RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Federal prosecutors say they lack evidence to prove that one of the two men accused by Richmond police of plotting a mass shooting “was planning to shoot people at a big event on the 4th of July or commit other acts of violence.”
The disclosure came in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia’s recommendation to sentence the man, Rolman Balcarcel-Bavagas, to six months in prison after he pled guilty to re-entering the United States illegally.
Former Richmond Police Chief Gerald Smith, who abruptly resigned earlier this week, said the department thwarted a mass shooting plot that targeted the city’s July 4 event at Dogwood Dell after a tip from a “hero citizen.”
“Law enforcement authorities have completed an investigation into the tipster’s report of a planned mass shooting,” U.S. Attorney Jessica Aber wrote in the Oct. 27 court filing. “The United States Attorney’s Office has reviewed the information gathered during that investigation, and concluded that consideration of the tipster’s report as part of the overall assessment of the statutory sentencing factors, in this case, is not warranted.”
“That is, although law enforcement acted lawfully and appropriately when investigating the tip on July 1, the United States lacks evidence now to prove beyond a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant was planning to shoot people at a big event on the 4th of July or commit other acts of violence.”
“At this time the department has no comment,” a Richmond police spokesperson wrote in an email. Mayor Levar Stoney’s spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
Authorities seized assault rifles and ammunition from the Richmond home where Balcarcel-Bavagas and Julio Alvarado-Dubon, the other man accused by the police, were living, according to police.
Police eventually arrested both men, but prosecutors say they did not find guns in Balcarcel-Bavagas’ room. City prosecutors dropped the initial charges filed against both men so federal prosecutors could pursue charges against them.
Neither the city nor prosecutors in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia filed charges connected to an alleged mass shooting plot, but that doesn’t rule out additional charges.
Alvarado-Dubon faces a federal charge of possessing a firearm while in the country illegally and Balcarcel-Bavagas is expected to be sentenced on Nov. 10. Aber wrote in the Oct. 27 filing that a six-month sentence would deter Balcarcel-Bavagas, who prosecutors say has illegally entered the U.S. three times, from trying again.
“Given this recidivist conduct, the defendant needs to be specifically deterred from reentering the United States a fourth time,” Aber wrote. “Moreover, the sentence imposed should promote respect for the law and impress upon the defendant that he cannot continue to flout immigration laws.”
Conflicting information regarding the alleged plot, which garnered national attention and TV appearances from Stoney and Smith, led to questions and criticism over the handling of the case.
During a July 6 press conference, then-police Chief Smith claimed the department’s investigation pointed to Dogwood Dell as the target.
But city prosecutors told a circuit court judge on Aug. 3 that there was no evidence of a specific target and public records show Smith was informed the target 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.”