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night gatherings banned at lee statue
UPDATED: Overnight police declare 'Reclamation Square' encampment an unlawful assembly, disperse crowd with chemical agents

Tuesday morning update, 7:45 a.m.: The Richmond Police Department declared demonstrators' encampment at City Hall an unlawful assembly at 12:42 A.M. Tuesday morning.

The unlawful assembly was declared due to "conditions of activity such as sit-ins, sit-downs, blocking traffic, blocking entrances or exits of buildings that impact public safety or infrastructure," according to a Twitter post from the Richmond Police.

Virginia State Police moved in on the encampment — dubbed "Reclamation Square" demonstrators — shortly before the announcement, according to a reporter from The Commonwealth Times. There, officers reportedly deployed various chemical irritants, flash bangs and rubber bullets to disperse demonstrators, who had begun their sit-in six hours prior.

The dispersal of protesters at City Hall comes roughly seven hours after the Department of General Services announced an ordinance prohibiting demonstrators from gathering at the Robert E. Lee monument between sunset and sunrise.

The crowd at the Lee monument thinned out by 11 p.m. Monday night, as there were less than two dozen people at the statue when a Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter drove by.

Earlier story:

On the 25th consecutive day of demonstrations in Richmond, a group of about 100 protesters set up an encampment outside Richmond City Hall on Monday evening.

Dubbed “Reclamation Square,” according to a banner and pamphlets handed out to the crowd, the protesters at the encampment demanded police reforms from city leaders.

Before 7 p.m., eight tents had been set up on East Marshall between North Ninth and North 10th streets. Bikes and cars encircled the gathering.

“Our guiding principle is, ‘Black liberation by any means necessary,’ ” the pamphlet read.

A few miles west, another group of protesters gathered as they have for weeks around the city’s Robert E. Lee monument, which has become a makeshift gathering place for protesters in Richmond.

State and city officials on Monday afternoon issued an order banning gatherings on the grounds from sunset to sunrise, citing safety.

Protesters defied that order. As of press time, law enforcement officials had begun to surround the area but had not moved to remove the crowd of more than 150 people.

The Lee statue has served as the epicenter of the city’s activism this month, drawing hundreds on a near-daily basis.

Protesters have gathered there. Block parties with music and food have been held. People from across the state have gone to observe the statue and its graffiti. A sign unofficially renamed the location as “Marcus-David Peters Circle” after the high school teacher killed by a Richmond police officer in 2018.

As sunset approached, Beth Almore, a local teacher, snapped photos of the makeshift memorials to document them, fearing they would be removed and discarded if police overtook the circle.

“I was concerned about that,” said Almore, adding that she hopes they will be preserved by the Virginia Museum of History and Culture.

“This is an interesting moment in the history of Richmond and it needs to be documented. As an African American woman ... the artwork for me is healing an ulcer. I felt for the first time I could breathe when I passed this statue.”

Monday’s gathering, which began at Monroe Park near VCU’s downtown campus, marked the 25th night of demonstrations against police brutality and systemic racism in Richmond.

As two protests unfolded in Richmond, 14 advocacy groups sought to cement the demands of demonstrators.

In a letter shared on social media, a group representing more than a dozen separate community organizations issued a “solidarity statement from the Richmond Uprising” and, in it, seven clear demands.

The demands included reopening the Marcus-David Peters case; defunding the Richmond Police Department; dropping charges against arrested protesters; removing Confederate monuments; establishing a civilian review board with subpoena power to investigate police misconduct; and releasing the names of Richmond police officers under investigation for excessive use of force.

***

The overnight closures at the Lee monument are in place indefinitely, according to a news release from the Virginia Department of General Services, the Capitol Police, the Virginia State Police and the Richmond Police Department.

The agencies said that while peaceful events have been held on the grounds, “concerns are mounting for the safety of those in attendance” at the events and “for those living and working within the immediate area, especially at night.”

The area will reopen each day at sunrise, according to the news release, which also outlined regulations for people visiting the monument. Those rules, which became part of state code in 2019, include no vehicles, no climbing on the statue or its steps, and a maximum occupancy of 500 people.

The agencies also barred additional banners, flags, posters or other objects placed on or affixed to the statue. Events that are expected to have 10 or more people also require a permit.

The news release said the substantial increase in people visiting the monument and “intermittent blockages to vehicular traffic within the intersection pose serious safety risks.” The agencies said there has been vandalism, trespassing on private properties on Monument Avenue, littering, public urination and excessive noise.

“As a result of increasing public safety risks and numerous legal violations, state and local law enforcement will be enforcing state laws, city ordinances and the regulations for use of the Lee Monument property,” the agencies said. “These steps are necessary to provide a safe and secure area for individuals who want to express their First Amendment rights peacefully, as well as general visitors to the site, City of Richmond residents and property owners.”

Gov. Ralph Northam ordered the Lee statue, which is state-owned, taken down June 4 after mass calls from demonstrators to rid Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy, of its Confederate symbols.

The Richmond City Council has said it will take down the four statues on city property once a new state law takes effect.

Northam’s decision led to three lawsuits being filed objecting to the monument’s removal. A complaint filed by a descendant of the people who signed the land over to the state argues that under the terms of the 1890 agreement and a legislature-approved resolution, the state is supposed to consider the monument and the area around it “perpetually sacred” and “faithfully guard it and affectionately protect it.”

A Richmond judge issued a 10-day injunction barring the statue’s removal on June 8 and extended that injunction last week. Another hearing is scheduled for July 23.

Even with the removal plans put on pause, the statue has continued to serve as the hub for protests.

The scene has been peaceful at the monument, with pictures being taken on its pedestal, a basketball hoop set up for pickup games, and protesters installing a wheelchair-accessible ramp over the weekend. The state put up temporary concrete barriers last week as well, saying they would protect protesters.

Police did arrest an off-duty Richmond International Airport Police Department officer on Saturday, charging him with trespassing in a building overlooking the Lee monument.

This isn’t the first time gatherings at the statue, the largest in the city, have been banned.

Following the white nationalist violence in Charlottesville in August 2017, then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe temporarily barred gatherings at the Lee statue on Monument Avenue. He then imposed emergency regulations in November 2017, which became permanent last year.

Those rules — no vehicles, a cap on the number of people gathered and the overnight closures, among others — are the ones state and local officials are now citing.


Local
With vote, Richmond City Council clears way for solicitation of Public Safety Building property

A downtown eyesore linked to the failed Navy Hill redevelopment plan is officially up for grabs.

The Richmond City Council backed a request from Mayor Levar Stoney to designate as surplus the city-owned Public Safety Building at 510 N. 10th Street. The 8-0 vote clears the way for the Stoney administration to solicit development proposals for the property it has said it wants to bring back on the tax rolls.

“We are prepared to move forward with a request for proposals,” said Sharon Ebert, the deputy chief administrative officer for economic development.

The council’s Land Use, Housing and Transportation would be able to review that solicitation before it is issued, Ebert said.

In the spring, the Stoney administration asked the council to designate as surplus several properties linked to the $1.5 billion plan to replace the arena. Among them was the shuttered Richmond Coliseum itself.

However, the administration amended that request to center on the 66-year-old Public Safety Building alone. Some on the council had voiced opposition to designating all the properties as surplus without first developing a small area plan based on feedback from residents.

Two firms already have signaled interest in the properties.

Washington D.C.-based developer Douglas Jemal offered $15 million for about 15 acres of property near City Hall, including the Public Safety Building site. The Stoney administration said his proposal was incomplete, and requested additional information from Jemal, officials told the council last month. Jemal’s original offer expired in May.

Capital City Partners, the development firm that helped pitch the Navy Hill plan, submitted an unsolicited proposal in May centering on the Public Safety Building alone. It offered $3.17 million for the property. Its plans call for a $350 million development to rise in place of the building. The majority of the development would be devoted to new office and medical space.

Administration officials said they wanted to negotiate the terms of Capital City Partners’ unsolicited offer. Leonard Sledge, Richmond’s economic development director, said the plans “present a tremendous redevelopment opportunity.”

In other business Monday, the council approved new rules governing short-term rentals over objections from some operators and one member of the council, 5th District Councilwoman Stephanie Lynch. The council also unanimously approved a resolution to begin the process of renaming the Lee Bridge.

Its next regular meeting is currently scheduled for July 27.


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Local
Mayor seeks legal path to immediately remove Confederate statues, after council members raise concerns

Citing public safety 25 days into civic unrest, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said Monday he wants to remove Confederate iconography from the public sphere immediately.

He told the City Council that his administration is seeking a legal avenue to remove the controversial statues lining Monument Avenue before the city gains authority over them next week, on the heels of requests from council members worried about escalating tensions.

Acting sooner would violate state law and could result in felony charges, interim City Attorney Haskell Brown cautioned officials during an electronic meeting on Monday.

“I’m willing to take that risk,” Stoney said. “If I had Superman strength and could go and arrive at Monument Avenue and remove them by myself and get slapped with a class 6 felony, I would have done that yesterday.”

But any city employee or contractor who aided the removal could face charges, as well, Brown said; a risk Stoney said he did not want to take.

The discussion took place after protesters on Sunday night attached rope to the J.E.B. Stuart statue on Monument Avenue in an unsuccessful attempt to pull it down. Police declared an unlawful assembly and sought to clear the area by firing pepper spray and flash-bang grenades, while some demonstrators reported that officers also used tear gas and rubber bullets. They arrested six people and injured a journalist.

Sunday’s was the latest Confederate tribute targeted amid protests against police brutality that have unfolded over the past three weeks since the police killing of George Floyd.

In Portsmouth, a man was seriously injured when a crowd of protesters pulled down a Confederate statue. The incident prompted some localities to remove their statues out of fear of further injuries or accidental deaths. However, Brown is cautioning that course of action could invite legal repercussions.

Should city leaders act, he advised they seek a written assurance from Commonwealth’s Attorney Colette McEachin that she would not prosecute. Brown also floated requesting authority to remove the statues from Gov. Ralph Northam via an executive order.

Some on the council also called for the statues’ swift removal, saying they worried someone would be maimed or killed if protesters attempted to remove some of the larger tributes to the Confederacy in the city limits.

As some were still on the streets late Sunday night, two council members — Stephanie Lynch, 5th District, and Michael Jones, 9th District — took to social media to call for the immediate removal of Confederate memorials.

“Protestors have clearly shown they are willing to take the removal of these statues into their own hands, as we have seen with the removal of smaller monuments in the city,” according to a letter Jones and Lynch sent Brown on Monday. “There is a risk of people being injured or killed in an attempt to damage or remove the remaining monuments.”

Over the past three weeks, protests in Richmond have drawn thousands to marches decrying police brutality and racism. Daily gatherings have taken place on Monument Avenue, home to the country’s most prominent monuments to leaders of the Confederacy. As in other cities, protesters have sought to wrest from their pedestals the statues they view as symbols of white supremacy.

Three memorials to the Confederacy have been pulled down this month. Most notably, the statue depicting president of the Confederacy Jefferson Davis was toppled on Monument Avenue two weeks ago. A statue of Christopher Columbus also came down in Byrd Park, and the First Virginia Regiment Monument, a memorial to a state militia regiment formed in 1754 before the Revolutionary War, was removed from its perch in the Fan District within the past week.

No serious injuries have been reported from those incidents, but protesters in other cities have been hurt. The injury in Portsmouth led Norfolk to accelerate its plans to remove a Confederate monument, the Virginian Pilot reported. Elsewhere, officials in Farmville voted to take down a Confederate statue and removed it last week.

Brown drew a distinction between Norfolk’s decision and what Richmond leaders are contemplating.

“The situation just seems very distinguishable,” Brown said. “I’m going to continue to review their materials to see if there is anything we can use to help us that they’ve provided to me.”

Protesters in Richmond took removal into their own hands even after city officials unanimously pledged to relocate the statues from Monument Avenue under the state law that takes effect July 1.

Under that law, the City Council must hold a public hearing and publish notice of its intent in a newspaper. It also permits the council to conduct a nonbinding referendum regarding the monuments.

If the council votes for removal, it must hold a 30-day waiting period in which it offers to relocate the monuments to any museum, historical society or military battlefield, among other places.

Brown said his office would have an ordinance drafted to set that process in motion in time for a special meeting the council plans to schedule next Wednesday.


Local
Six arrested for unlawful assembly Sunday night at Stuart Circle protest

Richmond police said Monday that six people were arrested Sunday night after a rope was tied around the J.E.B. Stuart statue and police declared an unlawful assembly.

“The action was taken as protesters threw objects at the officers and tied a rope to the statue in an apparent attempt to pull it down — an action that would have put many people at risk of being hit,” police said in a prepared statement Monday.

They sent out a message via Twitter around 9:20 p.m. Sunday that the assembly of protesters at the intersection of Monument Avenue and Stuart Circle was deemed unlawful. Police in riot gear used pepper spray and flash-bang grenades to clear Stuart Circle of protesters, forcing them back up Monument Avenue toward the Robert E. Lee statue. Some demonstrators said tear gas was also used.

The protesters and police were in a standoff between the two monuments for more than four hours Sunday night into early Monday morning.

All six people arrested were processed and released. They were identified as: Paul E. Behrends II, 23, of Richmond; William G. Keller, 23, of Richmond; Robert W. Wood, 20, of Henrico County; Summer A. Orcutt, 30, of Richmond; Thomas J. Feeney, 25, of Richmond; and Anna C. Posner, 21, of Lorton.

Posner was rearrested after she returned to the statue and was charged with another, related offense — remaining at a place of a riot or unlawful assembly.

Police said one officer was injured when he was struck on the arm by a thrown brick. He was treated at the scene.

Andrew Ringle, executive editor of The Commonwealth Times, VCU’s student newspaper — who was covering the event as a working member of the media — was pepper-sprayed by police as they marched up Monument Avenue. He later posted a photo of his bloody elbow, which he said happened after he was thrown to the ground by an officer he bumped into while filming.

Police did not respond Monday to an inquiry from the Richmond Times-Dispatch about Ringle. Ringle said that as of Monday evening, he had not heard from the police.

Though some members of the City Council are calling for the removal of statues on Monument Avenue for public safety reasons, the city doesn’t control the statues until July 1. The Lee statue, the largest and most well-known, is owned by the state. Its removal is the subject of a court battle.

Responding to the police tweet about unlawful assembly, the crowd chanted back, “We’re not leaving.” Just before 10 p.m., a line of officers in riot gear marched toward the statue and in minutes encircled it, blocking off all sides of the monument.

Richmond police tweeted around 10:10 p.m. the reason for the declaration: “The Unlawful Assembly was declared earlier due to protesters attempting to pull down the J.E.B. Stuart statue with rope, which could have caused serious injuries.”

The department announced on Friday that it “has the authority to declare protests that become violent, dangerous or disruptive as unlawful assemblies” under state law, giving them the authority to make arrests if a crowd fails to disperse.

According to the department, when the decision is made to declare an unlawful assembly, repeated announcements will be made to alert everyone it is time to leave. That message will say the gathering has been deemed an unlawful assembly and that failure to disperse will result in arrest and/or exposure to chemical agents.”

The tribute to Stuart, a Confederate Civil War general who was born in Patrick County, was Monument Avenue’s second statue, erected in 1907.


Local
UPDATED: Henrico Police Chief Humberto Cardounel announces retirement

Henrico Police Chief Humberto “Hum” Cardounel Jr. announced Monday that he will step down effective Sept. 1

Cardounel, who is of Cuban descent, became the county’s first Latino police chief when he was promoted to lead the department in 2016. He previously was a patrol officer, a SWAT team medic and the deputy chief of the investigative bureau.

“It is time for me to pass the torch onto the next generation of police leadership,” the 32-year police veteran stated in a release. “What this county has done for me over my career is immeasurable. I only hope that I have been able to give something back and that in some small way I have helped move us forward. “

His departure comes amid a wave of nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice. Local clashes between riot police and protesters led Richmond Police Chief Will Smith to resign last week at the request of Mayor Levar Stoney.

While there have been only a few protests in the county since the outbreak of demonstrations in the Richmond area over the last month, Supervisor Tyrone Nelson has asked county leaders to consider the creation of an independent civilian review board to oversee the police department. The Board of Supervisors is expected to review the proposal next month.

Cari Tretina, the county’s chief of staff, said County Manager John Vithoulkas did not ask Cardounel to resign or retire. A spokesperson for the Henrico Police declined an interview request with Cardounel following his announcement Monday.

“Hum has left an irreplaceable mark on Henrico and its Police Division, having served in nearly every facet of the agency’s work throughout his long, distinguished career,” Vithoulkas said in the news release. “Hum also has demonstrated what it means to serve with heart, and Henrico is stronger, safer and eternally grateful that he selected our community as his home.”

The release announcing his departure noted his decision came while Henrico offers enhanced retirement benefits as a cost-saving measure during the COVID-19 pandemic. Tretina said about 115 county employees have decided to retire under a new incentive program that’s intended to save the county money during the pandemic.

Retiring employees who are eligible for the program receive 10% of their annual base salary and $8 per hour for up to 2,000 of unused sick leave, Tretina said.

Cardounel’s annual salary for the 2019-2020 fiscal year is $166,400, according to county salary records. Tretina said his payout will total $32,640.

The county plans to conduct a national search to find a new police chief before Sept. 1.