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Files reveal what Richmond Police knew when they accused two men in 'unfounded' mass shooting plot

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Posted at 4:31 PM, May 15, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-16 08:57:43-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- The lasting impact of Richmond Police publicly accusing two men of plotting a mass shooting on July 4, 2022, is undeniable if you ask Rolman Balcarcel and Julio Alvarado-Dubon. They're the two Guatemalan immigrants who former Richmond Police Chief Gerald Smith claimed had planned to attack Dogwood Dell's fireworks celebration – until his officers thwarted it.

Balcarcel previously professed his innocence to CBS 6's Laura French in a jailhouse interview.

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"It's the accusation they made against me. Well, I feel that it was something serious. It was a great damage that they did to my life," Balcarcel said through a translator. "I am innocent of everything the police accuse me of and what they say about me, because they are lies about me and Julio."

In court filings, Dubon's attorney called the allegations "premature and unfounded claims of terrorism" that he said caused threats to Dubon's family in their home country, caused his daughter to lose his job, and caused Dubon to get assaulted in jail.

Ultimately, no evidence of a mass shooting plot ever surfaced in court proceedings.

CBS 6 has now obtained the complete criminal investigative files, revealing the information police had before Chief Smith and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney announced the accusations to the nation during a press conference on July 6, 2022 – two days after a mass shooting at an Independence Day parade outside Chicago left seven people dead and many others injured.

"I think it's pretty clear that this is the kind of case that couldn't be proven in court," CBS 6 legal analyst Todd Stone said after reviewing the documents.

Here's what we found:

On July 1, 2022, investigation reports and officer narratives showed a tipster called police to accuse Balcarcel of "planning on shooting up a large gathering event on July 4." The tip contained "no specification on what time or location," according to the reports.

But on numerous occasions, Smith publicly specified the location as Dogwood Dell.

"Do you stand by Dogwood Dell as the intended target?" CBS 6 reporter Cameron Thompson asked Smith in August 2022.

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"Yes. Let me make sure I'm clear about that, okay," Smith answered.

According to police records, the tipster was Balcarcel's coworker and reported that Balcarcel showed him "two long guns" back on June 21, 2022.

The tipster said Balcarcel "is associated with a Mexican gang," "used to work for the drug cartel," and "fires rifles throughout the week in his backyard."

So, on July 1, 2022, officers went to Balcarcel's home in South Richmond, where he lived with Dubon, for a "knock and talk."

Police records stated Dubon answered the door and allowed the police inside. When they asked him if any weapons were in the house, Dubon led officers directly to his room and pointed to his closet. Police found a rifle and a Glock handgun in Dubon's room.

Dubon admitted to police that he bought both guns from another person.

Dubon, who was not the subject of the mass shooting tip and not the person police came to look for, was then arrested and charged for having a firearm as a non-U.S. citizen.

When officers searched Balcarcel's room, reports revealed "nothing pertaining to firearms or ammunition was located."

Police wrote in an operations report, "Unfortunately, the suspect did not have any weapons in his room and did not make incriminating statements."

"The word choice by the police is not the best. "Unfortunately" is kind of a value judgment, saying, 'you know, we had really hoped to find something on this individual, and unfortunately, we didn't find it,'" Stone said.

Then, on July 5, 2022, a debrief report showed police decided to search Balcarcel's home again.

They executed a search warrant in reference to the "threat of a mass shooting" that would have happened the day before but didn't.

The police officer wrote in his affidavit for the search warrant that there was a shed officers did not search the first time around, so they wanted to check it for the "possibility of another firearm."

However, police did not find another firearm. Instead, they recovered ammo, a Glock box, a holster, and IDs, according to the search inventory.

During that search, officers stated they interviewed Dubon's son, who also lived at the home, about Balcarcel.

Dubon's son told officers that Balcarcel has never made any statements about "shooting anybody or being violent."

He also stated he had never seen Balcarcel with a gun.

Despite records showing that police never actually found a gun belonging to Balcarcel, Richmond Police charged Balcarcel with possessing a gun as a non-U.S. citizen.

The offense date on Balcarcel's charge was June 21, 2022 – the date that the tipster alleged Balcarcel showed him guns.

"The probable cause burden is very low," Stone said, explaining how police could've taken out a gun charge against Balcarcel without confirming he physically possessed guns.

Stone added, "The timing of this shows that the police believed [Balcarcel] was not in possession of any of the firearms in the house, because they would have charged him right off the bat if they thought that he was in possession of those firearms. So, the only evidence that they had was the complaint that the citizen had made, that he had possessed [guns] on a day back a couple of weeks before."

While that evidence might have met a magistrate's threshold for probable cause, Stone said it certainly doesn't cut it for a prosecutor who must prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt.

"A prosecutor looking at this evidence would not want to see a charge, because it's not really a prosecutable case in court," Stone said.

Balcarcel's gun charge would ultimately be dropped when his case was transferred from the Commonwealth to federal court. At that point, Balcarcel was only charged with being in the country illegally.

At the time, Mayor Stoney applauded the police's investigation.

"All the evidence and the great investigatory work that has been done will be handed to the federal government," Stoney said during an August 2022 press conference.

Nowhere in the investigative files does it show police corroborated the accuracy of the reported mass shooting threat, but the reports did reveal police determined the claims about the men being involved in a gang or cartel were not true.

And even though Smith said officers "took in hundreds of rounds of ammunition," which police displayed pictures of during the initial press conference, officer reports showed the "hundreds of rounds of ammunition" were recovered from Dubon's son's room.

But Dubon's son was never even charged in connection to this case.

As Dubon's lawyer Jose Aponte stated in court filings, because of these accusations, his client was "portrayed as the mastermind of some sinister plot" with "his face plastered around the world as a foiled terrorist threat."

"Once the smoke settled, the Chief of Police resigned, no proof of terrorist threats or plans were discovered, and we were left with the charges before this Court," Aponte stated in court records.

But the U.S. government's position was that Dubon possessed "very dangerous weapons while not being legally in the United States."

While the government stated there was "no evidence that [Dubon] was involved in any violence," his possession of guns allowed Balcarcel "access to those weapons to make what, thankfully, amounted to empty threats of violence."

When all was said and done, Balcarcel was only convicted on illegally re-entering the country, while Dubon offered a conditional guilty plea to the gun charge.

Dubon was sentenced to 16 months in prison, and Judge Hannah Lauke made a point of saying that his connection to the unfounded shooting plot was "overplayed" and "took a life of its own."

Dubon's attorney has filed an appeal.

CBS 6 believes Balcarcel has been deported.

Reflecting on the total circumstances of this case, Stone said, "Our system has all these parts, and that's why you get lawyers. That's why we have a judge who has to determine proof beyond a reasonable doubt at trial, because we don't want cases coming through the system and convicting someone when there's scant evidence."

CBS 6 obtained the investigative files through a Freedom of Information Act request to the Richmond Police Department.

Richmond Police's Legal Affairs Office charged $76.07 to produce the documents.

Parts of the files, including personal information of certain individuals as well as strategic investigative techniques, were redacted. Some documents were withheld in their entirety including immigration history for the two men and emails with the U.S. Attorney's Office concerning trial preparation.

You can read through all the provided criminal investigative files here.

Watch Tyler Layne's reporting on CBS 6 and WTVR.com. Have something for Tyler to investigate? Email him.

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