The Charlottesville City Council formally appointed Dr. RaShall Brackney — as recommended by City Manager Maurice Jones earlier this month— at its meeting Monday night. Brackney will officially begin her term June 18.
Brackney is a retired 30-year member of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police and the former Chief of Police of George Washington University. According to Councilor Wes Bellamy, Brackney will be the first black female chief of police in the City of Charlottesville.
Jones said Brackney was the top choice out of a pool of 169 applicants, and added that she and five other candidates underwent an interview process with two community panels, a police staff panel, a group of city department directors and the City Council.
Brackney will be succeeding interim police chief Thierry Dupuis, who took over from former chief Al Thomas. Thomas retired from the position in December amid criticism of his and the Charlottesville Police Department’s response to the deadly white nationalist demonstrations of Aug. 12.
In particular, an independent review of the City’s management of the events of Aug. 12 conducted by former U.S. Attorney Tim Heaphy alleged that Thomas allowed for violent clashes to take place between white nationalist demonstrators and counter protesters in order to declare an unlawful assembly in Emancipation Park — a claim which Thomas has disputed.
“I know Charlottesville has undergone a lot of trauma and turmoil, particularly in the last year, and know that I am not here to add to your burden at all,” Brackney said. “If anything, I’m here to see if there is a way we can move the conversation forward — particularly around policing, policing equity and narrowing the gap between the communities that we serve and the communities that we represent.”
Brackney also asked the community to be patient with her and the department as they work to improve policing tactics and approaches in the coming months.
“The thing I want to ask between now and the time I come aboard is just be patient with us and be kind to each other and be kind for those of us who are attempting to go through the process because that's what really makes a difference — regardless of whatever the laws are,” Brackney said. “And remember, there are human beings behind each and every one of the statements we make towards and about each other.”
After the Council formally confirmed Brackney’s appointment, members of the public expressed mixed views about her during the community matters portion of the meeting. In particular, many speakers criticized Brackney’s alleged claims that she will not be investigating potential incidents of police misconduct during the white nationalist demonstrations of last summer in her role as the new police chief.
Albemarle County resident Mark Heisey said he and others witnessed law enforcement personnel allow for white nationalist demonstrators to assault counter protesters with impunity Aug. 12.
“We saw them [police officers] stand back and allow Nazis and white supremacists to terrorize, traumatize people in our community and kill Heather Heyer,” Heisey said. “There needs to be some accountability for that and that she [Brackney] has determined there won’t be is deeply concerning.”
Star Peterson — a city resident and counter protester who was severely injured during the car attack that killed Heather Heyer on Fourth Street near the downtown mall Aug. 12 — said many in the community are continuing to deal with the lasting effects of the violence of last summer.
“I’m appalled that the new police chief does not want to investigate the deadly events of last August,” Peterson said. “Some of us cannot so easily leave that pain and trauma behind. Everyone who was present that day wrestles with posttraumatic stress disorder. Many people like myself who were physically injured are still fighting to gain the skills we once took for granted.”
Peterson added that there cannot be justice for Heyer or the injured counter protesters until the CPD acknowledges its flawed response during the white nationalist demonstrations of last summer.
“The leadership within this police department has the responsibility to acknowledge the police’s failures of last summer and to hold the responsible parties accountable,” Peterson said. “We cannot move forward until we address the horrendous events of last summer and the racism that is deeply entrenched in our police department. Our pain will not let us leave last summer behind [and] we will not let you move on so easily — that’s a promise.”
Local activist and City resident Rosia Parker condemned Brackney’s calls for patience and was skeptical of her ability to take on the role as the city’s police chief.
“All I keep hearing is patience — I have none,” Parker said. “I have no respect still for none of you [Councilors] so why would I have patience for any of you? I appreciate you [Brackney] coming, but are you truly ready? Just because of your transparency and the color of your skin don’t mean nothing here. If a black man [Former Chief Al Thomas] couldn’t defend the people here, what are you going to do about it?”
After her initial statement, Brackney did not respond to any of the allegations leveled against her by the speakers.
At Monday’s meeting, Jones also presented the City’s preliminary plans for managing any potential demonstrations to be held this summer and changes the City is undergoing to improve its response to such demonstrations.
Currently, Unite the Right rally organizer Jason Kessler has filed a lawsuit against the City of Charlottesville for denying him a permit to hold an anniversary Unite the Right rally in Emancipation Park Aug. 12 this summer.
Jones cited the City Council’s adoption of an ordinance earlier this year — which revised the City’s guidelines and regulations regarding special event and demonstration permitting — was a major step in allowing the City to better control the time, place and manner of events such as last summer’s white nationalist demonstrations.
In particular, the ordinance bars items that can be used as weapons such as sticks, shields and open flames from being used at permitted events in the city. The ordinance also requires permits for events which may result in road closures to be submitted 45 days in advance while events which would not disrupt traffic flow in the city would be required 30 days in advance.
Jones also cited a recent ruling by Charlottesville Circuit Court Judge Richard Moore — which bars members of the neo-confederate group League of the South from returning to the City of Charlottesville in armed groups of two or more — as a success in preventing some of the private “alt-right” militias who demonstrated in the city Aug. 12 from returning.
The ruling came as part of a larger suit filed last fall by the Georgetown Law Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection along with a number of local business owners and the City of Charlottesville against a number of private militia groups who marched in the city Aug.12.
In relation to policing strategies and crowd management tactics, Jones said City staff and law enforcement personnel have undergone extensive training in recent months as recommended by Heaphy’s report. In particular, Jones said key staff members — including both law enforcement personnel and city staff — have already undergone training for policing demonstrations, protests and incidents of civil unrest through the Virginia Municipal League.
Jones said some of the training sessions have included implicit bias training courses for the City’s leadership team, de-escalation tactics for CPD personnel and joint exercises with state and regional police personnel. Jones added that over 80 percent of city departments have received additional crowd management training since last fall.
Additionally, Jones said the City’s fire chief — Andrew Baxter — has also been designated as the local emergency management coordinator to directly oversee incidents of civil unrest through a newly formed committee for public safety and emergency preparedness.
Jones also said that a regional special event planning group comprised of the City, Albemarle County, the University, Virginia State Police and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management has also been formed to increase local and regional coordination when preparing for mass demonstrations or protests.