RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Richmond’s former interim police chief is now suing Mayor Levar Stoney and the city’s current police chief for wrongful termination, amending his $5 million lawsuit after a judge ruled the city was protected from liability in the case.
William “Jody” Blackwell, a former major within the department, was tapped by Stoney to be Richmond’s interim police chief in June 2020 after the mayor asked the chief at the time to resign in the wake of clashes between protesters and officers during civil unrest that summer.
Blackwell, who served as police chief for just 11 days, initially filed a lawsuit against the city of Richmond claiming he was fired by current Police Chief Gerald Smith seven months after returning to his old position “in retaliation for refusing to carry out Mayor Stoney’s illegal order” to have officers stationed around the city’s Confederate monuments as contractors removed them.
In the lawsuit, Blackwell claimed Stoney made the request before a law giving localities the authority to remove Confederate monuments went into effect.
On March 24, Richmond Circuit Court Judge W. Reilly Marchant ruled the city is protected by sovereign immunity from the wrongful termination lawsuit, but he left the door open for a potential case.
“Sovereign immunity, as it relates to municipalities, is extended to intentional torts committed by its actors,” Marchant wrote in his order. “Thus, alleged intentional torts would only survive a plea of sovereign immunity if the suit was against the individuals, not the City.”
In most cases, governments and their employees are protected against civil lawsuits by sovereign immunity, but the doctrine offers various levels of protection and can be waived by a government. Blackwell’s lawyer, Scott Crowley, filed an amended complaint against Stoney and Smith on Friday.
“Stoney’s and Smith’s termination of Blackwell’s employment violated Virginia public policy, which prohibits employment termination in retaliation for refusing to engage in in a criminal act that would subject the employee to criminal liability,” the new complaint asserts.
Blackwell is still seeking $5 million and a jury trial. A spokesperson for Stoney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.