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Unanswered questions linger about Lee Monument tear-gassing as review gets underway

Published: Jul. 19, 2021 at 4:50 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 19, 2021 at 5:22 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - More than a year after Richmond Police tear-gassed peaceful protesters at the Robert E. Lee Monument, a third-party review is just getting underway.

This comes as NBC12 uncovers new details about what led up to the decision to lob tear gas at the group, including a never-before-seen video of this chaotic scene happening at the same time just one block away.

Peter Feddo is behind the camera, filming from his rooftop patio on the evening of June 1, 2020.

“One group went onward to Lee circle, where events unfolded there, but another stayed back here at Stuart circle and that group had different intentions it seemed,” said Feddo.

Feddo’s camera captured the moment the group split and what happened after.

“Another gentleman climbed up on the other side with another hacksaw and started cutting at that leg. Somebody else has a rope and started throwing it around the statue,” said Feddo.

Now a $219,000 investigation is underway into police conduct and what went wrong that night during last summer’s unrest in Richmond.

“There was no justification for the use of that force by these police officers,” said lawyer Andrew Bodoh.

Bodoh represents some of those now suing over the incident at Lee Monument. He poured through police body camera footage and radio traffic trying to hold those on the ground accountable for that night.

NBC12 asked Richmond police for the same footage and has not been given access.

“It is absolutely essential that the city comes forward and discloses - in detail - how it was that these citizens were subjected to such injury, such misconduct, and we believe the city has not done that,” said Bodoh.

While regrets were finally tweeted by the police department, and the mayor made a very public apology, the exact reason why police used tear gas on those peaceful protesters is still a mystery until now.

All Richmond City Hall will say is there was a “miscommunication.”

But a civil lawsuit is shedding light on that miscommunication. Court documents reveal some of the police chatter from that night.

According to the lawsuit, at 7:29:15 p.m. comes the first report of trouble at the Stuart Monument, “someone on the statue, with a saw.”

Moments later, a responding officer asks for a cross-street by radio. “Lombardy and monument” is the response, where Stuart is located.

Meanwhile, according to the lawsuit, radio reports indicated those at the Lee Monument were orderly.

At 7:31:36 p.m., more activity at Stuart, the lawsuit says, someone having eyes “on the guy with the main rope.”

Nevertheless, at 7:32:21 p.m., the lawsuit claims, a sergeant, who later ordered the Lee attack, directs his driver to go to the Lee Monument and not Stuart saying, “straight ahead. It’s the biggest one here.”

Then at 7:35:30 p.m, police are seen firing tear gas at protesters assembled around the Lee Monument.

The documents reveal chemical agents were not used at Stuart until 7:39:10 p.m.

“There’s been a lot of information that has been incredibly useful to piece together the story of what happened on the ground. We haven’t yet been able to get to the point of understanding some of the events leading up to this event,” said Bodoh.

And with the third-party review of police conduct underway, more than a year after the fact, some criminal options are drying up.

On the civil side, Bodoh worries it will be dragged out and there will be no real answer as to why police launched gas into the peaceful crowd that June night.

“Since the beginning, we’ve been trying to hold the police accountable. This should not happen. This shouldn’t have happened before, and it shouldn’t happen again,” said Bodoh.

Citing the pending litigation, Richmond Police had no comment on the confusion.

CNA Institute for Public Research is doing the third-party review. A spokesperson says they will be looking at the Richmond Police Department’s planning, policies, procedures, and practices related to lawful and unlawful demonstrations during the period of May 29, 2020 through July 1, 2020 The company couldn’t tell NBC12 when the review would be done.

Copyright 2021 WWBT. All rights reserved.

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