RICHMOND, Va. -- Richmond Commonwealth's Attorney Colette McEachin released her office's findings into five complaints filed against the Richmond Police Department amid protests against police brutality and social injustice following George Floyd in Minnesota.
"Richmond has been the scene of peaceful protesters exercising their First Amendment rights; violent and destructive protests that cost the City millions of dollars; and multiple complaints of the use of excessive force by members of the Richmond Police Department," McEachin wrote before she presented her findings. "This is not a complete list of all of the allegations that our Office is still reviewing and I will announce my findings when those investigations are concluded."
The office released its findings into the five following complaints:
- Whether a tattoo on the arm of a Richmond police officer is the emblem of a white supremacist group;
- Whether a Richmond police officer deliberately drove his vehicle through a crowd and struck protesters on N. Allen Street on June 13, 2020;
- Whether a Richmond police officer painted himself/herself in “black face”;
- Whether a specific officer deployed OC spray on a specific peaceful protester on June 1, 2020; and
- Whether a Richmond police officer spat on a detained protester on June 1, 2020.
"It was alleged that an officer had the emblem of an unknown white nationalist or white supremacist organization on his arm," McEachin wrote. " In fact, the tattoo is the logo of Northern Red, a company that had provided firearms training to the officer."
Patrol Car on Curb
"It was alleged that on the night of June 13, 2020, the driver of a patrol car deliberately drove through a crowd and struck multiple people near the intersection of N. Allen Street and Monument Avenue. That allegation is not factually accurate," McEachin wrote.
She linked to a seven-page document that detailed her office's investigation.
"All of the videos begin with the police SUV stopped in front of a pedestrian crosswalk in a residential neighborhood where a number of protesters are standing. The videos show the SUV stopped at the crosswalk for approximately 10 seconds. None of the videos show how long the SUV was blocked prior to that time. The protesters’ clear intent was to create a human barricade and prevent the police vehicle from continuing onto N. Allen Street towards the Lee Monument. It is against the law to drive a motor vehicle on the city sidewalks. It is also against the law for any pedestrian to interfere with or deliberately stop a vehicle someone else is driving for the sole purpose of impeding its progress on the road," she wrote. "The protesters deliberately created a 'standoff' with the police. Given a volatile situation and limited options, the police chose to leave the scene to avoid a face-to-face confrontation with the protesters who were blocking the street. The videos show the SUV slowly reversing while blowing its horn and then slowly turning right, away from the protesters, and going onto the grassy area where there are no people at that time. There are no people in the path of the SUV for seven seconds while it is circumventing the protesters. It is only when the protesters realize that SUV is about to get away from them that they then run over and re-engage the police by standing in front of or hitting a moving vehicle. Contrary to many news reports or social media posts, there is no objective evidence that the SUV was deliberately driven through an unsuspecting group of protesters. Any contact that occurred between any person and the SUV was due to that person’s individual decision to make contact with the vehicle."
McEachin's office also investigated a claim that a photo of a Richmond Police Officer in "black face" was posted on social media.
"The officer was questioned and stated that the picture was taken years earlier when the officer was on a collegiate rugby team and attending an official event in which the 'costume theme was beachwear.' The officer indicated that the officer and a former friend went as sunburned rugby players and painted their skin red," McEachin said. "The officer further stated that 'the post was unusually dark and the image appeared that my skin was painted brown.' The original picture had been taken in 2012 or 2013, prior to her employment with the police department."
The officer, McEachin said, shared the original photo with investigators and it was determined the image shared on social media "had been altered to appear as though the officer was in 'blackface.'"
Use of OC Spray
McEachin said an investigation into an allegation made against one officer accused of misusing his OC canister against a protester near the Robert E. Lee Monument on June 1 found the officer did not commit a crime.
"The investigation revealed that the officer directed his OC canister in this instance towards an individual throwing objects at the police," she said. "Body-worn camera footage shows an individual at that location making a throwing motion, bending back towards the ground where a pile of water bottles and debris lay, rising up again and making a second throwing motion. During the second throw, one frame of the footage captures what appears to be a water bottle in his throwing hand while another shows the object flying through the air at police as the officer deploys his OC canister to prevent any further violence."
Allegation of spitting on detainee
McEachin also said an investigation into a June 1 video shared on social media that some said depicted a Richmond Police Officer spitting on a detainee was not accurate.
"Frame by frame comparisons of still photographs taken from RPD officers’ Body-worn cameras (BWC) and the submitted social media post clearly show that the social media post was the result of the distorted visual perspective of C’s camera," she said. "This distortion was detailed in an unsolicited forensic report published on-line by Daniel Voshart.
McEachin said BWC video"clearly shows individual officers spitting onto the street in an effort to clear their throats" after being exposed to chemical agents.
"No officers spat on or in the direction of the seated protester," she said. "Moreover, the protester had no discernible reaction to the spitting that can be seen and heard on the BWC, which supports the conclusion that nothing touched the individual. If the detainee had been spit upon, there would have been an instinctive and visible reaction."
"It is noteworthy that the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office does not employ any investigators," McEachin said. "A core group of experienced attorneys and I have been working every day since June 1 to review IAD reports, review police body-worn camera footage, review social media video footage, interview witnesses and consider as much evidence as possible to determine the cause or validity of each of the above events."
She said her office will continue investigating allegations made against Richmond Police and will release those findings once her investigations are completed.
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney asked for Richmond Police Chief William Smith's resignation in mid-June based, in part, on the way Richmond Police interacted with protesters on a near-nightly basis. Chief Gerald Smith was hired in late June and came to Richmond promising to guide Richmond Police back toward the philosophy of “community policing,” which he thinks the department has slowly veered away from over the years.