POWHATAN, Va. -- Over two dozen people rallied outside the Powhatan County Courthouse on Thursday in support of a Chesterfield County teenager who they said was the victim of a 2020 hate crime and to criticize how the case has been handled by law enforcement.
"This hate crime has been traumatizing to our entire family. We are seeking justice and we want justice now," the teenager's mother Kristle Chambers said.
Law enforcement said the victim's family waited more than a year before pursuing charges, something the family denied, but added the case is now in the hands of a special prosecutor and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
This was the second rally held for the teen this week.
The teen in question is 18-year-old Jerry Chambers Jr., who was 16 at the time of the alleged incident in September 2020. The family said he attended a house party in Powhatan County.
At some point in the night, Chambers passed out and people at the party drew racial slurs and a swastika on his face. They also draped a Confederate flag over his body as he lay hunched over a toilet.
Photos were taken of those acts and posted to social media. Protesters held large versions of those photos at the rally, while the family shared their frustration of the handling of the investigation into the case by the Powhatan County Sheriff's Office (PCSO) and disputed what the agency said happened.
"To this day -- we're still here. No justice," said the teen's father, Jerry Chambers Sr. "No justice."
An April 28 press release said the parents came to the PCSO on September 14, 2020 and said their son had been assaulted and showed photos. PCSO added the parents expressed concerns about the legal process and were not sure if they wanted to file a report.
The PCSO press release also stated:
"No further information was provided at that time. The deputy encouraged them to meet with the Commonwealth's Attorney to discuss their concerns and the deputy scheduled an appointment on September 15th at 9:45 am for them to meet with the Commonwealth's Attorney and the Powhatan Sheriff's Office Criminal Investigation's Division Supervisor. The parents did not attend the appointment. The parents were contacted on two occasions afterwards by the Powhatan Sheriff's Office and both times they stated they were not interested in filing a report or proceeding in any way with a criminal investigation."
"No further information was provided at that time. The deputy encouraged them to meet with the Commonwealth's Attorney to discuss their concerns and the deputy scheduled an appointment on September 15th at 9:45 am for them to meet with the Commonwealth's Attorney and the Powhatan Sheriff's Office Criminal Investigation's Division Supervisor. The parents did not attend the appointment. The parents were contacted on two occasions afterwards by the Powhatan Sheriff's Office and both times they stated they were not interested in filing a report or proceeding in any way with a criminal investigation," PCSO added in the press release.
The family and their advocate, Bernadette Lark, said Chambers, Jr. came with the parents to the first meeting and denied they said they did not want a report filed.
"They did say they were afraid for their lives. That was said," said Lark. "And they stand by that."
In their release, the PCSO said the parents came back on Dec. 3, 2021 and said they wanted to file a report and launch an investigation.
"The investigation also determined that unfortunately although the subjects responsible were identified during the course of the investigation the limitation of prosecutions outlined in Virginia Code 19.2-8 prevented investigators from obtaining criminal arrest warrants for them. In Virginia misdemeanor charges such as assault and battery must be placed within one year of the offense," the release said.
Lark, who said she started working with the family in November 2021 because they were upset nothing had happened with the case, said she told the family to go back to the PCSO that December and request a copy of the police report from 2020 as they wanted to file a complaint with the PCSO's handling of the case to the FBI.
Lark said the family was told there was no report and added they have since filed a complaint with the FBI.
PCSO declined to comment about those allegations. The FBI said they could not comment when asked if a complaint had been filed.
Those at the rally expressed frustration at the delay that led to the statute passing but also called for other charges to be looked at -- including a federal hate crime, which has a seven-year statute of limitations according to the FBI.
The PCSO said to "ensure all possible avenues for prosecution were explored the case was then forwarded to the Commonwealth's Attorney Office for further review and the Federal Bureau of the Investigation was contacted."
The Powhatan County Commonwealth's Attorney's Office (PCCAO) requested a special prosecutor be assigned to the case. The PCCAO said a circuit court judge approve that transfer on Dec. 4, 2021 and the case was handed to the City of Petersburg Commonwealth's Attorney's Office (CPCAO).
Both the FBI and the CPCAO said the case remains under investigation and could not comment further as a result.
"FBI Richmond is aware of this investigation. Our office has collaborated with our local and state law enforcement partners, as well as FBI Headquarters, the United States Attorney's Office in the Eastern District of Virginia, and the Department of Justice; and as this remains an open matter we can not provide further comment," an FBI spokesperson said in a statement.
Lark said the family has been interviewed once by the FBI and they have expressed interest in a second interview.
After an hour of speeches, tensions grew as some protesters went over to the Powhatan deputies and state police watching from across the street and one of the protesters asked a state trooper "If that was your child would you be quiet? Would you be quiet if that was your child?"
"Well hopefully, I would raise my child so they wouldn't be in that situation," said the trooper.
"Wow, really?" responded the man.
When that exchange got back to those at the rally -- it prompted Chambers, Jr. to speak for the first time -- who criticized what was said and then named and addressed the people who he said were responsible for what happened at the party.
"Y'all know y'all were wrong," said Chambers. Jr.
When asked about the exchange -- a Virginia State Police spokesperson said they had no comment at this time.
Thursday's rally drew supporters not only from the surrounding area, but from out of state, including representatives from the group Families United — which was formed by the relatives of Jacob Blake and Breonna Taylor.
"Fathom that as a parent. Understand those raw emotions and that raw feeling. I feel that being a parent. He wasn't even my child," said Blake's father, Jacob Blake, Sr., of the Chambers' case.
Those supporters said they will continue to advocate for the Chambers.
"We'll be speaking out on behalf of this family and if we don't results then -- you know what we going to do? Protest again and again," said one person.