Richmond police have seized stolen construction material and other items from a vacant, overgrown lot parallel to Interstate 64/95 that authorities believe some participants protesting the inauguration of President Donald Trump probably planned to use to block the interstate during their march Friday night.
Five days before the inauguration, Richmond plainclothes officers observed a number of people at the site in the 900 block of Axtell Street conducting “demonstration training” in preparation for their march, according to an affidavit used to obtain a search warrant for the property. The site is about two blocks west of Belvidere Street and just north of West Leigh Street.
“During this training session, it appeared the attendees were role-playing as protesters and police officers,” the affidavit says.
Officers seized all the property, much of it stolen, beginning about 1:30 p.m. Friday, well before the protesters began their march about 7 p.m.
Police also noticed that barrier fencing between the lot where the items were discovered and the southbound interstate lanes had been pried open to allow pedestrian access to the highway, according to the affidavit and search warrant.
In the affidavit, police said their search was in relation to the felony theft of property and obstructing the passage of others on private or public property or roads.
On Monday, Richmond police declined to elaborate on their search or ongoing investigation.
Richmond police learned of the stolen property after a contractor called them about 9:40 a.m. Friday. He told police that he was driving south on I-95 when he noticed one of his construction signs on the Axtell Street lot. The man said the sign had been stolen in early December from a construction site on Clay Street, and he filed a report at that time, the affidavit says.
After driving to the site, the man further advised that he saw a “Road Work Ahead” sign, a barrel and traffic cones — all of which his company owned — and said he would like to have them back. A Richmond police detective was dispatched to the location.
A contractor from a separate construction company then arrived and told police he could see three plastic construction barrels on the lot and that they had been stolen from the same construction site on Clay Street, the affidavit says.
Based on the interstate’s immediate proximity to the Axtell Street lot, the opening found in the fence, the protest training session held there on Jan. 15 — and the fact that protesters had twice before blocked nearby sections of interstate in downtown Richmond — “it is probable that the stolen construction material, as well as other construction materials on this lot, will be used to obstruct I-95,” police said in the affidavit.
According to the search warrant inventory filed in Richmond Circuit Court, the items seized include:
- six orange traffic barrels;
- one “Road Work Ahead” sign;
- four black barrel weights;
- five orange traffic cones;
- two white plastic barricades;
- four car tires and two truck tires;
- miscellaneous piles of wood;
- miscellaneous brick and stone products;
- miscellaneous paper and plastic materials; and
- miscellaneous aluminum cans and trash.
Contacted Monday, Mallory O’Shea, who helped organize Friday’s march as part of an ad hoc coalition of local activists, said she is not familiar with the Axtell Street lot and that she did she know about, or participate in, a pre-protest training session on the property.
“That’s the full extent of any information I can give you,” O’Shea said. “I don’t know anything about this. There were no plans to create a blockade with equipment over 95.”
Under a heavy police escort, the march began just before 7 p.m. and ended about 10 p.m. Roughly 200 people marched peacefully, chanting against newly inaugurated Trump. The protest was largely free of drama, apart from a few tense shouting matches.
The protesters chanted slogans in support of black lives, Muslims, refugees, women, and gay and transgender people, while shouting fury against Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, the police, “white silence” and the Ku Klux Klan.