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VCU students arrested for wearing masks at assembly near Lee statue

RICHMOND, Va. - Three of the four people arrested for wearing masks in assembly areas near the Lee Monument during Saturday’s rallies on Monument Avenue were VCU students, a university spokesperson confirmed.

Corrisa Duffey, Ian Gerson, and Thomas Rockett were cited by Richmond Police for violating Virginia’s law that bars people from covering their face to conceal their identity.

Officials had said prior to Saturday that anyone who wore a mask inside assembly areas would be arrested.

One other person, Caroline Hill of McLean, Virginia, was cited for wearing a mask in public. VCU officials said the students could face school sanctions on top of any legal punishment, but that the university is still waiting to review the police reports.

“It’s a class six felony, so it’s punishable by up to five years in prison. So that’s a pretty severe penalty for wearing a mask in public, but there was a warning given ahead of time and I’m sure the prosecutor’s office wants to take a hard stance on this,” said CBS 6 Legal Analyst Todd Stone.

Stone said Virginia’s mask law was originally enacted to prevent the KKK from threatening people.

“The statute is right next to the statute on cross burning,” Stone said. “So if there is a very provable case, which this seemingly may be, the prosecutors can decide we’re going to go forward with it or reduce it to a misdemeanor.”

The handful of out of state Confederate heritage protesters behind the unpermitted rally that sparked Saturday’s events left the area around the Lee Monument before noon Saturday. Hundreds of counter-protesters marched on Monument Avenue later, and elsewhere in the city with little incident.

Richmond resident Will Hart lives just off Meadow Street, where Richmond Police began blocking off the area around the Lee Statue.

“People in the neighborhood felt safe because of all the police attention,” Hart said. “It’s always a good thing to have more security than necessary.”

City officials told CBS 6 it would likely be several weeks before the actual cost to taxpayers for Saturday’s response would be tallied.

Monday, members of Richmond City Council released a joint statement on the rallies.

"Richmond City Council thanks and commends the Richmond Police Department and all partnering state, local, and federal law enforcement and public service entities and agencies for proactively coordinating, communicating, and providing professional management and support regarding the assemblies in Richmond on Saturday, September 16, 2017. Richmond City Council also recognizes and thanks, all Richmond residents whose efforts helped to ease potential difficulties and preserve peace in our community.”

Hart said he hopes the attention on the Lee Statue and Monument Avenue brought by Saturday’s events sparks productive conversations moving forward.

“It’s just an interesting time. I think for a lot of years everyone just kind of passed by them,” Hart said of the Confederate statues. “I’m all for discussion, and let’s figure out what the majority wants."