- The Washington Times - Friday, December 1, 2017

Law enforcement’s failures in preparation, communication, and command-and-control created a perfect storm that contributed to the chaos surrounding the August 12 “Unite the Right” demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia, according to the results of an independent investigation released Friday.

State and local officials and senior city police officials failed on multiple fronts to take adequate measures before and during the far-right rally, and Charlottesville’s police chief was found to have deleted text messages sought by investigators, according to report by the law firm Hunton & Williams.

The “Unite the Right” rally had been planned for months by white nationalist and Charlottesville resident Jason Kessler, and the event was declared an unlawful assembly after violence broke out within minutes between participants and counterprotesters. Three people ultimately died in connection with the event, including two Virginia State Police troopers killed in a helicopter crash and a counterprotester mowed down by a motorist.

Charlottesville hired Hunton & Williams afterwards to conduct an independent review of the “Unite the Right” rally and two previous protests, and its team interviewed about 150 people and reviewed about a half-million documents before publishing its findings in the 220-page report released Friday, said Tim Heaphy, a parter at the firm and a former attorney for the U.S. government who faulted authorities for three failures in particular during an hourslong press conference.

“There’s the failure to prepare for these events, there’s the failure to communicate with the community and then ultimately … to protect public safety,” Mr. Heaphy told reporters.

Charlottesville protected neither free expression nor public safety on August 12,” he wrote in the report. “The City was unable to protect the right of free expression and facilitate the permit holder’s offensive speech. This represents a failure of one of government’s core functions — the protection of fundamental rights. Law enforcement also failed to maintain order and protect citizens from harm, injury and death. Charlottesville preserved neither of those principles on August 12, which has led to deep distrust of government within this community.”

Efforts to train police ahead of the rally “were meager if not existent,” and a lack of communication across the board created a lack of unified command that complicated law enforcement’s response to the rally, he told reporters.

“We talked to a lot of police officers who really didn’t have a clear sense of what they were supposed to do on August 12,” he said at the press conference.

Additionally, the report chided the chief of the Charlottesville Police Department, Al Thomas, for allegedly interfering in the investigation.

“In our interviews with CPD personnel, we learned that Chief Thomas and other CPD command staff deleted text messages that were relevant to our review,” the report said.

Charlottesville police did not immediately return an email seeking a response.

“Although we do not agree with every aspect of the report’s findings we do appreciate the efforts of the reviewers to talk to people from all walks of life about their experiences from this summer,” Charlottesville’s city manager, Maurice Jones, said in a statement to The Washington Times. “In addition to government and law enforcement officials, dozens of area residents were given the opportunity to tell their stories and have their voices heard. Their contributions proved to be invaluable.”

Along with interviewing participants, counterprotesters, police officials and others on hand at “Unite the Right,” investigators examined about 300 hours of video footage and 2,000 still images, according to Mr. Heaphy.

Mr. Kessler, the rally’s organizer, filed a permit with the city earlier this week seeking permission to hold a second “Unite the Right” on the first anniversary of the event.

Charlottesville City Councilors should be held individually liable for the tremendous violation of pro-white groups’ civil right on August 12th at #UniteTheRight,” Mr. Kessler tweeted following the report’s publication Friday. “This is one of the most massive violations of constitutional rights and subsequent cover-ups in US history.”

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