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Former interim police chief claims he was fired for refusing Mayor Stoney's monument order

Posted at 5:11 PM, Nov 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-23 23:24:02-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- Former interim Richmond Police Chief William 'Jody' Blackwell has filed a lawsuit against the City of Richmond that claims he was wrongfully terminated from his job at the Richmond Police Department.

Blackwell's lawsuit, in which he seeks an undisclosed amount of money, alleged Blackwell was fired by current Police Chief Gerald Smith as retaliation for refusing orders from Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney regarding the 2020 removal of Confederate monuments along Richmond's Monument Avenue.

"Even if the mayor had no authority, big if, to remove the monuments, he wasn't asking the Richmond Police Department to do it. Contracts were going to. He was simply asking the police to be there for crowd control to maintain public safety and that's their job!" Steve Benjamin, a legal expert, said.

On June 24, 2020, Stoney, according to the lawsuit, ordered Blackwell to assign Richmond Police Officers to stand watch while work crews removed monuments to Confederate figures Stonewall Jackson, J.E.B Stuart, and Matthew Fontaine Maury.

Blackwell, according to the lawsuit, refused the order after he determined the removal of the monuments was illegal at a time the order was given. Blackwell, according to the lawsuit, referenced Virginia Code 15.2-1812, which made "it unlawful for the authorities of [a] locality, or any other person or persons, to disturb or interfere with any monuments or memorials for any war or conflict."

Two days later, Stoney met again with Blackwell and Richmond Police attorney David Mitchell. It was during that meeting, according to the lawsuit, that Stoney asked for and received Blackwell's resignation. Blackwell was fired eight months later when the new chief said he was taking the department in a new direction.

"The termination of employment breached Richmond's written commitment of June 16, 2020, to return Blackwell to his former position in the event that he was removed as Interim Police Chief. Blackwell was willing and able to remain employed with the RPD even if Chief [Gerald] Smith had a different vision for the department," the lawsuit alleged. "Upon information and belief, Blackwell was terminated from employment with the RPD in retaliation for refusing the illegal command to have RPD stand guard over the removal of the City's monuments in June 2020."

Blackwell had been Interim Chief for about 10 days prior to his resignation.

He was elevated to the position following the resignation of Richmond Police Chief William Smith amid nightly protests and social unrest following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Citing emergency powers, Stoney ordered the Confederate monuments removed in July.

A spokesperson for Mayor Stoney said his office could not comment on pending litigation.

Benjamin said while he is not an employment lawyer and doesn't do civil litigation, he can see where there could be some challenges in this case.

This is a developing story, so anyone with more information can email newstips@wtvr.com to send a tip.