Richmond police won’t say how many officers face discipline for attacking protesters

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and Police Chief Will Smith (left) speak to a large crowd from the...
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and Police Chief Will Smith (left) speak to a large crowd from the steps of City Hall in Richmond, Va., June 2, 2020. Stoney called the event to apologize for how peaceful protesters had been treated by police in the previous days.(Parker Michels-Boyce/Virginia Mercury)
Updated: Jun. 8, 2020 at 10:59 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

After a week of demonstrations demanding police accountability, officials in Richmond aren’t saying how police are being held accountable for tear gassing a large crowd of peaceful protesters.

“I don’t think the chief plans to revisit this anytime soon,” said a police department spokesman, Gene Lepley, of the incident a week ago Monday. “He has apologized repeatedly.”

Following two nights of escalating protests that saw businesses looted and burned, the department responded with a massive show of force that included repeated, indiscriminate use of tear gas and pepper spray on activists, journalists and bystanders.

The most high-profile incident came June 1 on Lee Circle, where a crowd of several hundred had assembled about half an hour before the 8 p.m. curfew set by Gov. Ralph Northam.

Out of nowhere, officers began launching tear gas into the group. In videos of the incident, officers appear to relish the attack. One is seen waving goodbye as people flee. Another officer was filmed chasing down a demonstrator to spray him with chemical irritants directly in the face.

The department offered shifting explanations, initially tweeting: “We are sorry we had to deploy gas … Some RPD officers in that area were cut off by violent protestors. The gas was necessary to get them to safety.”

The claim was immediately contradicted by video and witness accounts. A little less than two hours later, the department tweeted that Police Chief Will Smith had reviewed the video and agreed the action was unwarranted.

“These officers have been pulled from the field,” the department wrote. “They will be disciplined because their actions were outside dept protocols and directions given.”

But beyond that, the police department has offered no explanation for the attack. They declined to comment when asked again Friday who ordered the gassing and why.


The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.