An independent investigation into the white supremacist protests in Charlottesville, Va., has confirmed what was immediately obvious to many: that the Charlottesville Police Department and Virginia State Police royally fucked up in their response to the deadly protests.
The report was conducted by a former federal prosecutor, Timothy J. Heaphy, and, at 200 pages (pdf), in an extremely detailed analysis of all the events leading up to the Charlottesville protest.
As Heaphy states in the report, he and his team culled through hundreds of thousands of documents, hours of video and thousands of photographs. As the New York Times notes, while Heaphy assigns some blame to the University of Virginia and Charlottesville city leaders, he reserves the sharpest criticism for the Charlottesville and Virginia State police.
At the Unite the Right rally on Aug. 12—the day counterprotester Heather Heyer was run over by a white supremacist—Virginia State Police “directed its officers to remain behind barricades rather than risk injury responding to conflicts,” Heaphy found. The same was true of Charlottesville police, who were instructed not to intervene “in all but the most serious physical confrontations.”
And the police followed this command to the letter. Heaphy noted that when the violence was at its worst, Charlottesville police “pulled officers back to a protected area of the park.” The cops remained there for over an hour, letting the fighting descend into chaos.
And at the intersection where Heyer was mowed down? Only one officer was posted there. But she—accustomed to working school patrol—feared for her safety and called for assistance. Rather than be provided backup, the Charlottesville officer was told she could leave. No replacement was sent.
Heaphy also notes that Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas tried to obstruct the investigation: commanding staff to delete text messages that were relevant to the outside review.
“Chief Thomas also used a personal email account to conduct some CPD business, then falsely denied using personal email in response to a specific FOIA [Freedome of Information Act] request,” Heaphy noted.
When confronted about this, Thomas, Charlottesville’s first black police chief, denied that the department had tried to hide information from the investigators.
The exhaustive report concluded that law enforcement “failed to maintain order and protect citizens from harm, injury, and death.”
Unite the Right organizer Jason Kessler is currently lobbying the city of Charlottesville to let him hold a second rally in August 2018.