RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Richmond Police Department has retracted a June 2020 tweet that said tear gas had to be used around the former Gen. Robert E. Lee monument to get officers to safety who “were cut off by violent protestors.”
A lawsuit settlement between demonstrators and the city stipulated that the department must publicly acknowledge the tweet as false, according to the law firm that filed the federal suit.
“There were no RPD officers cut off by violent protesters at the Lee Monument. There was no need for gas at Lee Monument to get RPD officers to safety,” one of the department’s six tweets retracting the 2020 tweet said Friday.
Protests spread across the country that summer following the police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, including in Richmond where people seeking police reforms marched in the city’s streets and a curfew was implemented.
On June 1, 2020, Richmond police officers tear-gassed a crowd of peaceful demonstrators near the former Lee statue on Monument Avenue without warning and before the 8 p.m. curfew set by Mayor Levar Stoney.
“To our peaceful protestors: We are sorry we had to deploy gas near the Lee Monument. Some RPD officers in that area were cut off by violent protestors,” the department tweeted at 8:08 p.m. that night. “The gas was necessary to get them to safety.”
Lawsuits were filed on behalf of six demonstrators by Andrew Bodoh, an attorney at the civil rights and personal injury law firm Thomas H. Roberts & Associates PC, and a settlement was reached. The terms of the deal were not disclosed when the settlement was announced in February 2022, but the federal judge overseeing the lawsuit directed that the protective order in the case should be lifted in July.
The firm said the settlement would make police records in the case public and require the department to issue a retraction to the tweet. On Friday, a Richmond police spokesperson confirmed to 8News “that RPD will be posting a retraction this afternoon on Twitter.”
Richmond police issued a retraction in a Twitter thread on July 1, 2022, that states the original tweet was “false and is retracted.”
“At that time, there were multiple demonstrations in progress, not all of which were peaceful; however, as a result of some confusion, amongst the various on-going demonstrations at multiple locations in the City involving multiple monuments, all at the same time, it does appear, at the time tear gas was initially dispersed at the Lee Monument, that the crowd was peaceful,” two of the tweets in the thread read.
The federal lawsuit that was settled claimed that the officers violated the protesters’ First Amendment, Fourth Amendment and 14th Amendment rights, a similar argument from other civil lawsuits in response to the incident.
Jonathan Arthur, an attorney at the firm who demonstrated at the Lee Circle and later filed a lawsuit against the officers, called out the department for the tweet.
“This statement was false from the beginning. It distorted the truth of a violent, illegal police attack from the first moments the world learned of it,” Arthur said in a statement. “You can’t undo a false first impression. But this acknowledgment should prevent future generations from believing the falsity.”
Police documents and videos, including body-camera footage from that day, will be sent to the Library of Virginia and eventually be made available to the public.
“We have not received anything yet from the city or from the plaintiffs in the case and I am not certain when those materials will be transferred to us,” Sandra Treadway, librarian of Virginia, told 8News. “Once they have, we will inventory and organize them and determine how we can best make them accessible for public use.”
Treadway added that the library does not yet know the volume of the materials, but that it will prioritize the effort to make the case details available.
People who took part in the protest can contribute any personal narratives about what they experienced on June 1, 2020, according to the settlement, but they have until July 2023 to do so.
According to Thomas H. Roberts & Associates PC, the agreement also requires the city of Richmond to donate any “protest artifacts” collected at the former Lee Circle from the summer of 2020 to the Black History Museum and Cultural Center.
“For far too long, the City has hidden what its officers did that day,” Thomas H. Roberts, the principal of the law firm, said in a statement Friday. “For far too long, the City has made excuses. No more.”