RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The resignation letter Richmond’s former police Chief Gerald Smith sent to the city’s chief administrative officer did not share his reason for stepping down.
“It is with a heavy heart that I tender my resignation as the Chief of Police for the City of Richmond effective December 31st,” Smith wrote to Richmond’s Chief Administrative Officer Lincoln Saunders in a letter provided to 8News on Thursday.
Details about what led Smith to resign after a two-and-a-half-year tenure were not provided in the city’s Oct. 25 announcement or a subsequent statement from Mayor Levar Stoney, leading to questions about the decision.
“I want to stop the rumor mill because it is not productive for City of Richmond employees or our residents,” Saunders said in a statement Thursday. “Questions are swirling from the Mayor’s involvement in the Chief’s resignation to severance pay.”
Saunders said he wanted to clarify some previous statements so Richmond “can move forward and look toward the future.”
In his statement, Saunders said he called Stoney to tell him about Smith’s decision to resign and that Smith requested to be put on administrative leave through the end of the year.
According to the city, Smith will receive $15,427.93 in severance. Saunders’ office said the figure is “equivalent to four weeks of pay based on the city code.”
When asked about Smith’s resignation, Mayor Stoney told reporters he did not ask for the police chief to leave the post and distanced himself from the process. In his statement, Saunders pointed to sections in the city charter on his authority to appoint department heads and the role the mayor plays.
While the mayor can take part in the hiring and removal of city department heads, the city charter states the “ultimate responsibility for hiring, removal and other personnel decisions relating to administrative personnel, and for the directing of administrative personnel, shall reside in the chief administrative officer, unless expressly provided otherwise in this charter.”
Smith, who assumed the role of police chief on July 1, 2020, was appointed by Stoney following the ouster of former chief William Smith and after William “Jody” Blackwell served as interim chief for just 11 days.
The appointment of Smith came in the wake of clashes between protesters and officers in Richmond during civil unrest following the police killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
Stoney and Saunders thanked Smith for his time with the department, applauding him for taking over the role amid racial justice protests in the city and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I pray that my work and commitment to the city, our residents, and the men and women I have served with, has raised the bar in policing,” Smith wrote in his resignation letter. “While I have had my challenges and made some mistakes, these officers have continuously stepped up to the plate to ensure Richmond has quality service.”
Smith faced criticism from officers and Richmond leaders over crime in the city, including several fatal shootings, and over the handling of an investigation into a July 4 mass shooting plot that police accused two men of being behind.
In a news conference, Smith said the department foiled plans for a mass shooting targeting the city’s July 4 event at Dogwood Dell. Conflicting information regarding the alleged plot, which garnered national attention, led to questions and criticism over the police investigation.
Public records show that Smith had been told the target of the alleged shooting plot was “unknown” before he addressed reporters during the press conference.
After saying he was shutting down talk about the planned shooting, Smith acknowledged that the department’s communication over the response could have been better in an interview with 8News. But he doubled down on Dogwood Dell being the target, saying he determined it was the location from “experienced knowledge.”
Acting Major Richard Edwards has been temporarily appointed as acting interim police chief, a recommendation from Saunders. Brendan Leavy, president of the Richmond Coalition of Police, which represents police officers in the city, told 8News’ Rachel Keller Thursday that looks forward to working with Edwards and is encouraged by the change.
“The Richmond Police Department is tired. We need to recruit aggressively,” Leavy told 8News. “Hopefully officers who have left and have seen the change in leadership will come back.”