Mayor Stoney Panders to the Mob, Lawsuit Says

by James A. Bacon

Two elderly residents of Monument Avenue have filed a lawsuit charging that Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney pandered to mob rule by ignoring proper legal procedures to remove Civil War statues and by failing to arrest protesters who assaulted homeowners living near the Lee statue and vandalized their houses.

Stoney justified the taking down of several statues by citing the need to preserve public safety, and he argued that the existence of a local emergency due to the COVID-19 virus gave him the authority to act. “That justification was pretextual and arbitrary,” stated the lawsuit, which was filed yesterday. “Mayor Stoney had encouraged protests and participated in protests during the weeks before the removal of the monuments at issue involving hundreds of people who were not required to observe distancing protocols or wear masks or face coverings.”

The lawsuit, filed by attorney Patrick M. McSweeney, named as plaintiffs two Monument Avenue residents: 93-year-old E. Morgan Massey and 96-year-old Helen Marie Taylor. Massey is remembered as former CEO of the now-defunct A.T. Massey Coal Co. Ms. Taylor is best known for her activism decades ago in the cause of Monument Avenue conservation. 

In a reference to Ms. Taylor, the lawsuit states that police officers responded to a call for assistance “after demonstrators assaulted members of the household, destroyed gates, [and] threw objects at a bedroom window of the 96-year-old owner.” Refusing to leave their vehicles, police officers stated “they were instructed not to go where they perceived a threat to their safety.” Not mentioned explicitly in the lawsuit, protesters also vandalized Massey’s house by spray-painting graffiti on his front door.

The lawsuit listed other incidents. In one, neither the Police Department nor the Richmond Fire Department responded to a property owner’s request for assistance “when violent demonstrators set fire to several of his commercial buildings at Lombardy Street and Broad Street in the City.” Also, the lawsuit alluded to “repeated incidents” in which anti-statue demonstrators “blocked streets, vandalized monuments and other properties, both public and private, without being arrested or prosecuted for violations of criminal laws.”

In November 2017, in the aftermath of the nationally publicized white supremacist rally in Charlottesville which resulted in widespread violence, then-Governor Terry McAuliffe issued an executive order that banned protests at the Lee Monument. The monument was ordered closed from sunset to sunrise. Climbing on the monument was prohibited. All vehicles, firearms and other weapons, tents and tables, bricks and stocks, stick-holding placards, food and beverages, drones, and portable and auxiliary lights were banned.

Neither Stoney nor any applicable state agency has taken action to implement those regulations in the recent disorders, the lawsuit states. Rules prohibiting “weapons, tents, tables, food and beverages, and light have been utterly ignored.”

Stoney engaged an unidentified private business entity to remove several Civil War monuments, including memorials to Stonewall Jackson, Matthew Fontaine Maury, J.E.B. Stuart, the Confederate Soldiers’ and Sailors’ monument. However, the lawsuit cites the Richmond City Charter as saying:

No payment shall be made and no obligation incurred by or on behalf of the city or the school board except in accordance with an appropriation duly made and no payment shall be made from or obligation incurred against any allotment or appropriation unless the director of finance of or his designee shall first certify that there is a sufficient unexpended and unencumbered balance in such allotment or appropriation to meet the same.

City Council never appropriated funds for the purpose of removing the statues.

Stoney has asserted the right to remove the monuments pursuant to Resolution No. 2020-R025, adopted by City Council on March 15, to respond to the COVID-19 epidemic. That resolution constitutes City Council’s “purported consent” to Stoney’s declaration that a local emergency exists. However, says the lawsuit, “Removing monuments has no rational relationship to the purpose of Resolution No. 2020-R025, which was a measure designed to protect public health from the effects of a virus. … Removal of the statues would not and did not enhance or protect public safety.”

Earlier in 2020, Stoney received the legal opinion of the City Attorney that he lacked the authority to remove the monuments at issue. Refusing to accept the City Attorney’s opinion, Stoney procured the legal service of private attorneys, who, according to published reports, advised that he could exercise the power to order removal of the monuments.

“Mayor Stoney either condoned the violent conduct of mobs that damaged public and private property or failed to take appropriate action to prevent and stop violence in the City at the location of the monuments,” said the lawsuit. If there was a “public safety” justification for taking down the statues, it was a situation of Stoney’s own making through his failure to enforce the law. “Criminal conduct by those demonstrating on Monument Avenue, including defacing the several monuments with paint, occurred in plain view for weeks during May, June and July 202 without appropriate response by the Richmond Police Department of arresting the perpetrators of vandalism, assaults, and other crimes.”

The City has an established procedure for removing the statues, which include the holding of public hearings to solicit input from the citizenry. No such public hearings were held. “Disregard by the Mayor and members of City Council of the views of the citizens and of the requirements that such viewpoints be received in an orderly manner through the public notice and public hearing processes before decisions are made by elected and appointed officials, as opposed to the violent and threatening actions of mobs, is a violation of the right of citizens at large to participate in their governance.”

The lawsuit asks the Circuit Court to issue a declaratory judgment that Stoney’s removal of the statues “was illegal and invalid as being arbitrary and in excess of his lawful authority,” declare that City Council has no authority to authorize removal until the public-hearing requirements are complied with, and enjoin the defendants to “restore the monuments to their previous condition before removal and defacement.

Full disclosure: Morgan Massey is paying me to write a history of the Massey family and the A.T. Massey Coal Co.

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33 responses to “Mayor Stoney Panders to the Mob, Lawsuit Says

  1. Would love to see this one litigated, but I bet the Mayor and the City’s liability insurers will make an offer to settle things quietly. Don’t need to have these pesky things unresolved when you’re hoping to make a run for governor.

  2. What would be the remedy? Put the statues back up?

    • The only remaining question is do they go somewhere else or disappear forever. I hope McSweeney is focused on that. Richmond voters will punish or reward Stoney.

  3. Ah, the cool thing about America… litigation!
    Bring on the dancing bears!

    • In a context unrelated to statues, but affirming our national addiction to litigation, I offer a significant Federal Tax issue I faced in the 1990’s as a bank CEO. When filing the company’s tax returns and SEC reports, I asked the tax partner of our accounting firm if several major tax positions the company was taking were completely legal (since I would have some accountability to the IRS and SEC if the tax representations were not valid). His response was that no one knew (IRS and accounting firms) and we would only have clarity when the issue was litigated.

      • I am currently in such an IRS situation and will be for the next 5 years or so. The IRS issued a ruling that absolutely failed to clarify a particular tax situation and then just went silent in 2005.

        Basically, they deferred to State laws, of which there are a few variants, some of which are equally unclear. So, just maintain the books, pay the tax to match the books, and wait.

        I’m comforted by the fact that they haven’t done anything to anyone since 2005, I’m not alone, and even going back to the beginning of my particular situation, it’s questionable as to whether I would owe them, or they me.

        I think they call it, “The proof of the pudding”.

      • I forgot to tell you the most important part, what my lawyer said, “Pick one method, apply it to start, and never change. That way you won’t be penalized, but you may owe the difference, if any, and we can argue for reduced interest.”

        That was comforting.

  4. It’s a good time to be a lawyer!

    • The problem with attempting a mafia style hit on a lawyer, specifically cement overshoes, is that the sharks just drag them back to the beach. Professional courtesy.

  5. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    Stoney’s turn to twist in the wind. I intend to enjoy every second of it. The same should apply to Northam over the R. E. Lee Statue. There should be litigation over the shootings, killings, lootings, property destruction, closed businesses, sky high overdoses, and closed schools as well.

  6. One other little note: Localities and their officials lose their sovereign immunity when they commit gross negligence. The Richmond City Attorney said in a public meeting that Stoney’s removal of the statues was illegal. Ignoring the advice of the City Attorney seems like gross negligence. Could Stoney now have to pay damages? Is Mr. Emmert available to answer this question?

  7. Ah, good to see that Patrick McSweeney is still around to hold liberals and Democrats accountable.

    Stoney is obviously desperate to make folks forget the Navy Hill debacle. Showing some leadership, rather than vacillating between pandering and sending in the troops, which just inflamed the demonstrators more, would have been a better way of doing it.

    To me, the most damaging statement in the narrative was that allegedly made by a police officer: “They were instructed not to go where they perceived a threat to their safety.” Most police officers would cringe at that statement.

    At this point, it is difficult to understand what could be done, beyond a declaratory judgement by the court. What has been done can’t be undone. Steve is correct; the voters will decide whether Stoney will be punished.

    • Will this hurt Stoney politically in Richmond? possibly downstream statwide?

      He won with about a third of the votes… in a 3-way:

      Stoney 35,525 35.64%
      Berry 33,447 33.56
      Morrissey 20,995 21.06

      204,214 people living in the city. 50.6% were Black or African American, 40.8% White

      The two white candidates got over 50% of the vote.

      If he’s pandering – it’s probably not a good longer term strategy

    • The courts have ruled, over and over, that the police are not obligated to protect, no matter the motto. By logical extension, they thus have no valid reason to place themselves in jeopardy of life and limb.

      While having a two-mile high, cost-effective beer at The Red Rooster, a bar in Buzzard’s Pass Colorado frequented by motorcyclists who were on that afternoon watching Oprah while they discussed the events of a shootout the previous day, I overheard the following:
      “Yep, Sheriff Johnson is a good man, but if ya call him, don’t mention gun play ’cause he won’t show up if there’s any gun play.”

      Hand to god.

  8. Once again, we have seen government officials fail at their basic jobs and, proffer, virtue-signaling instead.

    Had Minneapolis’s boy mayor Jacob Frey done his pledged task of identifying and removing bad officers, Chauvin and Thao would not have responded to the call on Memorial Day and George Floyd would be an unknown enjoying COVID 19 with the rest of us.

    I get the argument that many Confederate memorial statutes were intended as demonstrations of white power over blacks. So why did it take riots for Stoney to take action? Once the statute was amended, Stoney could have initiated a process to begin removal once the statute was effective and due process followed, including defending the expected litigation. Was Stoney really virtue-signaling while winking at the white, southern establishment in Richmond?

    I haven’t read much about the lawsuit challenging the removal of the statues but wouldn’t a likely remedy be restoration of the status quo ante, assuming the plaintiffs won?

    • Agreed. There really should be punishment for blatantly not following the law, especially when the City Attorney stated in public that the Mayor’s act was illegal.

    • Please correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t there a process to remove those offending statues that most folks would find legal? Is this jumping the gun not another example of how some in power act in such a way that erodes rule of law? Rule of law is a thing so long as we all subscribe to it. When the laws don’t matter, then what? I’m not advocating for 100% adherence to all laws, but if there is a fairly universally accepted legal path forward, why take a more controversial approach that could back fire? Is it more important to strike while the political iron is hot?

  9. “I’m not advocating for 100% adherence to all laws”?

    • Yes sir, we must certainly use our discretion. There have been many instances throughout our history of unjust and oppressive laws, and we submit to those at our peril. I suspect there will be some in our future as well, given how governmental power preys on human nature.

      Please keep in mind that we are citizens, not subjects.

  10. If we assume that these allegations in this complaint filed by Mr. Massey and Ms. Taylor are true, do we now see a pattern of state promoted law breaking and lawlessness by officials and by groups of citizens that threaten of the lives and property of other citizens and groups of citizens, as actively promoted, allowed, and facilitated by elected state leaders using state personnel such as police, another words officially state sanctioned criminality and terror by mobs, a pattern of state sanctioned mob action going back to at least the spring and summer of 2017 in Virginia.

    And where are the media in all this? Do they promote and encourage it, hide it too?

    On other fronts of this campaign, is there widespread extortion here, too?

  11. I think it’s pretty clear why he did it. He was expecting someone to get an injunction like was done with the Lee monument.


    He was afraid it would get tied up in court for months or years.

    I’m not supporting what he did but are most folks going to really think it’s a law and order issue?

    Oh I know there are a number of folks out there who don’t agree with the removal nor are they lovers of Stoney and his political affiliation but in the bigger scheme of things – this is not going to be perceived as Richmond being ruled by mob rule. Yes, the partisans will make that argument and I’m sure Amanda Chase and RPV will get on it.

    But again, all of Richmond is not under mob rule now.

    In fact, 99.99% of Richmond has little or no involvement in this.

    It won’t do good political things for Stoney either. I’d be shocked in the Dems in Virginia wanted him to pursue higher office but in the minds of almost all politicians beats an egotistical heart even when they are going down in flames… they don’t know it!

    All of this will fall back to who controls the GA. The GOP basically outlawed moving statues – period – and the Dems undid that to some degree but the times we are in – cities across the country are removing statues – and who knows if they have the right or not – they’re still doing it fast if they can so they will not get stopped by an injunction.

    Charlottesville got stopped also..not sure where that is – and curious once we get to the legal nitty-gritty what ultimately decides removal.

    But if the legislature says you can remove them – not sure how the courts would still say “no”.

  12. It’s hard to overstate the danger posed by progressive politicians. They have recently adopted a lawless approach to governance that should concern everybody. The most blatant example is di Blasio in New York City. He recently banned all large demonstrations through September. Except for Black Lives Matter. They are exempt from his ban. Why? Because he supports that cause. Without regard to the righteousness of the cause, what empowers the mayor of America’s largest city to choose what constitutional rights will be revoked based on his acceptance of the cause at hand?

    Many progressives ramble incessantly about Donald Trump being a fascist. What is more fascist than the head of a government arbitrarily deciding who has the right to assemble and who does not?

    The true colors of American Progressive politicians are coming clearly into view during the COVID-19 / George Floyd situations and it isn’t pretty.

  13. interesting chart:

  14. If what I’m reading is true, then Mayor Levar Stoney should be removed from office and arrested for aiding and abetting rioters and being an accomplice to destruction of public property, unlawful removal of public property, and endangering the lives of the public and law enforcement. He should not be above the law. Are we going to give rapists, murderers, burglars, etc. a chance to conduct “their business” too and tell officers to stand down for them?

    We need brave leaders to protect the public from violence and destruction at a time like this and do the right thing.

    If the police won’t do it, who is going to make the citizens arrest and see how it could impossibly be challenged.

  15. “Refusing to leave their vehicles, police officers stated “they were instructed not to go where they perceived a threat to their safety.” ”

    If they really were given such an instruction, then whoever gave the instruction needs to lose his/her job immediately.

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