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Report: Police Failed to Protect Public at Charlottesville Rally

  • VOA News

FILE - White nationalist demonstrators use shields as they guard the entrance to Lee Park in Charlottesville, Virginia, Aug. 12, 2017.

An independent review of a white nationalist rally that turned deadly in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August found that local authorities failed to protect public safety.

The three-month review by former U.S. Attorney Tim Heaphy found that local law enforcement failed the public in multiple ways, including a lack of preparation, poor coordination with state police, and a passive response to the chaos that unfolded at the rally.

The white nationalist rally was a protest against the city's plan to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, who led the South's army in the U.S. Civil War. The rally turned violent almost immediately, with fighting in the streets between protesters and counterdemonstrators before the event even officially began. Heather Heyer, 32, was killed when a car drove into a crowd of counterdemonstrators.

"The city was unable to protect the right of free expression and facilitate the permit holder's offensive speech," Heaphy's report said.

FILE - A counterdemonstrator uses a lighted spray can against a white nationalist demonstrator at the entrance to Lee Park in Charlottesville, Va., Aug. 12, 2017.
FILE - A counterdemonstrator uses a lighted spray can against a white nationalist demonstrator at the entrance to Lee Park in Charlottesville, Va., Aug. 12, 2017.

The report said officers took too timid of an approach when clashes broke out.

"Despite clear evidence of violence, police consistently failed to intervene, de-escalate, or otherwise respond. ... These shortcomings contributed to a chaotic series of events that led to violence and death," the report said.

Heaphy's report, which was commissioned by Charlottesville officials to address criticism of the response to the violence, said the city wrongly believed it could not ban protesters from carrying clubs and shields.

The report also criticized the poor communication of police, saying that local and state police were on different radio channels the day of the rally and were unable to easily talk to each other.

Heaphy's team interviewed 150 people and looked over thousands of documents for the report.

The report recommended police take different actions in any future protests, including keeping conflicting groups away from each other and responding immediately to any violence.

A Charlottesville spokeswoman said the city did not have an immediate response. Local and state police said they are reviewing the report.

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