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Richmonders demand answers about alleged mass shooting plot: 'We don't deserve to be shut out'

'This is something that could have affected every single person in this neighborhood'
Richmonders demand answers about alleged mass shooting plot: 'We don't deserve to be shut out'
Posted at 6:01 PM, Aug 10, 2022

RICHMOND, Va. -- Richmond community leaders and residents said they're not done talking about an alleged mass shooting plot, despite Police Chief Gerald Smith announcing he has shut down all conversations related to the incident.

As a lifelong resident of the Carillon neighborhood, Paige Quilter loves and cherishes the place she calls home, which is nestled just two blocks away from Dogwood Dell.

“This is my little slice of paradise," Quilter said about her backyard. "This is what my friends affectionately call 'Paige's Little Key West.' I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”

Quilter serves as the President of the Carillon Civic Association, a title she takes seriously as she strives to keep her community members safe, informed, and engaged. In order to carry out her responsibilities, Quilter said she maintains a strong relationship with her local precinct's police officers.

“They really are heroes around here to all of us," Quilter said. "When we have problems, because of our diligence and because of our relationship with the third precinct, we get results."

But Quilter said she's upset with their leader, Police Chief Gerald Smith.

Police: 2 men planned July 4th mass shooting in Richmond, Virginia

Ever since the July 6th press conference, where Smith told local and national media outlets officers stopped a planned mass shooting at the Independence Day celebration at Dogwood Dell, she's had a number of questions.

Quilter was in attendance that night along with many of her neighbors. In the immediate aftermath, Quilter wanted to know how police would ramp up security at future productions at the Dell. She never received a response.

As the story continued to unfold, Quilter wanted to know how Dogwood Dell was determined to be the target and why officers working the event weren't notified of a potential threat. Still -- nothing.

Now, Quilter said her frustration has reached a breaking point-- Because a few days after prosecutors could not provide any evidence in court of a planned mass shooting at Dogwood Dell, Chief Smith said he was refusing to answer any more questions.

“We are closing all discussion about the planned 4th of July mass shooting," Smith said Monday.

“He might be done talking, but we’re not done talking," Quilter said.

She said because of a lack of information, she's been 'unfairly' forced to try and calm fears from her neighbors without help from police leadership.

“The citizens of this neighborhood and the rest of the city don't deserve to be shut out when this is something that could have affected every single person in this neighborhood," she said. "Even if you were wrong, admit you're wrong, because you upset and scared a lot of people."

Quilter isn't the only community leader demanding clarity.

J.J. Minor, President of the Richmond NAACP, sent CBS 6 the following statement:

“The alleged mass shooting was introduced to the public. Whether it’s on the local or federal level, the public wants answers.”

Minor said the issue will be discussed during his branch's next community and public safety meeting, adding his organization joins the public in calling for answers.

Eli Coston, a city resident and former Co-Chair of the Civilian Review Board Task Force, which was in charge of presenting a report to city leadership regarding a civilian oversight board to take up police accountably issues, said they're concerned about the current lack of transparency.

“What really happened? What evidence do you have? And really, a big question is, why aren't you willing to share that with the public," Coston said. “If there wasn't the amount of evidence that was suggested, why are we holding a press conference? There are a lot of issues with trust in the community with the Richmond Police Department.”

Coston also pointed to the fact that the July 6th mass shooting press conference was held just a few days after the department was court-ordered to retract a false statement it made in 2020 which wrongly accused peaceful protesters gassed by officers at the Lee statue of being violent.

"From my experiences with Chief Smith, he tends to believe that people should just place their trust in the police, that they're doing their jobs, and so people shouldn't be asking questions because their communities are being kept safe," Coston said.

When Chief Smith was questioned on August 3 how investigators determined Dogwood Dell to be a target, Smith wouldn't elaborate and attributed it to the work of the police department.

"I don't think it would be wise of any of us to put blind faith in a public institution," Coston said.

Both Coston and Quilter said they also want accountability from Mayor Levar Stoney who has continued to stand by the Chief.

“I think that the mayor also owes the public and owes his constituents answers to the questions that they're asking," Coston said. "If the mayor stands beside the Chief of Police, then give us reason why you do."

“What is the mayor doing," Quilter asked. "One of the most disheartening things about this was that the mayor chose to go on network television shows a couple of days after that original press conference."

Mayor Stoney's spokesperson, Jim Nolan, sent CBS 6 the following statement when asked if the mayor also intended to stop answering questions about the alleged plot and if he had a message to residents who continue to push for answers:

"As the mayor has said, the number one goal of policing is to keep the residents of our city safe. And as he previously stated in this case, he is grateful the Richmond Police Department acted swiftly on a tip to remove a potential threat from the community before any incident could take place. As you have reported and are well aware, this case is now in the hands of federal authorities, and we must allow the legal process to play out. The mayor expects the department to continue to keep residents informed on issues of public safety, and he encourages the community to partner with the department to provide the same kind of valuable information that can help keep everyone safe. As you’ve heard many times before, if you see something, say something."

While the U.S. Attorney's Office has taken over the case, nothing in federal court documents mention anything about a mass shooting plot. One man was only charged with illegal re-entry. The other man was charged with illegal possession of a firearm by a non-U.S. citizen.

Despite Controversy, Quilter still encouraged Richmonders to come out and enjoy Dogwood Dell, a place she calls a "hidden gem."

“Not many neighborhoods have a park that is that wonderful and magnificent," she said.

Depend on CBS 6 News and WTVR.com for in-depth coverage of this important local story. Anyone with more information can email newstips@wtvr.com to send a tip.

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