Four days after asking for a criminal investigation into a Richmond police officer who drove a marked SUV through protesters blocking an intersection on Monument Avenue, Mayor Levar Stoney said in a private meeting with police that he saw nothing criminal in the officer’s actions.
A video clip of Stoney’s comments, which he made during a tense exchange with officers, emerged last week after a Virginia Beach attorney released the footage. The mayor’s spokesman, Jim Nolan, declined to comment, citing a pending court case.
Stoney’s statement that he saw nothing criminal in the officer’s actions came before completion of a criminal investigation that he had called for publicly. The probe into the June 13 SUV incident is still ongoing, according to Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Colette McEachin, whom Stoney has tasked with reviewing the case and several other high-profile incidents related to the city’s civil unrest.
No one was injured when the SUV forced its way through the protesters, who had been blocking the intersection of Monument and North Allen avenues for hours leading up to the encounter. After the SUV mounted the curb to avoid the protesters, the crowd moved in front of the SUV, standing against its bumper as it revved forward. The scene was recorded, and witnessed by two Richmond Times-Dispatch reporters. Police have said the driver was assaulted through the open window.
“I believe that last night’s incident requires a full investigation,” Stoney said in a tweet the day after the officer drove through protesters. “While the investigation is underway, I have instructed the Richmond Police Department to place the officer involved on administrative leave pending the result of the investigation by the Commonwealth’s Attorney.”
Two days later, he forced the resignation of then-Chief William Smith.
On June 18, Stoney was set to introduce his choice of an interim police chief when a group of officers stopped Stoney in the lobby of the police training academy and asked to meet with him.
The video footage of the meeting was shared on social media by attorney Timothy Anderson, the owner of the Anderson & Associates law firm out of Virginia Beach. The firm has a satellite office in Richmond.
The video clip shows only 3 minutes and 45 seconds of the 90-minute meeting, which was closed to the media. It’s unclear who recorded it. The footage has been edited to add subtitles and is inaudible at times.
In the video, a woman identified as “Officer 1” can be heard saying, “You did publicly come out and condemned it.”
She noted that Stoney recommended the officer be placed on administrative leave. “You can come out in a heartbeat and get on your Twitter account and condemn what we do and how we do it,” she told the mayor.
Another person whom the subtitles identify as an officer asked Stoney if he recommended that an “officer that was a victim of a crime” be suspended for a day, to which Stoney replied that he was not suspending the officer.
As officers continued to press Stoney, he said, “I’ve asked for an investigation to see what happened and things can calm down.”
Then he made the comment about the SUV incident. “Nothing — I saw nothing criminal,” he said.
In the clip, Stoney said he had watched the body-worn camera footage from the officer driving the SUV and thought the department would release it. But further into the video, he said it was a “slippery slope” to release the footage in just one incident.
Anderson is asking a Richmond court to compel the city to turn over officers’ body-worn camera footage from the SUV incident and others during the recent uprisings.
He filed the petition for mandamus, or a judicial remedy, after the Richmond Police Department denied his request for recordings under the state’s Freedom of Information Act. The police department cited the exception that allows withholding “criminal investigative files,” according to Anderson’s petition.
Anderson said he does not represent any of the officers involved and made the records request as a “concerned citizen.”
“The mayor and other city officials have publicly released statements that continually support a false narrative that police are acting inappropriately towards protestors,” Anderson said in the petition.
Anderson continues that full disclosure of the body-worn camera videos “will significantly lead to the public understanding of the Richmond Police Department in the events and circumstances each request is made, which will help the public determine if the narrative of the elected leaders is truthful or false.”
In addition to footage from the June 13 SUV incident, Anderson asked for videos from a June 2 shootout between the two officers and a 19-year-old man, all of whom were injured; and from an officer involved in two incidents on May 30, when a brick was thrown through the window of his vehicle, and on June 15, when he was injured after he was struck by an object.
A hearing on the release of the body-worn camera footage has been set for Aug. 5.