General

Settlement Terms Released for 2020 RPD Violations of 1st Amendment Rights of Protestors at Lee Circle on June 1, 2020.

Transparency – Part of the terms of the Settlement!

City of Richmond to donate June 1, 2020 protest materials to Library of Virginia for public access. (Links below!!!)

Public can also contribute materials from June 1 protest to the archive.

A settlement brokered by Thomas H. Roberts & Associates, P.C., a civil rights law firm in Richmond, Virginia, on behalf of six clients will give the public access to the City of Richmond’s police footage and other materials related to the June 1, 2020 use of tear gas at the Lee Monument.

“This settlement secures this footage for the public,” says Andrew T. Bodoh, an attorney with the firm. “It creates a repository of materials related to the June 1 protest, now and for the future, that will grow through the contributions of those who were there.”

Bodoh continues: “I want to thank our clients for holding the line and demanding accountability for the people victimized by the police that day.”

Thomas H. Roberts, the principal of the firm, adds: “For far too long, the City has hidden what its officers did that day. For far too long, the City has made excuses. No more.”

The Lawsuits

The settlement arises from two lawsuits filed by the firm. On June 4, 2022, demonstrator Jonathan M. Arthur—an associate attorney with Roberts’s law firm who participated in the June 1 demonstration at Lee Circle—filed suit against unnamed officers in the City of Richmond Circuit Court. Twelve days later, five individuals joined as plaintiffs in a putative class action in the Eastern District of Virginia federal district court in Richmond, under the caption Blackwood et al. v. Does.

“This was a deliberately peaceful protest,” Arthur recalls. “We wanted our deeds to match our message—peaceful opposition to police violence.” Arthur and other demonstrators captured video of the assault. Screenshots from Arthur’s video appears below, and the video is available on request.

The federal court consolidated the Blackwood lawsuit with a suit from the same incident filed by another demonstrator. The court required the City to provide to the plaintiffs the names of the officers involved in the incident, but the parties were prohibited from disclosing their identities. (Case 3:20-cv-401, ECF Docs. 16, 23). In November 2020, the federal court appointed Richmond attorney and mediator Mark Rubin to assist the parties in trying to negotiate a resolution. (Case 3:20-cv-401, ECF Doc. 56) The parties also negotiated a discovery plan to allow the parties access to certain information, under a promise of confidentiality. (Case 3:20-cv-401, ECF Doc. 58).

In February 2022, the court disclosed that a settlement had been reached. (Case 3:20-cv- 401, ECF Doc. 84). The Court thereafter entered an order so that the protective orders would expire effective today, July 1, 2022. (Case 3:20-cv-401, ECF Doc. 90)

The Settlement

These litigants stepped forward to serve the public,” states Bodoh. “They wanted accountability, transparency, and change from the City. The settlement doesn’t get the public everything they wanted, but it makes a difference.”

The settlement is not a class action settlement. A class action settlement is only allowed in limited cases, and generally requires notice to the class members and approval by the Court. A class action settlement was not feasible in this case, without a means of identifying the demonstrators. But the settlement contains several non-monetary terms that benefit the public.

1. A public repository of data

The settlement agreement requires the City to donate a true and authentic copy of various materials to the Library of Virginia (or some other agreed upon institution) as a permanent collection for the general public to access, review, and reproduce. The materials include:

  • Videos from body-worn camaras of officers in the vicinity of the Lee or Stuart Monuments at any point between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. on June 1, 2020.

  • All use of force and other officer narratives concerning the events at the Lee or Stuart Monuments at any point between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. on June 1, 2020.

  • All recordings the City has of radio, telephone, or audio communications of the officers present in the vicinity of the Lee or Stuart Monuments at any point between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. on June 1, 2020.

  • A list of the officers, including their then-current ranks, who were present in the vicinity of the Lee or Stuart Monuments at any point between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. on June 1, 2020.

  • All police department policies in effect on June 1, 2020 pertaining to the police department’s response to the demonstrations, such as crowd management policies and use of force policies.

  • The CNA’s Institute of Public Research report or reports pertaining to the incident, once it is available to the City.

  • All dispatch reports related to the incident in the custody of the City.

Virginia Library Media Contact: Please direct media inquiries to Angela Flagg at angela.flagg@lva.virginia.gov or 804-692-3653. Other questions may be directed to Kathy Jordan at kathleen.jordan@lva.virginia.gov or 804- 692-3913.

Settlement Forced City of Richmond to Produce to the Library of Virginia The Data & Videos So the Public Can Access & Study

The City will also endorse any releases requested by the repository to allow these materials to be accessed, reviewed, preserved and reproduced by the repository or by the general public.

The City will redact from the use of force reports and officer narrative the names of citizens and police officers. However, to preserve the integrity of the data and to allow for cross-references, the names of the officers will be replaced with alphanumerical identifiers, and these same identifiers will be used to label the videos, according to the officer whose body camera it is.

Other physical artifacts from Lee Circle from the summer of 2020 are to be donated to the Black History Museum & Cultural Center.

Public will be allowed to add to the repository.

Additionally, the public will be allowed to add to the repository. The settlement agreement allows third parties to submit to the repository any audio, video, written or photographic materials concerning the July 1, 2020 protest at Lee Monument, or events related to the protest. These materials will be included in the same collection of the repository, subject to the repository’s agreement and endorsement of appropriate releases.

Also, until July 1, 2023, those who participated in the protest at Lee Monument on June 1, 2020, may submit to the repository personal narratives about what they experienced, subject to certain redactions.

“Our clients fought for this information to be public,” Roberts says. “The public needs to see what happened that day.”

Bodoh adds: “We envision this collection to be a memorial to the events of that day, when this community came together to say no to violence, no to racism, and they were attacked by law enforcement. We envision this collection to stand as a resource for public policy advocates to discover the systemic causes of this violence in this City—the policies and practices that allowed this to happen. We envision this collection as a model for other communities to adopt when police violate the law, so that together we can end police brutality.

“Mayor Stoney told the world he learned the tear gas had been used unintentionally. We want the public to decide if this is true,” Bodoh says. (Levar Stoney, Op Ed., New York Times,  (May 22, 2021))

Artifacts from the Lee Monument protest

The settlement agreement requires the City to donate protest artifacts collected from Lee Circle in the summer of 2020 to the Black History Museum & Cultural Center.

Retraction of Twitter Statement

Within 40 minutes of the attack at Lee Monument, the City published on Twitter the excuse that the police “had to deploy gas” and “Some RPD officers in that area were cut off by violent protestors.” The settlement agreement requires the City to post and maintain on its social media pages an acknowledgement that this statement is false, that there were no RPD officers cut off by violent demonstrators at the Lee Monument, and there was no need for gas at Lee Monument to get officers to safety.

“This statement was false from the beginning,” Arthur says. “It distorted the truth of a violent, illegal police attack from the first moments the world learned of it. You can’t undo a false first impression. But this acknowledgement should prevent future generations from believing the falsity.”

Memorialization

The City has agreed that it will not oppose reasonable and lawful efforts by third parties to memorialize the June 1, 2020 incident at Lee Circle, provided that it does not have to contribute property or money to the effort. It has further stated that it intends to provide the peaceful demonstrators meaningful participation in any commissions, committees, or other groups it forms to contemplate the future use of Lee Circle.

The Facts

What Really Happened!

The materials that will be available to the public through this settlement will show that the following timeline of events:

At about 7:18:30 p.m., on June 1, 2020, police radio traffic from near the Stuart Monument, where the demonstrators were gathered, reported that all appeared to be orderly.

At approximately 7:21:45 p.m. and 7:22:18 p.m., police radio traffic from near Stuart Monument reported that most of the demonstrators were moving away from the Stuart Monument, proceeding down to the Lee Monument.

At approximately 7:28:30 p.m., police radio traffic from near the Lee Monument reported that the crowd had arrived, and all was orderly.

At approximately 7:29:15 p.m., radio traffic from near the Stuart Monument reported that there was “someone on the statue, with a saw, trying to cut down the J.E.B. Stuart one.”

At about 7:29:22 p.m., one of the officers called over the radio to say, “Command, do you want to do anything about that, or what?”

At 7:29:27 p.m., a response from “Command,” directed to a particular lieutenant, was “Can you send a team up there?”

At approximately 7:29:33 p.m., the police observer at Stuart Monument reported that “They” (some demonstrators) tied ropes onto the Stuart Monument, and “Looks like two of them now up on top.” A few seconds later, an officer asks for the cross-street by radio, and the response is “Lombardy and Monument”— the Stuart Monument’s address.

At about 7:29:58 p.m., the observer at Stuart Monument reported, “Got eyes on them. They are actively cutting the leg. Got two on top.”

At approximately 7:30:16 p.m., an unidentified individual issued a command by radio to a particular officer, who later assumed command at Lee Monument, to “bring all groups” to “respond” to “the monument.”

At approximately 7:30:30 p.m., a police radio call references a “large group of people” who are “rigging up ropes,” saying “when they get that cut” they were “getting ready to pull that down” and they were “ready to light the flags on fire.” This is a discussion of the events at the Stuart Monument.

At approximately 7:30:45 p.m., the officer who would assume command at Lee Monument placed a radio call: “Are we free to use gas?” At approximately 7:30:56 p.m., he asked again, “Are we clear to use chemical agents?”

At 7:31:00 p.m., an unidentified voice on the radio responds, stating, “Ten-four.” Several officers, in the vehicles bound for the Lee Monument—not the Stuart Monument—celebrated the order, and expressed that they understood they were authorized to use chemical agents on the assembly at the Lee Monument.

At approximately 7:31:08 p.m., a police observer reported, “The cutters are down off the monument. They’re throwing ropes on now.” At approximately 7:31:12 p.m., the officer reports, “More ropes going up on the statue. More ropes.”

At about 7:31:22 p.m., the officer who would assume command at the Lee Monument—in a vehicle bound for the Lee Monument—specifically ordered the chemical attack at the Lee Monument. He placed a radio command: “Gas masks on.” He then directed a particular officer, using a nickname, to “put it on them when you get there, brother.” The officer who would assume command at the Lee Monument directed his driver, at about 7:32:21 p.m. to drive to the Lee Monument and not the Stuart Monument, saying, “Straight ahead. It’s the biggest one here.”

At about 7:31:32 p.m., a call came across the radio, saying, “I know you all are coming. Step it up. Step it up.”

At about 7:31:36 p.m., the observer at Stuart Monument reported having eyes “on the guy with the main rope.”

At about 7:31:48 p.m., a command went out by radio, “All units, hold the air. The strike team is coming. We’re going to need the air.”

The responding officers began to arrive on the west side of Lee Monument, approaching on Monument Avenue, at approximately 7:32:10 p.m.—that is, almost a full half hour prior to the curfew. This was also three minutes, twenty seconds before the gas was deployed, giving the officers time to observe that there were no indications the demonstrators were intending to damage the Lee Monument—no ladders, no ropes, no cutters. They also had time to warn the crowd that the police intended to deploy gas.

As shown below, by about 7:32:30 p.m., an officer was in a prone position, with an AR-style rifle trained on the crowd.

Many of the demonstrators witnessed the convoy of police arrive. Some demonstrators dispersed. By approximately 7:33:10 p.m., other demonstrators began to form into a line opposite the police, in front of the Monument, at a cautious and respectful distance from the police line, continuing their peaceful demonstration by chanting lines like “Hands up! Don’t shoot!”

Altogether, an estimated fifty to sixty officers were deployed to Lee Monument by 7:35:30 p.m. (not including those remaining at their vehicles). Notably, the last call (at 7:28:30 p.m.) at Lee Monument reported an orderly crowd, as compared to the calls about the Stuart Monument, where two people had attempted to cut the foot of the statue, and there were ropes on the statue.

At about 7:32:26 p.m., an unidentified individual reported by radio, “Everyone is scattering now.” This may have been a call from either Lee or Stuart Monument.

Despite this call about everyone scattering, the officer who would assume command at Lee Monument, still on the way, made a radio call at about 7:32:31 p.m.: “Calvary is coming, LT.” “LT” is believed to be a reference a lieutenant.

At 7:32:39 p.m., there is a radio call from an unidentified individual: “Get gas, boys. Get gas.”

At approximately 7:32:46 p.m., the officer who would assume command at Lee Monument issued further orders. He stated that he wanted “a complete perimeter around this monument. I want total 360 coverage of this entire monument.”

At about 7:32:52 p.m., a radio call, believed to be from an unidentified officer at Lee Monument, reported that a part of the crowd was dispersing and “going north.”

At about 7:33:05 p.m., the officer who would assume command at Lee Monument arrived on the scene—two minutes and twenty-five seconds before the gas attack began. At 7:33:08 p.m., he ordered the “strike team” to engage “the crowd.” He was the first officer to cross Lee Circle and take up a position at the sidewalk on the inside of Lee Circle. At 7:33:22 p.m., he ordered the “strike team” to “form a line.” The officers on the scene began to form a skirmish line on the sidewalk inside of Lee Circle. At 7:33:32 p.m., this officer used the radio to order, “as soon as you are free, hit them with gas.” The first part of this transmission was cut off, but a video of an officer standing near him shows he intended the call to be directed to two particular officers, including the officer he previously referenced by nickname. At about 7:34:20 p.m., he ordered, “Give me a 360,” and directed another officer to “get your team to watch both sides and the back.” The officers immediately responded and began to form a box formation west of the Monument. At approximately 7:34:34, the scene commander issued an order, partially cut off on the radio, to the officer he previously called by nickname, saying, “I need you to shoot that basketball,” apparently referencing the chemical canisters. A video by federal plaintiff Christopher Gayler depicts this police line as it forms. A screenshot appears below, and the video is available on request.

Beginning at about 7:34:50 p.m., many in the line of demonstrators knelt, with hands raised, as a sign of their peaceful determination to remain and protest, and not to engage in violence. Over the next forty seconds, the crowd continued the peaceful chant, without aggression or violence.

At about 7:34:52 p.m., a radio call from an unidentified voice indicated, “Team, we’ll be there momentarily.” At approximately 7:34:59 p.m., another call from another unidentified voice stated, “Do you still have people coming?” This was followed with a call, “Five-oh-one, if you only have one strike team coming, you may want to send two, please.” Meanwhile, an armored vehicle with a SWAT team arrived and the team slowly began to deploy. A video by federal plaintiff Christopher Gayler depicts this. A screenshot appears below, and the video is available on request.

Before the SWAT team moved away from the vehicle, another call came from an unidentified voice, at approximately 7:35:17 p.m., “We’re all here…” Three police vehicles—a truck and two SUVs—turned onto the roundabout surrounding Lee Circle. As they approached the police line, and the scene commander turned and nodded and signaled. The two officers previously ordered to initiate the attack responded to this by pulling the safely pins from canisters of chemical irritants.

One of these officers threw the first chemical canister at approximately 7:35:30 p.m., and it exploded at approximately 7:35:31 p.m. in front of the crowd. He then fired a rocket-propelled canister, at approximately 7:35:35 p.m. One of the officers who arrived in the truck at the moment the chemical canisters were launched, immediately exited the vehicle and threw a chemical canister at 7:35:35 p.m. Meanwhile, the second officer ordered to initiate the attack fumbled with his canister, then threw it at approximately 7:35:38 p.m. These two officers ordered to initiate the attack than cooperated in firing a rocket-propelled canisters into the crowd. A video by federal plaintiff Christopher Gayler depicts the panic caused by one of these canisters landing near him. A screenshot appears below and the video is available on request.

At about 7:36:01 p.m., the scene commander used hand signals to lead several of the officers along the southern side of the circle, toward the remaining demonstrators, using automatic rifles to threaten, and foggers (spray cans) both to threaten and to douse some individuals with chemical agents.

The last demonstrator left Lee Circle at about 7:37:07 p.m. Unidentified officers continued to launch canisters toward demonstrators on Allen Avenue. Some demonstrators gathered on Allen Avenue and Monument Avenue, as the police formed lines in front of them.

The police did not deploy chemical agents at Stuart Monument until approximately 7:39:10 p.m., several minutes after the attack at Lee Monument.

On or around 8:11 p.m., The Richmond Police Department took to Twitter, alleging the Richmond Police Department had to gas the assembly at the General Robert E. Lee Monument because “some RPD officers in that area were cut off by violent protestors” and that the “gas was necessary to get them to safety.”

At approximately 9:47 p.m., Richmond Police tweeted, “Chief Smith just reviewed video of gas being deployed by RPD officers near the Lee Monument and apologizes for this unwarranted action. These officers have been pulled from the field. They will be disciplined because their actions were outside dept protocols and directions given.”

In an Op-Ed in the New York Times on May 22, 2021, Mayer Levar Stoney acknowledged that the police “had released tear gas into what had been to that point a peaceful demonstration.”

 

Virginia Civil Rights Law Firm

Thomas H. Roberts & Associates, P.C. is a Virginia law firm specializing in government accountability and serious personal injury. For more information and interview requests, please contact:

Andrew T. Bodoh
Thomas H. Roberts & Associates, PC
Andrew.bodoh@robertslaw.org
804-991-4260

Additional screenshots from the Arthur video