Charlottesville violence: City officials to hear report critical of police

Posted at 11:00 AM, Dec 04, 2017

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- An independent review that faults Charlottesville, Virginia, police for their response to protests that sparked deadly violence in the city will be presented Monday night to the city council.

White nationalists and other far right organizations gathered in Charlottesville on August 12 for a "Unite the Right" rally prompted by the city's decision to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Numerous fights broke out between members of those groups and counterprotesters -- and Heather Heyer was killed when a man drove a car through a crowd.

The city hired former US Attorney Timothy Heaphy's law firm to investigate its response to the protests. He released the results of his investigation in a 220-page report Friday and is scheduled to address the city council at 7 p.m. Monday.

The report said Charlottesville failed to prepare adequately for the August event by not providing specialized training for police on the ground. Local and state police did not develop and operational plan ahead of time, he said, meaning different agencies were confused about their roles.

There also was confusion about whether the protest would take place in a city park or be moved to another location, causing police officers to be spread too thinly, he said.

Fights broke out between protesters and counter protesters, but Heaphy's investigation found that Charlottesville police officers had been ordered to intervene only in altercations if there was a possibility of serious injury or death.

Numerous people were injured and Heather Heyer was killed when a man drove a car into a crowd of counterprotesters.

Heaphy's report recommended four major changes:

Prepare better for civil disturbances: Public safety officials should follow incident command system procedures, share intelligence and reach out to peers in other cities for advice.

Do a better job of managing protests: The city should consider creating a secure perimeter to separate conflicting groups when an event becomes volatile.

Change the laws: Certain objects should be banned at large protests and events involving open flames should require permits. The far right groups marched with torches the night before the protests over the statue.

Restore faith in government: The city council should solicit community input more effectively and the police should become more engaged in the community.

In remarks following the Friday release of the report, Police Chief Al S. Thomas Jr. said he was "committed to implementing the recommendations" made in the report.

Jason Kessler, the Unite the Right organizer, has already applied for a permit to protest on August 11 and 12, a year after the deadly protests.

Several days after the rally, at a contentious press conference, President Donald Trump prompted a political firestorm when he said "both sides" were to blame for the violence in Charlottesville.



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