Charlottesville violence inflamed by law enforcement errors, report says


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A string of law enforcement errors contributed to the eruption of deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, during a white nationalist rally there in August, an investigation found.

In a monthslong investigation, former U.S. Attorney Timothy J. Heaphy found “planning and coordination breakdowns” prior to the Aug. 12 rally produced “disastrous results.” The report, released Friday, said the city failed by not adequately communicating or coordinating in advance and by removing an officer from an area where a car plowed into counterprotesters and killed a woman.

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“Because of their misalignment and lack of accessible protective gear, officers failed to intervene in physical altercations that took place in areas adjacent to Emancipation Park,” the report said. “(Virginia State Police) directed its officers to remain behind barricades rather than risk injury responding to conflicts between protesters and counterprotesters.”

Heaphy’s team interview 150 people and pored over half a million documents for the report, which said the city of Charlottesville had failed to protect public safety or the protesters’ rights to express themselves.

“This represents a failure of one government’s core functions – the protection of fundamental rights,” the report said. “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.”

People fly into the air as a vehicle drives into a group of protesters demonstrating against a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017. The nationalists were holding the rally to protest plans by the city of Charlottesville to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. There were several hundred protesters marching in a long line when the car drove into a group of them. (Ryan M. Kelly/The Daily Progress via AP) Slideshow

White supremacists clash with protesters at Charlottesville rally

White nationalists, who descended on Charlottesville in part to protest plans to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, began fighting in the streets with counterdemonstrators before the event even officially began. The brawling went on for nearly an hour in plain view of officers until the event eventually disbanded.

“The report finds that protesters/counterprotesters were basically able to have a free-for-all on Market Street while police sat back for an hour in one case, and in other cases they were told to just stand by while people fought each other,” the report said.

Later, as counterdemonstrators were peacefully marching through a downtown street, a car drove into the crowd, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring many more.

The review also found that an officer was initially supposed to be stationed near the intersection where the car plowed into counterprotesters. But the officer asked for relief out of safety concerns and was not replaced, he said.

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The impact on Charlottesville

Only a sawhorse was in place when the car drove into the crowd, killing Heyer and injuring at least 19 others. The day's death toll rose to three when two state troopers sent to monitor the scene and support the governor's motorcade died in a helicopter crash.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Police Chief Al Thomas and other top officials have previously defended the law enforcement response, saying police had to show restraint because some people in the crowd were heavily armed.

Rally organizers and counterprotesters, as well as some law enforcement experts, have questioned why authorities didn't do more to separate opposing forces or step in once the violence began breaking out.

City officials had tried to move the rally to a larger park about a mile from downtown Charlottesville, but their request was blocked by a federal judge after the American Civil Liberties Union sued on free-speech grounds.

Heaphy's report was published online, and he was expected to discuss it at a morning news conference. City officials asked Heaphy, a former U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia, to conduct the review after facing scathing criticism over the Aug. 12 rally.

Fox News' Lauren Blanchard and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Lucia I. Suarez Sang is a Reporter for

Follow her on Twitter @luciasuarezsang


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