Times-Dispatch Omits Facts Instead of Including Them

by Jon Baliles

Public safety is one of every locality’s largest and most important responsibilities. If the sidewalks, streets, and neighborhoods are not safe, people go to places where they are. Walkers, joggers, businesses, customers, and everyone else won’t go to places where they feel their safety in in jeopardy.

At the same time, that responsibility of providing that level of safety of the people enforcing the law comes with the burden of being better than the people that are breaking the law and/or causing trouble. It is a two-way street. If you don’t have people enforcing the law, you will always have people breaking it, and then society and streets and neighborhoods break down, and chaos and despair follow. That’s a fact, even though some choose not to acknowledge it.

What is disturbing is what happened on a downtown street last summer when a 911 call led to an encounter with two Richmond Police officers responding to the call and ended up in a takedown and arrest of a gentleman named Mr. Holley at the Maggie Walker Plaza on Adams Street.

You can read the article about this by Luca Powell in the Richmond Times-Dispatch that ran on January 31, but it turns out that was a less-than-complete (to be generous) accounting of the facts. After the article ran, the Commonwealth’s Attorney felt compelled to write a lengthy and detailed email to the newspaper “to correct the inaccuracies and incomplete information. Had you taken the time to contact me directly, I would have provided you with the following information that would have resulted in a more informed and balanced article.”

What should trouble residents of the City is that the story that was reported seems to have omitted more facts of the case than it included. Maybe that was on purpose, maybe it was just sloppy reporting and a lack of proper editing. But the fact that it drew rebukes from both the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office and then a lengthy statement from the Interim Police Chief, Rick Edwards, suggests to me that important parts of the story that were omitted in the newspaper can be relayed in a forum like this newsletter where accuracy and counterpoint do not give way to space for ads and revenue.

What occurred in June 2022 was that police received a 911 call that someone fitting the description of a man named Oliver Holley was acting dangerously and walking around with a glass bottle near the Maggie Walker statue at Adams and Broad Streets.

The RTD article, (which includes body cam footage you can view here after an annoying 30 second ad) states that an officer approached the defendant and “asks him to step onto the sidewalk, then reaches for Holley, who is holding his phone. Holley backs away until Yoon wrestles him into a fern bush.” But that is a Cliff’s Notes version of the footage as the reporter selectively describes the altercation, possibly because they think you won’t sit through the annoying ad to see what is on the footage.

What the reporter left out was that the defendant approached the officer as he exited his car and stepped out into the middle of the street and then says he doesn’t have to get off the street and back on to the sidewalk when asked to do so; he then says to the officer “act like you’re gonna shoot me, bitch” and then he states that he is with homeland security and says “you are a mother——.” That’s when the altercation gets physical and the takedown occurs. The RTD left out quite a bit of what can plainly be seen in the video.

Don’t forget, the officers were responding to a 911 call “that described an individual looking like Holley who was violent and armed with a glass bottle.” The 911 call and description were made by someone with a phone and not the officers, but for some reason, the judge ruled in a hearing last month that the call could not be included as evidence.

The RTD article goes on to insinuate that the charges against the defendant for assaulting a police officer were dropped because the prosecutor felt “uncomfortable” and that the body camera footage “cast doubt over the charge.” It also goes on to include accusations from the defendant’s lawyer, Ashley Shapiro, who alleged other confrontational issues involving the officer who made the arrest and also made the statements in less than flattering terms that he tried to force pleas from defendants in his arrests.

After the publication of the RTD article, Colette McEachin, the Commonwealth Attorney, felt it was important enough to send the Times-Dispatch a lengthy and detailed rebuttal to its selective reporting and editing; it pointed out numerous issues that were not covered in the newspaper which could have been easily checked, verified, and accurately reported with just a little more diligence.

From the RTD article:

In other cases, Shapiro said her clients have taken pleas out of fear of jail time and felony convictions. Last Friday, the commonwealth made such a gesture, offering a reduced disorderly conduct charge.

‘My biggest concern is that this particular officer uses this charge to force people to plea,’ said Shapiro after the dismissal.

However, McEachin’s reply in her email to the RTD after the article was published reads:

The Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office is charged with administering justice and is ultimately the sole arbiter of whether a plea is offered in a criminal case. No law enforcement officer can force a person to plead to anything. If the public defender has evidence—not conjecture and speculation—that Officer Yoon uses unfounded or unsupported charges “to force people to plea,” I urge her to present that evidence.

I’m not piling on, but anyone who has even a mild  Law & Order addiction knows that this is pretty basic. Why was it reported otherwise is a good question for the Times-Dispatch.

You can read McEachin’s entire email here, and I suggest you do so (after reading the RTD article) because McEachin’s reply has more legal predations and clarifications that should encourage the RTD to issue a follow up article to provide a more balanced perspective of what took place. But so far, they have not done so.

Here are a few more snippets from McEachin’s email:

…Contrary to the implications in your article, neither the prosecutor assigned to the case nor our Office had any issue with the legitimacy of the charge in this case. As explained below, our Office’s decision not to proceed with the charge against Mr. Holley was wholly and completely unrelated to the implications suggested in your reporting.

[T]he exclusion of [the 911] evidence left our prosecutor in a position in which she would no longer be able to present at trial the context and reported violence that led the officers to approach Mr. Holley, McEachin said. Without that relevant information, it would have appeared to a jury that police officers approached Mr. Holley for no good reason, instead of approaching him because he presented a danger to himself or others.

McEachin also countered the assertion that the assistant Commonwealth Attorney felt “uncomfortable” moving forward with the disorderly conduct charge because her

reservations were rooted in her correct analysis of the disorderly conduct statute (Virginia Code § 18.2-415(B)), which states, in part, that the conduct described in the statute shall not be deemed “to include conduct otherwise made punishable under this title.” Thus, her concerns were not as, your article states, about “a case with allegations that made even the prosecutor feel ‘uncomfortable,’” but rather about whether the law precluded a prosecution for disorderly conduct in this case since Mr. Holley had already been charged with felony assault on law enforcement—conduct otherwise made punishable under this title.

And though the Times-Dispatch article “reported” that the body cam footage was shown to prosecutors at a pre-trial hearing in August, it makes zero mention that it was turned over to the defendant’s attorney (Ms. Shapiro) in June or that she asked the judge for more time to review it in July.

McEachin had clarified in her email to the RTD:

Ms. Shapiro’s office was appointed to represent Mr. Holley at his initial court appearance on June 8, 2022. The Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office sent the body worn camera footage to the Public Defender’s Office on June 15, 2022. Ms. Shapiro appeared in court as Mr. Holley’s attorney on July 6, 2022 and requested more time to view the body worn camera footage. The public defender had seven months to review the footage and make any motions regarding the case, yet waited until less than a week before trial. Any legal procrastination lays at the feet of the public defender.

That kind of strikes me as relevant to providing more complete picture of both sides of the story, but the RTD seems to have chosen otherwise and picked their own angle that leaves the reader with an incomplete picture of the facts.

So after all of that the legalese and the selective reporting, we then saw something that is somewhat unusual for Richmond these days — we saw leadership at a high level take responsibility and stand up. Interim Police Chief Rick Edwards spoke out to defend the officer in a lengthy public statement on Facebook that I recommend reading.

Edwards said that it would be a “disservice to all” to ignore the allegations against the actions of his officers. He also said:

When an officer steps out of line or breaks the law, they’re going to get arrested. I’m going to hold them accountable internally. But when our officers don’t do anything wrong, it’s just as important for me to stand up publicly for them, even though it’s uncomfortable, even though it opens us up to more criticism.

He also wrote about the Times-Dispatch ignoring the Commonwealth Attorney’s email and said there are always two sides to a story andthere remains an obligation to our impacted communities to provide information that is accurate, balanced, and in the proper context.”

And perhaps most poignant of all, Edwards pointed out something else the Times-Dispatch omitted: “No allegation of misconduct concerning this event was reported to the Richmond Police Department until after this article was published.”

That kind of seems relevant, does it not?

Edwards then goes on to say:

I do a disservice to all when I ignore the gross mischaracterization and false allegations thrown at our officers. Unanswered, this story undermines every officer’s hard work, dedication, and ability to serve this great community. I have and will faithfully serve and protect this City with my life. I will do no less for the men and women of the Richmond Police Department. I hold my officers accountable for their behaviors and discipline misconduct where it is warranted. With respect to the statements made by the CA Colette McEachin, I have reviewed this matter personally with my staff and members of the Richmond Community. I am fully committed to rebuilding relationships with every citizen, community leader, business owner, and stakeholder in our City.

There are those in our City and other communities who wish/hope/want police to not exist or believe that they are irredeemably unfixable. That is a position I do not share, and I think the more facts in a case like this that we see and understand, the better we will understand what actually happened and what is needed to prevent/reduce such confrontations in the future. The Times-Dispatch chose to report its own version of what happened to the detriment of the community — and that is a shame, a disservice, and a warning for all on how we consume media.

But beyond that, take just a moment to re-read what the Chief said above and reapply that same statement as if it had come from our politicians and the “leaders” in our community.

Do you ever hear that level of accountability and/or ownership from anyone charged with setting your tax rate, educating your kids, sheltering the needy, offering straight talk, or being honest with how they put their lives on the line every day to make all of OUR lives better instead of just THEIR lives?

I didn’t hear it either.

Republished with permission from RVA 5×5.