The Independent Report on the Charlottesville Riots



A long read.
[But there’s a much longer version if desired.]

These excerpts from the full report, linked below, have been compiled to make the substance of it more accessible.

NOTE the principal author of this 220-page report is Timothy J. Heaphy, of a major law firm Hunton & Williams. The firm was retained by the City of Charlottesville to conduct an exhaustive investigation and produce this report.
From Heaphy’s biography on the firm’s website:

Prior to joining Hunton & Williams LLP, Tim was the United States Attorney for the Western District of Virginia, serving as the chief law enforcement officer responsible for prosecuting federal crime and defending the United States in civil litigation.

During his tenure as United States Attorney, Tim served on the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee, advising the Attorney General on emerging policy issues, He has testified before Congressional committees several times on issues ranging from guns to synthetic drugs to sentencing reform.

Tim’s experience includes investigations and prosecutions in a broad range of subjects including national security, financial and health care fraud, public corruption, international and national organized crime, environmental crime, money laundering and civil rights. He also has significant experience in matters involving public institutions, state agencies, and colleges and universities.

Timothy J. Heaphy

Before serving as the US Attorney, Tim was a partner at an international law firm where he represented individuals and business entities in white collar criminal defense matters. From 1994 to 2006, Tim served as Assistant United States Attorney in the District of Columbia and the Western District of Virginia. Prior to law school, Tim served on the staff of then-Senator Joseph R. Biden.

The full text of this report is online here. 

Excerpts From the Executive Summary:

The three protest events we were asked to evaluate in this report all took place in the immediate vicinity of two statues of confederate generals—Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. While these statues have stood in our town squares for years, they are not universally celebrated or embraced. To some members of our community, the statues are symbols of discrimination and violence. To others, they are proud symbols of a history from which we must learn, not ignore.

This conflict played out in a public discussion facilitated by a Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials, and Public Spaces, a group convened by City leaders to evaluate the future of the iconic statues. After receiving recommendations from the Commission, the City Council voted to remove one of them from the park where it stood for years. The Council decision was challenged in court and remains stalled by litigation involving the interpretation of a state law governing “war memorials.”

The statue controversy has drawn interest from people around the world, on both sides of the issue. . . .

Local resident Jason Kessler strongly opposed the City’s efforts to remove the statues and the broader effort to brand Charlottesville as a haven for liberal opposition to President Trump. Others shared his views, particularly members of the self-proclaimed “Alt-Right” community that had largely communicated in electronic forums. Kessler found an ally in Richard Spencer, a white nationalist who had developed a following of like-minded individuals through the National Policy Institute.

Jason Kessler

I. May 13-14

Spencer and Kessler joined forces to organize the first protest events that are discussed in our report. They convened two events on Saturday, May 13—a daytime march from McGuffey Park to Jackson Park and a nighttime event at Lee Park at which white nationalists carried torches. Over 100 people attended both events, carrying flags and chanting Nazi slogans such as “blood and soil” and “you will not replace us.” Several speakers addressed the crowd at these events, suggesting that Charlottesville’s attempt to remove the civil war statues was part of a broader war against white people and their heritage. These events were not promoted in advance. Organizers did not obtain permits for either one. Accordingly, they did not attract counter-protesters until near the end of each event, when small groups came to confront the racist ideology. . . .

The May 13 events prompted a strong, immediate reaction among Charlottesville’s progressive community and broadened its focus beyond the statues themselves. Political leaders criticized the symbolism of the use of torches and the racist ideology espoused at the events. A group quickly organized a counter-protest on Sunday, May 14—a candlelight vigil at the Lee statue. A large crowd gathered at the Lee statue that Sunday night. Speakers at the event focused on embracing diversity and inclusion and rejecting imagery and tactics used by Kessler and Spencer. Several fights occurred when Kessler arrived and disrupted the event. Several people including Kessler were arrested. The events of May 13 and 14 hardened the resolve of both sides to continue their ongoing battle over the statues and broader issues of race and history. . . .

II. July 8

Shortly after the May 13-14 events, a Ku Klux Klan group in North Carolina applied for a permit to conduct a demonstration in Charlottesville on July 8. The Klan group wanted to protest the potential removal of the civil war statues and “stop cultural genocide.” The City immediately began preparing for this event, as leaders knew it would generate a great deal of interest and controversy.

City officials prepared to protect both free expression and public safety at this event. They gathered information, secured the assistance of other agencies, and formulated an Operational Plan for July 8. Police reached out to both the permit holders and representatives of groups opposed to their speech, though their efforts were criticized as an attempt to “intimidate” and “curtail leftist speech and expressive conduct.” Charlottesville Police Department (CPD) commanders worked with their counterparts at the Virginia State Police and other agencies to bring police, fire and rescue resources to the event. They created a plan that attempted to ensure separation between the Klan and counter-protesters, who were expected to vastly outnumber the permitted protest group.

City officials worked together to discourage attendance at the Klan event. . . .

The Klan rally took place on July 8. Law enforcement was able to facilitate the Klan’s arrival, speech, and departure while protecting public safety. While there were arrests and minor disturbances, no person in attendance was seriously injured and no property damaged. The City also protected the free expression of the Klan, despite its odious character. The City’s response to the Klan event adequately accommodated both compelling interests at stake on July 8—free speech and public safety . . .

KKK Rally, Charlottesville, July 8, 2017

Despite the overall success of the event, law enforcement made several critical mistakes on July 8. CPD and VSP did not operate with sufficient coordination before, during or after the event. There was no joint training, unified operational plan, or joint radio communication between the agencies. VSP operated largely independently throughout the Klan rally, rather than in an integrated multi-agency force. CPD planners failed to anticipate the counter-protesters’ desire to disrupt the event by impeding the Klan’s arrival and departure. To protect the safety of all participants, officers had to adjust plans and use an enclosed parking garage for Klan vehicles and a mobile field force to clear a path of ingress and egress into the park. While officers created separation between the Klan and counter-protesters, they left too little space between barricades and allowed media representatives into the buffer zone between the conflicting groups.

After the Klan’s departure, a group of counter-protesters focused their anger at law enforcement. Crowds failed to disperse when directed to do so and obstructed the actions of officers. This led to scuffles between officers and counter-protesters, multiple arrests, and the declaration of the event as an unlawful assembly. VSP ultimately deployed three canisters of CS dispersion powder to disperse the crowd, which impacted both counterprotesters and officers. The decision to deploy a chemical agent was based on incomplete information and did not follow the protocol that had been established for its use.

The use of military-type equipment, number of arrests, and deployment of chemical dispersants generated strong opposition in the community. City leaders failed to adequately respond to that criticism. They did not provide a complete explanation of the reasons for the use of chemical irritants and other tactical decisions made on July 8, in part because they turned immediately to preparations for the larger August 12 Unite The Right rally. The City’s inability or unwillingness to engage with community members concerned about the July 8 event created distrust in law enforcement and City government.

III. August 11-12

Jason Kessler obtained a permit to convene a rally at the Lee statue at which he planned to bring together a wide array of right-wing and white nationalist groups. This event was called “Unite The Right” and was expected to be a much larger event and more significant public safety challenge than the July 8 Klan rally. Counter-protesters began mobilizing for this event and similarly recruited a range of left-wing groups to come to Charlottesville to confront the racist ideology of the Unite The Right groups. Charlottesville was destined to become the latest arena for a conflict between various groups who had clashed in Portland, Oregon; Berkeley, California; Pikeville, Kentucky, and various other locations where these so-called “Alt-Right” gatherings had taken place. . . .

. . . [P]olice planning for August 12 was inadequate and disconnected. CPD commanders did not reach out to officials in other jurisdictions where these groups had clashed previously to seek information and advice. CPD supervisors did not provide adequate training or information to line officers, leaving them uncertain and unprepared for a challenging enforcement environment. CPD planners waited too long to request the assistance of the state agency skilled in emergency response. CPD command staff also received inadequate legal advice and did not implement a prohibition of certain items that could be used as weapons.

CPD devised a flawed Operational Plan for the Unite The Right rally. Constraints on access to private property adjacent to Emancipation Park forced planners to stage particular law enforcement units far from the areas of potential need. The plan did not ensure adequate separation between conflicting groups. Officers were not stationed along routes of ingress and egress to and from Emancipation Park but rather remained behind barricades in relatively empty zones within the park and around the Command Center. Officers were inadequately equipped to respond to disorders, and tactical gear was not accessible to officers when they needed it.

CPD commanders did not sufficiently coordinate with the Virginia State Police in a unified command on or before August 12. VSP never shared its formal planning document with CPD, a crucial failure that prevented CPD from recognizing the limits of VSP’s intended engagement. CPD and VSP personnel were unable to communicate via radio, as their respective systems were not connected despite plans to ensure they were. There was no joint training or all-hands briefing on or before August 12. Chief Thomas did not exercise functional control of VSP forces despite his role as overall incident commander. These failures undercut cohesion and operational effectiveness. CPD and VSP operated largely independently on August 12, a clear failure of unified command.

On Friday, August 11, the Unite The Right organizers held another unpermitted torch lit march, this time at the University of Virginia. University officials were aware of this event for hours before it began but took no action to enforce separation between groups or otherwise prevent violence. They were unprepared when hundreds of white nationalists walked through the University grounds and surrounded a small group of counter-protesters at the base of a statue of Thomas Jefferson next to the Rotunda. As more and more marchers arrived, shouting and chanting became punching and kicking. When the University Police Department invoked mutual aid—only after repeated offers from CPD— officers from both agencies dispersed the unruly crowd. The tenor of this event set an ominous tone for the following day. So did the relative passivity of law enforcement whose failure to anticipate violence and prevent disorders would be repeated on Saturday at Emancipation Park.

The planning and coordination breakdowns prior to August 12 produced disastrous results. Because of their misalignment and lack of accessible protective gear, officers failed to intervene in physical altercations that took place in areas adjacent to Emancipation Park. VSP directed its officers to remain behind barricades rather than risk injury responding to conflicts between protesters and counter-protesters. CPD commanders similarly instructed their officers not to intervene in all but the most serious physical confrontations. Neither agency deployed available field forces or other units to protect public safety at the locations where violence took place. Instead, command staff prepared to declare an unlawful assembly and disperse the crowd. When violence was most prevalent, CPD commanders pulled officers back to a protected area of the park, where they remained for over an hour as people in the large crowd fought on Market Street.

Once the unlawful assembly was declared, law enforcement efforts to disperse the crowd generated more violence as Alt-Right protesters were pushed back toward the counterprotesters with whom they had been in conflict. Once Emancipation Park was clear, the violent conflicts spread beyond the park. Small groups of people wandered through the streets and engaged in frequent skirmishes unimpeded by police. Violence erupted at the Market Street parking garage, Justice Park, High Street, the Water Street parking area, and on the Downtown Mall. Police attempted to respond to these violent conflicts, but were too far away and too late to intervene. The result was a period of lawlessness and tension that threatened the safety of the entire community.

The most tragic manifestation of the failure to protect public safety after the event was declared unlawful was the death of Heather Heyer.

Heather Heyer, and ramming crash scene.

Early on August 12, CPD had placed a school resource officer alone at the intersection of 4th Street NE and Market Street. This officer feared for her safety as groups of angry Alt-Right protesters and counter-protesters streamed by her as they left Emancipation Park. The officer called for assistance and was relieved of her post. Unfortunately, CPD commanders did not replace her or make other arrangements to prevent traffic from traveling across the Downtown Mall on 4th Street. A single wooden saw horse was all that impeded traffic down 4th Street as large groups of people continued to roam the streets. This vulnerability was exposed when James Fields drove his vehicle down the unprotected street into a large crowd of counter-protesters at the intersection of 4th Street SE and Water Street, killing Ms. Heyer.

James Fields, and the car he drove into the protesters.

CFD and the UVA Health System had effective plans and promptly responded to the vehicle incident at the intersection of 4th and Water. Every person who was injured and needed hospitalization was removed from the scene and received treatment within thirty minutes, a remarkable feat given the circumstances. This prompt, effective response represents a bright success on a day largely filled with failure.

Several hours after the incident at 4th and Water Streets, a VSP helicopter crashed, killing two troopers inside. While the crash appears to have been an accident, the loss of the troopers is another disheartening tragedy. Their loss compounded the earlier loss of Heather Heyer and emphatically reinforced the terrible toll this event took on our community.

A VSP helicopter crashed near Charlottesville, killing two state troopers.

In contrast to the July 8 event, the City of Charlottesville protected neither free expression nor public safety on August 12. The City was unable to protect the right of free expression and facilitate the permit holder’s offensive speech. This represents a failure of one of government’s core functions—the protection of fundamental rights. Law enforcement also failed to maintain order and protect citizens from harm, injury, and death. Charlottesville preserved neither of those principles on August 12, which has led to deep distrust of government within this community.

From “Methodology”

IV. Resistance to Cooperation

Over the course of our review, we were unable to access certain information that we requested from various sources. Some of our requests for information were denied due to pending litigation. Others were rejected due to skepticism about the independence of our review and potential uses of the information we collected. Despite this resistance, we believe we obtained sufficient information to understand these events from diverse perspectives and ultimately justify our conclusions.

A. Charlottesville Police Department

The approach to our review within the Charlottesville Police Department evolved over time. Chief Al Thomas initially attempted to sequence our review by limiting our access to information about various topics. He directed subordinates to provide us only with information regarding the planning for the protest events, not the events themselves.

Charlottesville Police chief Al Thomas

He later admitted to us in an interview that his goal in this process was to educate our review team in a methodical process which he controlled. He told officers that he wanted to first convince us that the planning for the protest events was thorough and considered all contingencies before going into the unexpected turns during the events themselves. Pursuant to the Chief’s strategy of controlling the flow of information to our review team, we had several interviews with officers in which they refused to discuss certain topics. We objected to those limitations, after which they were removed by the Chief. Nonetheless, we had to schedule multiple interviews with several lieutenants and other key personnel. The initial limitation made those interviews less productive and unduly lengthened and complicated our review process.

In our interviews with CPD personnel, we learned that Chief Thomas and other CPD command staff deleted text messages that were relevant to our review. Chief Thomas also used a personal e-mail account to conduct some CPD business, then falsely denied using personal e-mail in response to a specific FOIA request. Chief Thomas and the commanders with whom we spoke denied any effort to hide information from our review team. Conversely, they indicated that we received everything in the Department’s possession that bears upon the issues at stake in our evaluation.

In addition to limiting our initial access to all relevant information, Chief Thomas directed the creation of various documents that outlined CPD’s preparation for these events. For example, Chief Thomas asked his captains to create a “checklist” to document CPD’s preparation for each event. In response to the Chief’s direction, Captain David Shifflett located a Department of Justice Document entitled “Checklist for the Preparation of Mass Unrest Events.” This document is essentially a planning guide, designed to be used in advance of large demonstrations. Captain Shifflett asked the Chief’s executive assistant to convert this checklist to a format in which it could be edited. She did so, and sent the template to Captain Shifflett for his use in creating a checklist for the July 8 event. Captain Shifflett then went through the various items in the checklist and “checked” each task that had been performed. He then sent the completed document to the Chief’s assistant, who affixed a CPD logo to the front of the document and created a finished checklist for delivery to our independent review team.

When the July 8 checklist was uploaded to the system created for production of documents to our review team, Deputy City Attorney Lisa Robertson noticed that it was undated. Ms. Robertson then directed that the checklist and other documents created for our review be dated to reflect the time of their creation and contain a footer that makes clear the document was created for Hunton & Williams for the purpose of the firm’s provision of legal services to the City of Charlottesville. Captain Shifflett then complied with that request and produced a finished checklist with the footer included.

Chief Thomas and Captain Shifflett both denied any intent to “back-date” the checklist or any other document. They indicated that the checklist was created as a mechanism to catalogue the preparation that informed the Department’s approach to the July 8 event. Chief Thomas acknowledged that the document was designed to be used in advance of Hunton & Williams LLP | 14 these events, though he denied any intention to suggest it had been used in advance of these events.

In addition, Chief Thomas attempted to gather information from CPD personnel about the substance and tenor of our interviews. He questioned his assistant and members of the command staff after interviews occurred, asking about what areas were covered. His attempts to follow our interviews resulted in the City Manager directing all CPD employees to refrain from discussing the substance of our interviews with others. Chief Thomas’s attempts to influence our review illustrate a deeper issue within CPD—a fear of retribution for criticism. Many officers with whom we spoke expressed concern that their truthful provision of critical information about the protest events would result in retaliation from Chief Thomas. They described a culture of conformity within the Department that discourages officers from raising issues and providing feedback. These officers suggested that this hierarchical approach hampered the planning for the July 8 and August 12 events, as lieutenants, sergeants, and line officers were not sufficiently consulted or asked to provide input.

Regardless of these issues, we were able to develop fulsome information from CPD regarding the handling of the protest events. We eventually obtained all requested documents and got access to all CPD personnel with whom we requested to speak. In the face of the culture of conformity described above, many officers were willing to criticize the Department’s planning for the rallies and conduct during the events. Some officers provided information without attribution, but others openly provided important details that appear in this report. Without the cooperation of a large number of dedicated professionals within CPD who elevated duty over fear of retaliation, we would not have gotten the truthful information that informs the findings and recommendations below.

B. State Government

Upon our retention in this matter, we immediately contacted state officials to discuss access to information maintained by various agencies within state government involved in preparations for and responses to the Charlottesville protest events. We first contacted Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran, who initially expressed a willingness to coordinate the various after-action reviews that were underway or contemplated. He referred us to a lawyer in the Office of the Governor to discuss the specifics of such coordination, which led to a series of discussions with counsel Noah Sullivan.

Mr. Sullivan initially expressed the same willingness to cooperate with our review. However, Mr. Sullivan informed us on September 8, 2017, that Secretary Moran would not meet with us or provide information regarding the protest events. He explained that the Commonwealth wanted to maintain executive privilege over the information we requested and was concerned about the prospect of anticipated litigation against the state. Mr. Sullivan indicated that the Governor was planning to appoint a Task Force on Public Safety Preparedness and Response to Civil Unrest which would separately conduct its own review of the Charlottesville protest events.

On Monday, September 11, 2017, we reached out to Colonel W. Steven Flaherty, the Superintendent of the Virginia State Police, in an attempt to schedule a meeting to discuss the State Police response to the summer protest events. We received a call from Victoria Pearson in the Office of the Attorney General, who indicated that her office represents VSP for purposes of this matter. Ms. Pearson expressed concerns similar to Mr. Sullivan’s regarding the confidentiality of the requested materials, given the prospect of litigation against the Commonwealth. She indicated that she would facilitate our request for information from the State Police and attempt to find a way to minimize her client’s concern. On September 15, 2017, we delivered a letter to Ms. Pearson requesting information from the Virginia State Police.5 We specifically requested the opportunity to interview Colonel Flaherty and other Virginia State Police personnel who were involved in the Charlottesville protest events, and we identified categories of documents and recordings we wished to obtain. We also suggested cooperation between the law enforcement experts from The Police Foundation we had retained to assist our review and those working with the Governor’s Task Force from the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). We sent a similar letter to Mr. Sullivan, reiterating our request to speak to Secretary Moran.

On September 15, 2017, we submitted Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to the Virginia State Police, the Virginia National Guard, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, the Office of the Governor, and the Office of the Attorney General. These identical FOIA requests sought information regarding assistance provided by each agency to the City of Charlottesville before, during, and after the summer protest events.

On September 22, 2017, Mr. Sullivan sent us a proposal to govern the sharing of information between all state agencies and our independent review. He specifically requested certain documents regarding the August 12 event, and he asked that IACP be given the opportunity to interview four specific individuals in Charlottesville: Chief Thomas, Captain Victor Mitchell, Lieutenant Steve Knick, and Deputy Fire Chief Mike Rogers. In response to this request, we submitted a request for five narrow categories of documents we wished to obtain from VSP and identified five specific VSP personnel we wished to interview. We also requested an opportunity to meet with the VDEM personnel who were involved in the Incident Management Team sent to Charlottesville on August 12, 2017. Our hope was to facilitate an information-sharing agreement by which the Governor’s Task Force and our independent review could coordinate efforts to access facts regarding the effectiveness of state/local agency coordination—an important issue for each after-action review.

The City of Charlottesville agreed to accommodate the Governor’s request for information. Subsequently, we provided the specific documents identified in Mr. Sullivan’s September 22 proposal. We also facilitated interviews of the four individuals identified in that request by the team of consultants from IACP. That information was provided, and those interviews took place before IACP completed its report to the Governor’s Task Force on November 15, 2017.

Despite the City’s cooperation with the IACP review, VSP provided only limited information in response to our requests. The agency provided us with only one document— the VSP operational plan for the July 8 event. VSP did not provide documents regarding training of officers prior to the protest events, radio communications, briefings, timelines of the agency’s role in that event, or after-action reviews. VSP did allow us to interview Colonel Flaherty, along with two troopers who were not present in Charlottesville on August 12. They refused our requests to interview the other four individuals we had identified as important to our evaluation, including the major who was primarily responsible for pre-event coordination with CPD, the lieutenant who served as the VSP ground commander in Emancipation Park, the sergeant in charge of communications, and a lieutenant who supervised one of the VSP mobile field forces.7 The level of VSP cooperation was disappointing, given the agency’s substantial role in the summer protest events.

VSP’s refusal to cooperate with our independent review is consistent with the agency’s relative independence before and during the August 12 event. As we develop in detail below, VSP did not share its formal planning document for the Unite The Right event with the Charlottesville Police Department. VSP conducted separate trainings and convened an exclusive briefing for its on-scene personnel on the morning of August 12. VSP utilized separate radio communications channels during that event, in clear contravention of the IMT plan and CPD’s expectations. When viewed in the context of these failures in coordination, VSP’s refusal to cooperate with an evaluation commissioned by the City of Charlottesville is not surprising.

While disappointing, the lack of cooperation from VSP and other state agencies did not ultimately undermine our ability to draw certain conclusions about the nature and effectiveness of state/local agency coordination during the protest events. We obtained a large amount of VSP information about the protest events from other sources, including material that was in the possession of CPD and other departments of City government. . . .

C. Organizational Responses

Over the course of our review, we attempted to obtain information from a wide array of organizations that were represented at the summer protest events. We had varying levels of success with these efforts.

Early in our review process, we contacted the individuals who obtained the permits on July 8 (Amanda Barker) and August 12 (Jason Kessler). We were able to interview each of them and incorporate their perspectives into this report. We were also able to interview a number of white nationalist leaders who attended the August 12 rally, including Chris Cantwell, Mike Enoch, and Trace Chiles. We also attempted to interview individuals associated with various groups who participated in the Unite The Right Rally, including Identity Evropa, the National Workers Front, the League of the South, the National Policy Institute, and the Nationalist Front. We had discussions with Sam Dickson, an attorney who indicated that he represents many of these organizations. Mr. Dickson initially indicated that Richard Spencer, Nathan Damigo, Evan McLaren, Eli Mosley, and Michael Hill, were unwilling to speak with us. He cited the City’s pending lawsuit filed against his clients and their affiliate organizations as reasons for their lack of cooperation with our review. Nevertheless, on November 20, 2017, we received a short letter from Mr. Spencer restating his position that police had failed to protect his group’s First Amendment rights.8 We also received a longer narrative from Mr. Dickson describing his experience on August 12.

We also attempted to speak with individuals who organized counter-protests or actively resisted the Klan and Unite The Right protest events. We interviewed a number of antiracist activists, including Emily Gorcenski, Seth Wispelwey, Willis Jenkins, Ann Marie Smith, Rebekah Menning, Tanesha Hudson, and Lawton Tufts. We also reached out to representatives of Black Lives Matter, Solidarity Charlottesville, Standing Up for Racial Justice, and Congregate Charlottesville. As with the organizations above, we were unable to obtain fulsome cooperation from these groups. We also attempted to interview Walter Heinecke, who obtained permits for counter-demonstration events on August 12 at McGuffey and Justice Parks. Mr. Heinecke refused to speak with us, citing the “implications” of our review and his participation in litigation surrounding the protest events.

In response to efforts to contact voices in the progressive community and gather their perspective on the protest events, we received an inquiry from the National Lawyers’ Guild (NLG), a legal organization that claimed to have advised many members of anti-racist groups with respect to the protest events. NLG made a number of requests of our firm before agreeing to speak with us and advise others to do so. Specifically, NLG wanted us to keep information received during interviews with various individuals confidential from our client, the City of Charlottesville. NLG also asked us to modify our engagement with the City of Charlottesville to compel public release of all information gathered.11 As explained in our response, we were unable to accommodate those requests due to our ethical obligations.12 Accordingly, we have not been able to access information from NLG or others who they advised.

Much like the VSP resistance outlined above, the lack of cooperation from various organizations and individuals engaged in counter-protest activities mirrored their approach to the protest events themselves. For example, when CPD detectives attempted to obtain information from various groups who had openly promoted resistance to the July 8 event, their efforts were criticized as “an intimidation tactic intended to curtail leftist speech and expressive conduct.”13 NLG made a similar allegation in response to our attempts to interview people who were present in opposition to the permitted events. Many of the individuals in this category do not trust local government or law enforcement, and that distrust informed their reluctance to talk with police in advance of the protest events. They viewed our review as an extension of City government, as we were retained by the City to conduct this review.

In addition to the protesters and counter-protesters present for these events, we attempted to interview the militia personnel who appeared on August 12. In public statements and in conversations with us, the militia members claimed objectivity. They indicated that they appeared in Charlottesville to protect free speech and discourage violence on all sides. We had constructive discussions with several militia members, though we were unable to arrange formal interviews with any of them. As described above, the City’s lawsuit against the militia groups halted our constructive efforts to obtain their cooperation. Once the lawsuit was filed, the militia groups told us they were no longer willing to provide information to our review.

V. Consultants

Several law enforcement professionals served as consultants to our independent review. We enlisted the assistance of The Police Foundation, an independent, non-partisan organization devoted to improving policing through innovation and science. The Foundation has provided expertise to several critical incident reviews in the past, including after-action reviews of recent civil unrest in Charlotte, North Carolina, the occupation of a police station in North Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the San Bernardino, California terrorist attacks. . . .

In addition to The Police Foundation, we identified two additional experts and enlisted their assistance to our review. Chris Perkins is the retired Chief of Police in Roanoke, Virginia. When we were first retained, CPD Chief Thomas suggested that we solicit the expertise of Mr. Perkins. While he is not regularly engaged as a consultant, Mr. Perkins agreed to work with our team and provide his insight and expertise to our review on a pro bono basis.16 We also reached out to Rachel Harmon, a tenured professor at the University of Virginia School of Law. Professor Harmon is a recognized expert on police practices and has published widely on issues related to effective policing. She is also a former prosecutor in the Civil Rights Division at the United States Department of Justice. Professor Harmon also agreed to provide consulting services to our review free of charge. . . .

From Factual Findings:

B. History of the Lee and Jackson Statues

Charlottesville received the property now known as Emancipation Park as a gift from resident Paul Goodloe McIntire in 1918. McIntire transferred the land to the City to serve as a public park bearing a statue of Robert E. Lee. The deed also granted the City the right to “control, regulate, and restrict the use” of the property, which was then known as Lee Park. The statue of Lee on his horse Traveler was installed in 1924.

The Blue Ribbon Commission later appointed by the City to study the potential removal of the statue noted that “[r]eflecting many of the racist attitudes of the Jim Crow-era South, an unveiling ceremony for the sculpture was organized by local chapters of the Confederate Veterans, Sons of Confederate veterans, and United Daughters of the Confederacy.” Virginia Military Institute cadets also marched in the dedication ceremony. The Blue Ribbon Commission report further noted that “[a]lthough a public park, the landscape surrounding the Lee sculpture retained a reputation as a segregated ‘whites only’ space for decades.”

McIntire gifted the land for what is now called Justice Park in late 1918. Three years later, he donated a statue of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson on his horse Little Sorrel to stand in the park. The City dedicated Jackson Park and the statue on October 19, 1921. At the time, “the sculpture … was considered to be one of the best equestrian statues in the country” and was listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places.23 As the Blue Ribbon Commission report noted, “[l]ike the dedication of the Lee sculpture … the dedication of the Jackson sculpture was organized by local chapters of the Confederate Veterans, Sons of Confederate Veterans, and United Daughters of the Confederacy and included a parade, dances, and decoration of [Charlottesville] with Confederate colors and flags.” . . .

A postcard from the 1924 unveiling. [NOTE: the ranks of what look like white hoods re NOT a unit of Ku Klux Klansmen. Rather they are the distinctive feathered ceremonial headgear of a local Virginia militia unit.]

From Recommendations

1. E. Protecting Both Public Safety and Freedom of Speech

In addressing large political protests, City officials, including law enforcement, must both protect public safety and facilitate free expression. Though many find the belief of the protesters in these events hateful, the City is legally obliged not to allow such views to affect its planning. Strategies used on objectionable speech today could be used to suppress other kinds of critical speech tomorrow. Thus, both command staff and field officers should prepare for events with both of these paramount goals in mind. Operational plans should make both goals plain, and specific tactical decisions should be mindful of the need to ensure security and to protect free speech.

Law enforcement should not plan to declare an event unlawful and disperse crowds before an event begins or permit violence that is likely to disrupt a planned event. Nor should it plan to arrest aggressively as a means to create order. Although arrests are sometimes necessary to protect public safety, they are also costly for individuals, can be frustrating for communities, and increase liability for cities. Rather, command staff should make every effort to ensure that a permitted event takes place in a manner that protects the safety of all attendees. Preventing violence and addressing individual acts of violence quickly when they do arise are the best ways to protect both public safety and free speech. Rather than wait for large assemblies to be declared unlawful, law enforcement should attempt to create conditions that ensure lawful behavior. . . .

V. Restoring Faith in Government

Over the course of our work on this review, we repeatedly encountered community frustration with Charlottesville City government. Many people expressed frustration with various City agencies and officials and provided specific information about ways in which they felt underserved by the City’s response to these protest events. As detailed above, we spoke to a number of witnesses who were critical of the processes used to consider and grant permits, the lack of communication and information provided prior to the event, the late attempt to move the Unite The Right rally, and the law enforcement response to the protest events.

Community skepticism of City government handicapped our ability to gather facts and develop relevant information. Representatives of various anti-racist groups told us that our attorney-client relationship with the City was the basis for their refusal to provide us with information. These individuals wanted us to keep information received confidential and not share it with the City, and they asked us to guarantee the public release of our full report. The distrust of City officials was palpable in our conversations with those groups. We have also witnessed a lack of faith in City officials at City Council and other public meetings.

Community criticism of the Charlottesville Police Department is particularly acute. Some of this skepticism is a reflection of the actions of CPD and other law enforcement agencies during these protest events. We heard strong criticism of the deployment of tear gas on July 8 and the seeming police inaction in the face of violence on August 12. Some people see those actions as part of a broader pattern of law enforcement inability or unwillingness to protect public safety, particularly in communities of color. Skepticism about CPD is also informed by concerns over racial profiling, drug enforcement, and other systemic issues beyond the protest events.

Not everyone shares the concerns outlined above. We spoke to a large number of people who praised the police response to these protest events. Witnesses described the patience and restraint shown by officers in the face of extreme animosity directed at them on July 8. CPD officers reported strong support in the community and described repeated expressions of gratitude at and after the protest events. Other witnesses expressed similar support for the City Manager, City Council, and professional staff within City government. This information suggests that there is a diversity of opinion within our community about the effectiveness of CPD and City government more generally. Our community is divided with respect to belief in the efficacy of government, which has lasting consequences if left unaddressed.

We recommend an increased effort to restore confidence in City government through a focus on the issues that have arisen in the wake of these events. Community engagement is paramount for proactive, effective policing. CPD must commit on an ongoing basis to being a citizen-centric partner in promoting community well-being rather than a reactive, independent force. As one manifestation of that commitment, CPD needs to understand and respond to community concerns. City Council needs to find constructive ways to solicit community input and identify specific areas of potential change.

Citizens share the responsibility to facilitate communication and strive for improved understanding. Everyone interested in contributing to a better Charlottesville must approach that effort with patience and flexibility. We must involve all voices in this effort and affirmatively encourage the participation of a diverse array of stakeholders. We must listen to each other, not yell at each other. The division that exists in our community will make this spirit of cooperation both difficult and essential.

If we do not recognize and endeavor to address community concerns, we will remain a community divided. If, however, we use these events as an impetus to confront difficult issues and learn from each other, we can emerge a stronger, more united community.

The full text of this report is online here. 

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