An Emotional Report at Charlottesville's City Hall

Dec 5, 2017

Public hostility was palpable last night as a former U.S. attorney summarized the evidence gathered during a 90-day probe of what went wrong in Charlottesville on August 12th.  

A 207-page report from former U.S. Attorney Tim Heaphy says poor planning by police is partly to blame for injuries and death on August 12th.
Credit AP Photo/Steve Helber, File

It was standing room only as Tim Heaphy blamed Charlottesville for a failure to plan well, leaving citizens vulnerable to injury and death.  He repeated a claim denied by Police Chief Al Thomas, that authorities watched brawling in the streets from their command center and did nothing.

“We’ve got two different people, chief Thomas’ own assistant and Captain Lewis, who told us that his response to this was, ‘Let then fight.  It will make it easier to declare an unlawful assembly,'" he said. 

Heaphy also blasted state police who refused to break up fights and did not work well with the city.

“Virginia State Police had 600 troopers here. The problem was they didn’t share their plan with Charlottesville police.  We have it, because it was left on a chair at City Space. Captain Shiflett found it Monday morning.”

That was two days after the Unite the Right rally. The two police forces could not event talk to each other on their radios, a problem flagged during a Ku Klux Klan Rally one month earlier.

“State police is on one set of radio channels.  Charlottesville officers are on another set of channels,” he explained.

Heaphy also faulted the city for pushing white nationalists out of the park into crowds of counter-demonstrators.

“It’s as the push happens that you see more violence," he recalled. " You see the flame thrower and the gun shot.  You see the beating of Dandre Harris beating in the garage, and there’s no law enforcement present on those paths whatsoever.Two CPD squads actually stay in the park for two hours, guarding the park!”

One expert suggested beforehand that police erect strong barriers on streets that crossed the downtown mall.  Instead, flimsy saw horses were used, and at one point one was left entirely unguarded making it possible for a man to drive his car into a crowd of counter-protesters.

But when Heaphy attempted to defend law enforcement, the crowd erupted in disbelief.

A crowd at city hall was skeptical when Heaphy tried to defend police during a dangerous rally on August 12th.
Credit AP Photo/Steve Helber

“You know I want to stress here that we never found evidence that Chief Thomas or Captain Mitchell or anybody ever said we don’t care," Heaphy said. "We found that they wanted very much to protect public safety.  They just didn’t do a sufficient job.”

During the public comment period, many suggested the police chief be fired.  Among them, Gail Weatherill, a retired critical care nurse who said meaning well is not enough.

“I have to say, nothing that was in this report surprised me in the least.  I could have told you by the end of the day on August 12th pretty much what Mr. Heaphy’s told you,” she said.

“Miss Weatherill, your time is up,” said chair Wes Bellamy.

“Everybody else got double the time they were told, so I’m going to take mine!” she shot back.

“You can have a few more seconds,” he replied.

“Thank you darling,” said the petite, gray-haired woman. She then uttered an expletive.  “I lost my train of thought!”

The crowd burst into laughter.

“I know one thing,” Weatherill continued. “If I were so arrogant as to say to myself, well you know I read about that in nursing school a few years ago. I should be able to do this, and somebody died, the board of nursing would pull my license in a heartbeat. Not only would they pull my license, but they would call into account my boss who allowed me to go into a dangerous situation unprepared,” she concluded.

During the public comment period residents attacked Heaphy and his team of four lawyers – all white men – for failing to address longstanding racial hostilities between police and the black community in their report, and they called on Mayor Mike Signer to apologize or resign.