RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Richmond’s Acting Chief of Police, Rick Edwards, is speaking out on the alleged assault of one of his officers after the relevant charge was dropped in Richmond City Circuit Court.
Oliver Holley was charged with the assault and battery of a law enforcement officer in June 2022. However, after months of evidence review — including body-worn camera videos from both officers — Holley’s charge was dropped.
Body-worn camera video of the incident from responding officers, Samuel Yoon and Shannon Onorati, shows the pair arriving at the Maggie Walker Memorial Plaza on Broad Street on the evening of June 5, 2022. The officers can be heard asking Holley what is in his pocket, as he yells responses at them while standing in the street. A short time later, Yoon can be seen wrestling Holley to the ground, where he is ultimately handcuffed, after a prolonged struggle.
On Friday, Feb. 10, Edwards made a lengthy public statement on Facebook, claiming there was more to the story than what the body-worn camera video showed. Firstly, Edwards condemned the comments of an assistant public defender who alleged that the officers charged Holley with felony assault in order to force him into pleading guilty to a lesser charge.
“I am deeply disturbed by this attempt to tarnish the integrity and reputation of Officer Yoon and the Richmond Police Department,” Edwards said. “This allegation is categorically false.”
According to Edwards and Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney, Colette McEachin, Yoon and Onorati were responding to a 911 call that described an individual looking like Holley who was violent and armed with a glass bottle. However, during the pre-trial motions hearing on Jan. 27, 2023, a judge ruled that the 911 call could not be included as evidence.
“[T]he exclusion of that crucial evidence left our prosecutor in a position in which she would no longer be able to present at trial the context and reported violence that led the officers to approach Mr. Holley,” McEachin said. “Without that relevant information, it would have appeared to a jury that police officers approached Mr. Holley for no good reason, instead of approaching him because he presented a danger to himself or others.”
McEachin also claimed that statements that the body-worn camera video did not capture the alleged assault did not mean that the crime had not been committed.
“The fact that the bodycam footage did not capture the assault is certainly helpful to the defense, but this is neither a surprise nor a novel issue; it is not proof that ‘no crime was committed.’ The body cameras that officers wear do not always capture every action that occurs during an incident,” McEachin said.
Edwards, in his statement, said that it would be a “disservice to all” to ignore the allegations against the actions of his officers.
“When an officer steps out of line or breaks the law, they’re going to get arrested. I’m going to hold them accountable internally,” Edwards told 8News in an interview on Monday. “But when our officers don’t do anything wrong, it’s just as important for me to stand up publicly for them, even though it’s uncomfortable, even though it opens us up to more criticism.”
Public Defender Ashley Shaprio also submitted comments to 8News on Monday.
“Ms. McEachin’s claim that the pretrial ruling excluded ‘crucial evidence,’ and therefore caused the dismissal, ignores the facts of the case,” she said. “We do not need to speculate as to what did or didn’t happen. It is clear, Mr. Holley did not assault the officer but was rather the victim of excessive use of force by Officer Yoon.”
Shapiro also noted that she was in the process of compiling previous examples and body-worn camera video from the officer’s “repeated behavior,” and looked forward to meeting with the Commonwealth’s Attorney for a discussion on the matter.