RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Richmond’s top prosecutor has reviewed materials from the 2020 teargassing of protesters near two former Confederate monuments in June 2020 and concluded that no city police officer broke the law during the response.
The city agreed to share a trove of materials with the Library of Virginia from the June 1, 2020, teargassing around the former Robert E. Lee Monument and former J.E.B. Stuart Monument as part of a federal lawsuit settlement with demonstrators.
Videos from officers’ body cameras, surveillance footage, radio audio, documents and more were included in the materials provided to the library, which were made public.
Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Colette McEachin said Friday that her office reviewed evidence and information from the city’s police department, including body camera videos, investigative reports, audio, emails and more.
Videos obtained and reviewed by 8News show the moments before tear gas was deployed without warning on a large crowd of demonstrators around the Lee statue on June 1, 2020, officers using chemical irritants on people from close range, authorities being confronted by protesters and officers questioning the commands given to them.
In the videos and audio made public, officers can be heard sharing concerns of individuals trying to bring down the Lee statue.
In her office’s release Friday, McEachin called it “deeply unfortunate” that no police command was able to see the “entire circumference” of the Lee monument and realize no one was on top of it or trying to topple it. She cited “miscommunication and confusion” during the response.
“The lack of clear and precise communication between Air 3, Command, and the multiple supervisors and officers on the scene during a critical four to six minute time-frame led to the unnecessary use of OC spray at the Lee monument,” McEachin wrote Friday.
The officers who deployed gas, McEachin said in a release, did so after receiving a “lawful order” to use it on demonstrators from the police chief at the time, William Smith. McEachin added that there was no evidence showing any officer violated the chain of command and used gas without getting Smith’s authorization.
“Chief Smith made the decision to approve the use of OC spray by his employees and he was held accountable for that decision by being removed from office on June 16, 2020,” McEachin added. “There is no criminal liability or culpability for any individual officer who appropriately followed an order in the chain of command that was lawful but, with hindsight, in error.”
Weeks after the teargassing and in the wake of clashes between officers and protesters outside police headquarters, Mayor Levar Stoney asked chief Smith to resign and eventually replaced him with current chief Gerald Smith.
As part of the settlement, the city also agreed to retract a June 2020 tweet from Richmond Police that said tear gas had to be used around the former Gen. Robert E. Lee monument to get officers who “were cut off by violent protestors” to safety.
Other scenes in the released footage show officers being ordered via radio to form a “360 perimeter” around the monument as dozens drive toward the protest. Videos also show officers in that formation, encircling protesters who have their hands up at least several yards away, when officers fire the canisters without warning.
“There were no RPD officers cut off by violent protesters at the Lee Monument. There was no need for gas at the Lee Monument to get RPD officers to safety,” one of the department’s six tweets retracting the 2020 tweet said.
This story is developing. Stay with 8News for updates.