“A significant failure that has diminished the City’s faith in its elected leaders”

I haven’t had time to do anything more than scan Timothy Heaphy’s report on the tragic events in Charlottesville on Aug. 11-12, but I’ve seen enough to know that it provides a sober, just-the-facts-ma’am narrative of events leading up to the Unite the Right rally, a blow-by-blow account of the rally itself, and critical context to evaluate the performance of both politicians and police. A formidable research effort, the 207-page report represents a ddraws upon interviews with hundreds of participants, hundreds of thousands of documents, thousands of photographs and many hours of video.

I extract some of Heaphy’s key conclusions about what went right and what went wrong at the United the Right rally. (Most of what follows is quoted verbatim, although I have made occasional modifications for purposes of readability.)

What Went Right

Despite the presence of firearms and angry confrontations between protesters and counter-protesters, no person was shot and no significant property damage occurred.

The Charlottesville Fire Department and UVA Health System had effective operations plans that allowed rescue personnel to extract and treat a large number of injured persons within minutes of a violent attack.

Law enforcement planning and response was informed by thorough, accurate intelligence before and after the event.

What Went Wrong

The Charlottesville Police Department (CPD) did not seek input from law enforcement personnel experienced in handling similar events, and the CPD did not provide adequate training or information to officers in advance of the event.

The City of Charlottesville waited too long to request the specialized assistance of the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.

The Charlottesville City Council unduly interfered with operational planning by directing that the event be moved to McIntire Park just days in advance.

Rather than micromanage professional staff and second-guess their decisions, Council should have helped the community understand the rules that govern these events. Rather than overruling law enforcement and forcing them to prepare for a more complex event, Council should have helped the community understand the public safety challenge and anticipate the law enforcement response to the event. Instead of working as a team, City staff and City Council worked at cross purposes and stoked public uncertainty about the event. This was a significant failure that has diminished the City’s faith in its elected leaders.

The timing of the decision to move the rally to McIntire Park was initiated much too late. The City of Charlottesville did not provide adequate information to the public about plans for the event. City planners mistakenly believed that they could not limit the possession of certain items used as weapons at the Unite the Right event.

The owners of private property adjacent to Emancipation Park — the Central Branch of the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library and Christ Episcopal Church — refused police access to their facilities, which hampered law enforcement response.

The University of Virginia Police Department refused multiple offers of mutual aid assistance from the Charlottesville Policy Department, resulting in violent encounters that emboldened protesters at the Unite the Right rally.

The Charlottesville Police Department implemented a flawed operational plan that failed to protect public safety on August. 12. Specifically, it failed to ensure separation between Alt-Right protesters and organized counter-protesters. The CPD was insufficiently equipped to respond to mass unrest, and it failed to intervene in violent disorders and did not respond to requests for assistance.

The Virginia State Police directed its personnel to remain behind barriers within Emancipation Park.

It is remarkable that VSP officials attended weeks of planning sessions with CPD and weighed in on CPD’s operational plans without ever specifying in writing or verbally that VSP did not expect its officers to police serious incidents of lawbreaking by participants. Their inaction in the face of violence left CPD unprepared.

Upon declaration of an unlawful assembly, protesters were pushed directly toward counter-protesters without separation.

Those in the park at the time of the unlawful assembly were pushed straight south, into the area on Market Street where counter-protesters had assembled. Predictably, violent confrontations occurred as the United the Right protesters streamed past the counter-protesters. Rather than separate the crowds and break up individual fights, troopers stood behind barricades as people left the park.

The traffic plan placed insufficient resources at particular intersections and left the downtown mall vulnerable to a vehicle used as a weapon.

The Charlottesville Police Department and Virginia State Police failed to operate under a unified command, resulting in delayed and ineffective responses to critical events. Heaphy cites the failure to share the VSP operational plan, the lack of unified decision making, the lack of an all-hands briefing, and the lack of interoperable communications. In summary:

The passive law enforcement response to violence on August 12 represents a tremendous tactical failure that has real and lasting consequences. People were injured in violent confrontations that could have been but were not prevented by police. Some of the individuals who committed those violent acts escaped detection due to police inability or unwillingness to pursue them. People who watched violence occur without police intervention were alarmed and unsettled. Many individuals described to us a diminished confidence in law enforcement which has potentially lasting consequences for this and other communities.

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5 responses to ““A significant failure that has diminished the City’s faith in its elected leaders””

  1. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    I have not had time to read more than the news media accounts, but this is a surprisingly candid and unvarnished report, not the usual CYA that follows this level of government failure. The author(s) are to be commended. I hope it is taken to heart.

  2. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    This is an exceedingly fine and candid report. It is one of a kind really, very valuable, very insightful, and informative in many ways.

    It tells us many surprising things about what happened in Charlottesville and events leading up to that awful weekend. It also tells us a great deal about ourselves, our society, our times, and many of our institutions as well, locally, regionally, and nationally. I hope this report is a game changer. I deserves to be.

    The authors of this remarkable report deserve great credit and thanks. We all should be shocked. And thankful for the truth.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    It’s a pretty ugly report , no question. I do not defend them but we’re in a different time and place now where people fairly heavily armed can assemble as a group and I don’t think Charlottesville was or would be alone in not getting their response calibrated acceptably on a first go.

    I say this in part because looking at Richmond – and the State Police trying to figure out what to do about a possible Richmond gathering – they basically locked down so severely that it would not be anything like the Charlottesville event.

    If Charlottesville had attempted to do that – I’m quite sure they would have been challenged on it… so now I’m curious if the State and Richmond will.

    The “good” new was that unlike some prior demonstrations – it did not spread into a larger area and become more freewheeling street trouble.

    Steve had expressed strong misgivings about such an event being held on Monument Avenue and I would say that most of us – would not want that kind of event near where we live.. no matter the First and Second Amendment.

  4. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    Bottom Line – Elected and appointed officials, from McAuliffe on down, made bad decisions. I don’t think anyone purposely decided to let things get out of hand to make a political point. But local and state law enforcement simply did not do an adequate job of keeping the peace by separating the demonstrators.

    I just watched a program on the Smithsonian channel about the days surrounding the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The federal government deployed troops to guard the Japanese embassy while it was being shut down and the diplomats returning to Japan. The hatred for the Japanese by most Americans was understandable, but FDR followed international law and kept the peace.

    State and local officials blew it in Charlottesville. Hopefully, we will see better decisions in the future.

  5. This comment was written by Sam Dickson to Andrew Roesell, who passed it along to me and inserted as a comment with Dickson’s permission. — JAB

    Well, Andrew….I’m sorry but some of this commentary you sent me is misleading and unfair (largely by omission) to the City of Charlottesville

    For instance, look at this misleading statement;

    “The Charlottesville Police Department (CPD) did not seek input from law enforcement personnel experienced in handling similar events…”

    While this may be a technically true statement in and of itself as applying to the failure to consult with low level governmental agencies, it creates a misleading impression that the City did not reach out for help and instruction from the top command levels.

    The City DID in fact seek advice from the highest authority.

    The Heaphy report reveals this and your Bacon commentator fails to point it out and denies credit where credit is due.

    Specifically, the report reveals that the City sought advice and direction from the very highest authorities in the land.

    Whatever its failures elsewhere, the City did manage to appoint a liaison to interface with the Anti-Defamation League of the Bnai Brith the day before the Rally. The City had time to do that and deserves to have its efforts noted.

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