorney [Craig Brown] push us in any direction, suggest a conclusion. The report that is posted is the full report, it has not been redacted.”

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

“We were told by the command staff of the police department we've had major events in the past, we had dignitary visits, we have the Wertland Street block party — that was actually cited to us as precedential and help prepare the Charlottesville Police Department for this kind of event,” Heaphy said. “This [Aug. 12] was a fundamentally different kind of event from anything we have had happen here before.”

Heaphy said Charlottesville City and Virginia State Police officials were aware of the potential for danger Aug. 12, but were still inadequately prepared for the event. 

“This was not a failure of intelligence,” Heaphy said. “We found the Charlottesville Police Department and the city more broadly had accurate information about the threat that was coming, the prospect of violence, the numbers of people that were likely here.”

Heaphy also said that city police officers were instructed to intervene between Unite the Right demonstrators and counter-protesters when there was serious violence, while the state police were only told to protect Emancipation Park.

“Charlottesville police officers were told to intervene in serious violence, violence where someone is going to be seriously hurt or potentially killed,” Heaphy said. “The state police were told that ‘You are here to protect the park’ … they were not going to go beyond that and make arrests or disperse violence.”

According to Heaphy, on the day of the event, the ground commander of state police on Aug. 12 ordered for Emancipation Park to be barricaded and that officers were not to go beyond those boundaries, even when violent clashes erupted in adjacent Market Street after an unlawful assembly was declared in Emancipation Park.

“‘We’re not going into that mess on Market Street to make arrests’,” Heaphy quoted the commander as saying. “There was a concern for officer safety.” 

Heaphy said that the detached approach of law enforcement Aug. 12 allowed for violence and chaos to break out on Market Street.

“Those instructions exposed people to the violence that occurred, particularly on Market Street,” Heaphy said. “The positioning of the officers made it very difficult for them to engage, to disperse, to de-escalate.”

Heaphy said law enforcement personnel from both the city and state level should have more actively interacted with demonstrators and counter-protesters in order to mitigate conflict. 

“They [police personnel] weren't amongst the crowd interacting, dispersing, deescalating, they were back watching from behind these barricades,” Heaphy said. “They were insufficiently aligned and equipped to respond to the disorders once they began.”

According to Heaphy, Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas intentionally allowed for violence to occur between ‘Unite the Right’ demonstrators and counter-protesters for an unspecified amount of time in order to declare an unlawful assembly in Emancipation Park. 

“We have evidence from a couple of people in the command center that the chief said, ‘No let them fight for a little while, it will make it easier to declare an unlawful assembly,’” Heaphy said. 

In response to a later question from a reporter asking Heaphy to clarify his remarks about Thomas, Heaphy said that the Chief’s actions did not constitute misconduct. 

“I don’t think it goes as high as misconduct,” Heaphy said. “I think it's part of a plan to declare this unlawful so that we can disperse the crowd.”

“I think it was well-intentioned but misguided,” Heaphy said. 

In regards to the regulation of traffic around Fourth Street in Downtown Charlottesville — where dozens were injured and a counter-protester, 32-year-old Heather Heyer, was killed in car attack — Heaphy said that the same officers who control traffic at University football games were utilized Aug. 12. 

“This wasn't a football game, this wasn't the Wertland Street block party, this was not the Dalai Lama visiting Charlottesville,” Heaphy said. “This was an event where people were bent on hurting each other [and] the inability to plan for that is the theme that runs through this.”

Heaphy also spoke on the connection between a white nationalist torch-lit march through University Grounds on the evening of Aug. 11 and the events of Aug. 12 in Charlottesville. 

“There was ample notice of the Friday night torch-lit event to University officials,” Heaphy said. “They knew, perhaps days in advance, certainly early in the day Friday, that there was going to be some sort of event with the white nationalists who were coming for the ‘Unite the Right’ rally at U.Va.”

Heaphy said that the University Police Department denied multiple offers of assistance from Charlottesville police Aug. 11.

“It was treated like a free speech event, not like an event in which people who hate each other wanted to fight,” Heaphy said. “Charlottesville Police, several times, reach out and offer assistance … to the University Police Department and they said ‘no, we don't need mutual aid, we got this.’” 

Heaphy said that UPD should have recognized the threat for violence and created a barrier between protesters and counter-protesters.

“It isn’t until after the statue is encircled and students and faculty and others are assaulted that finally there is mutual aid requested and then everyone comes in and the crowd is dispersed,” Heaphy said. “It should have happened sooner. We should have anticipated this, created separation [between protesters] and prevented the disorder.”

Heaphy said that the University's insufficient response Aug. 11 encouraged many people to attend the events of Aug. 12 in order to show defiance against white nationalists.

“The soft response from the University and the resulting violence and those images of torches around the University, that definitely had an impact,” Heaphy said. “We had a lot of people tell us they weren't going to go on Saturday and then when they saw that, they had to go and said, ‘I have to be there and show my resistance to that ideology.’”

After Heaphy finished his presentation of the report, he answered questions from attendees.

In response to a number of questions concerning whether there was a ‘stand down’ order by police personnel Aug. 12, Heaphy said that such a term is not actually utilized by police nor was such an order issued in response to the ‘Unite the Right’ rally. 

“[They were told] ‘Don't intervene when there's a very serious conflict or serious violence,’” Heaphy said. “Essentially they were told when to intervene, they were never told not to intervene, but by implication it means that they’ll intervene in limited circumstances.”

Heaphy also emphasized that he was not pinning excessive blame for the events of Aug. 12 upon Chief Thomas.

“This was not Chief Thomas’s fault by himself,” Heaphy said. “This was a top to bottom failure to protect public safety. I’m not pinning this blame even on just the police department, there is a broader failure here that goes to other arms of city government and in the state.”

“I think Al Thomas approached this event with the best intentions, but he fell short in terms of planning, his flexibility, his execution and public safety wasn't protected,” Heaphy added.

After Heaphy stopped answering audience questions, Chief Thomas issued a statement alongside his attorney, Kevin Martingayle, regarding the report and its criticisms. 

“Many of the recommendations I completely concur with,” Thomas said. “I am hopeful that we will have an opportunity to implement these recommendations in order to unite our community. We are divided. We are still a community in crisis. This community needs leadership more than ever before. It's not a time for finger pointing, it's a time to come together.”

Martingayle said that many of the report’s claims were false and specifically denied that Thomas had intentionally allowed for violence to occur in order to declare an unlawful assembly Aug. 12. 

“That is not accurate,” Martingayle said. “There are a number of factual assertions in this report that we believe to be inaccurate. There are some characterizations in the report that we know are inaccurate.”

A copy of Heaphy’s final report can be found at the Charlottesville City Website and at the independent review website.