Charlottesville Police Chief Alfred Thomas resigned abruptly Monday, just 17 days after the release of a report that was highly critical of the police department’s handling of a white-supremacist rally in August that turned deadly in the Virginia city.
The 207-page report prepared by Timothy Heaphy, a former U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia, concluded that the department was ill-prepared, lacked proper training and had a flawed plan for managing the Unite the Right rally that drew hundreds of neo-Nazis and white nationalists to Charlottesville on Aug. 12 and resulted in violent clashes with counterprotesters. The lack of adequate preparation led to “disastrous results,” Heaphy wrote.
Thomas, an Air Force veteran who previously was chief of police in Lexington, Va., had led the Charlottesville agency since May 2016. He was the city’s first black police chief.
“Nothing in my career has brought me more pride than serving as the police chief for the city of Charlottesville,” Thomas said in a news release. “I will be forever grateful for having had the opportunity to protect and serve a community I love so dearly. It truly has been an unparalleled privilege to work alongside such a dedicated and professional team of public servants. I wish them and the citizens of Charlottesville the very best.”
City Manager Maurice Jones said Thomas served with distinction and honor.
“He is a man of integrity who has provided critical leadership for our department since his arrival,” Jones said in a statement. “We wish him all the best in his future endeavors.”
The review of the August rally confirmed widespread observations that police did not intervene to break up brawls on downtown streets. The passive stance, the report said, “represents a tremendous tactical failure that has real and lasting consequences.”
Heaphy said he heard from a couple of officers in the police command center that day who said Thomas told officers, “Let them fight for a little. It will make it easier to declare an unlawful assembly.”
Through his attorney, Kevin Martingayle, Thomas denied ever saying, “Let them fight.”
Several hours after the rally had been declared an unlawful assembly, prosecutors say, Nazi sympathizer James Alex Fields Jr. drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters on Fourth Street NE, killing Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old legal assistant, and injuring 35 others. Fields was charged with first-
degree murder last week.
In the report, Heaphy called Heyer’s death “the most tragic manifestation of the failure to protect public safety after the event” and pointed to police decisions that left the section of the city where Heyer was struck abandoned by law enforcement.
The report, commissioned by the city, was also critical of Thomas’s cooperation with the independent investigation, saying he attempted to limit access to information.
“Chief Thomas’s attempts to influence our review illustrate a deeper issue within CPD — a fear of retribution for criticism,” the report stated. “Many officers with whom we spoke expressed concern that their truthful provision of critical information about the protest events would result in retaliation from Chief Thomas.”
Jones is expected to appoint an interim police chief next week, and the city will begin its search for a chief immediately.