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Police chief details emotional rescue amid Richmond riot

Posted at 10:36 AM, May 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-03 13:01:39-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Rioters blocked a fire truck from responding to a burning home early Sunday morning in Richmond, according to Richmond Police Chief Will Smith.

“Protesters intentionally set a fire to an occupied building on Broad Street. This is not the only occupied building that has been set fire to over the last two days. But they prohibited us from getting on scene,” Smith said. “We had to force our way to make a clear path for the fire department. Protestors intercepted that fire apparatus several blocks away with vehicles and blocked that fire department’s access to the structure fire. Inside that home was a child.”

Smith’s voice filled with emotion as he recounted the event during a Sunday morning press conference.

“Officers were able to help those people out of the house. We were able to get the fire department there safely,” he said before pausing to regain his composure. ”When you take a legitimate issue and hijack it for unknown reasons, that is unacceptable to me. It's unacceptable to the Richmond Police Department and unacceptable to the City of Richmond.”

The fire that Chief Smith detailed was reported along the 300 block of West Broad Street early Sunday morning.

Richmond Fire shares different version of early morning fire rescue

The public information officer for the Richmond Fire Department shared a somewhat different version of events from what Chief Smith stated.

Fire spokesman Lt. Chris Armstrong said, based on his investigation, the fire call initially came in as being on Broad Street, but it actually involved a fire at 309 N. Monroe Street.

He said there was a car fire on W. Monroe that spread to the exterior of a nearby building. He said the fire was external only and did not get inside.

Armstrong added that when the fire department arrived on the scene, a father and son were already outside "unharmed."

Armstrong did confirm that a fire truck was impeded in its effort to get to the Monroe scene quickly.

But the details of how that happened were a little different from Chief Smith's version.

Armstrong said some trash cans on fire forced the truck to slow down, and a single protester stood in front of the fire truck and refused to move.

"The person did not get out of the way. Someone also threw something at the vehicle," Armstrong said.

He added that some additional protesters then started coming toward the fire truck, but police in riot gear arrived and the protesters ran away.

Peaceful Protest Hijacked by Bad Actors

The hijacking to which Chief Smith referred was the actions of rioters whose behavior went beyond the peaceful protests organized following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

“We have people from across the country who have traveled many states to be here. We know that this is an organized effort,” Chief Smith said. “We're committed to try and identify those that are behind it. And we're doing our very level best to arrest those that are perpetrating the violence on our community, our city, and against our citizens.”

The mayor also addressed the issue.

“Peaceful protests in solidarity against the injustices of black men hijacked by bad actors. As soon as you loot a store or set a public bus on fire, you're not demonstrating. You've made it about you,” Mayor Stoney said. "When you block law enforcement from allowing fire services to get to a home that has caught on fire. You are not inspiring change. When you knock out windows of businesses that had nothing to do with this, you are not inspiring change. That's an insult to the cause.”

Chief Smith said the physical violence reported in Richmond, including a Sunday morning shooting, has been protestor on protestor violence.

“The man shot last night was shot by a protestor,” he said. “We've had a number of people that have been injured by thrown bottles, rocks, bricks, everything that you can imagine, thrown by other protesters. As the mayor said, our protest has started out peacefully every single night with respectful people voicing their legitimate concerns. We've been able to facilitate them in their First Amendment rights, but it hasn't taken too long each night before actors have taken over the protest and have changed the tone.”

Anyone with information on the shooting in Richmond was asked to call Major Crimes Detective D. Cuffley at 804-646-6795 or Crime Stoppers at 804-780-1000.

This is a developing story.