Unprepared Charlottesville Police Failed to Protect Public at Racist Rally, Review Finds

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The “Unite the Right” in Charlottesville. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Police in Charlottesville, Virginia, failed to adequately prepare for a white-supremacist rally earlier this summer and deserve much of the blame for the violent clashes that took place, an independent review released Friday said.

Prepared by the law firm of Tim Heaphy, a former U.S. Attorney, the 200-page report calls out the Charlottesville Police Department (CPD) and Virginia State Police for poor communication, a lack of training, and a plan that allowed violence to flourish on August 12.

Among the most damning claims in the report is that Charlottesville police chief Al Thomas told officers to allow clashes between protesters and the far-right demonstrators early in the day so the rally could be shut down later.

“Let them fight for a little. It will make it easier to declare an unlawful assembly,” Thomas said, according to Heaphy, who spoke at a press conference on Friday. Police told Heaphy that they were ordered to stay out of the most violent street clashes. “We let the community down,” police told him.

Rather than brush up on its training for civil unrest or even test out its riot gear, which some officers had never used, the CPD prepared for the rally as it would have prepared for a visit from someone like the president or the Dalai Lama, the report says. One police captain compared preparing for the influx of racist demonstrators to preparing for the annual UVA block party.

The report referred to the death of Heather Heyer, a counterprotester who was run over by a white supremacist, as “the most tragic manifestation of the failure to protect public safety.” Earlier in the day, an officer was stationed at an intersection near the spot where James Fields drove his car into a crowd, killing Heyer, the report says. But when the officer told commanders she feared for her safety, she was removed from the post and not replaced. Instead, the report says, a single wooden saw horse was set up to stop traffic from entering the crowded streets.

Unprepared Charlottesville Police Failed to Protect Public