RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — More than two months after Richmond Police Chief Gerald Smith, Mayor Levar Stoney and members of the City Council announced that an alleged Independence Day mass shooting plot had been prevented in Richmond, 8News received a 263-page response to an information request from the police department, shedding new light on conversations behind the scenes.
The response, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, includes text messages and emails sent before and after the July 6 press conference in which Chief Smith announced the alleged plot. For example, one text message dated Saturday, July 2, at 9:38 p.m. from Richmond Police Department (RPD) Chief of Staff Spence Cochran, reads as follows:
Hello, You might have been briefed… or read email the information was vague on Friday but they worked it and at least got more guns off street but at most maybe prevented mass shooting.
The new information from RPD was sent to 8News Monday afternoon, as charges against suspects Rolman Balcarcel and Julio Alvarado-Dubon continue to play out in court. However, neither Guatemalan national has been charged with an offense directly related to a planned or attempted mass shooting.
Another text sent to Richmond City Councilmember Katherine Jordan said, “With the rise in mass shootings across the country we have been working with our Federal partners to identify and mitigate any potential threats. Officers working tonight will be on high alert from anything suspicious. But everyone has to do their part ‘See something, say something’.”
Jordan was among those at the July 6 press conference when the alleged mass shooting plot was announced. In an Aug. 12 newsletter to members of the Second District, she called for “answers to legitimate questions” about the event.
Included in the 263-page response was an RPD email on July 7, listing available positions for additional security at Dogwood Dell, the location named by Chief Smith as the intended target of the shooting. However, no similar email was provided that showed similar preparations being made for the Independence Day celebration on July 4.
“That logic even was in play prior to the plot being known,” Smith told 8News during an August one-on-one interview. “We saw what was taking place around the country. We see the mass shootings at these gatherings, and we knew that our Fourth of July celebration was taking place at the Dogwood Dell, and we took precautions, in case we were to have such an event there.”
The July 6 announcement from RPD came just days after a mass shooting at an Independence Day parade in Highland Park, Illinois, killed seven and left 48 other injured.
Additional documentation also referenced national press coverage of the thwarted shooting in Richmond, as well as Operation Red Ball.
“[Police seek] information on violent offenders based on criminal evidence in the commission of major crimes, those who have been victims of violent crime, or involved with related criminal activity,” an RPD spokesperson told 8News of the program in early August.
According to police, the goal of the special operation, which resulted in the arrests of 177 people, was “to prevent violent crime and those illegally possessing firearms.” 8News reached out to authorities to clarify the involvement of Operation Red Ball in the July arrest of Alvarado-Dubon and Balcarcel, but is awaiting an answer.
Other pages of the FOIA response contained messages that were almost entirely redacted. However, in reference to the anonymous tip that was relayed to RPD on July 1, the documents included an email exchange among members of the department, which stated:
The below DPR call came in today. It was difficult to take as we were using the language line. No Spanish speaking officers at 2nd at that time. I called the XO. She stated to have Officer Ferreiras called the complainant and get first-hand information and then update the report and email.
DPR, or differential police response, is a management tool that extends the range of options for responding to requests for police service.
8News previously asked Chief Smith about the translation of the anonymous tip, during an August one-on-one interview, given that the suspects are both Spanish speakers who have translators at each of their respective court appearances.
“We did use the assistance of a translator,” Smith said.
Additional documentation obtained through the FOIA request confirmed the firearms and ammunition that were found when police searched a local residence on July 1, following up on the anonymous tip they received.