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Chief Durham responds to ACLU concerns regarding treatment of protesters

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RICHMOND, Va. — Richmond Police Chief Alfred Durham has responded to the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia after accusations of improper police treatment of protesters during two recent protests in the city.

In two letters to Durham, the ACLU of Virginia expressed concerns regarding the treatment towards protesters at June’s Donald Trump rally at the Richmond Coliseum and police’s response to a Black Lives Matter protest that briefly shut down I-95 during rush hour Monday, July 18.

Credit: Robert Goodlatte

Black Lives Matters protest that briefly shut down I-95 during rush hour Monday, July 18. Credit: Robert Goodlatte

Some of the concerns regarding the Trump rally protests include:

  1. Misinformation was communicated by RPD officers to observers regarding the constitutional rights of protesters.
  2. Officers covered badge numbers with black electrical tape.
  3. Protesters were corralled but Trump supporters were allowed to freely move in and out of the designated protest zone.
  4. Violence erupted after an officer waived Trump supporters into the crowd of protesters.
  5. After the rally, during the march through downtown Richmond, officers failed to keep opposing protesters apart.

To read the full letter click here:

In the follow up letter ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastanaga says the department was observed again on Monday communicating inaccurate information to protesters about their legal and constitutional rights.

“Members of the public have a right to stand on public sidewalks without moving, especially where there is no objective evidence that their doing so is obstructing the police in any way,” she said in the letter. “RPD officers at the Trump rally, and, again, on Monday during the Black Lives Matter protest, told people standing on public sidewalks that they have to keep moving.”

To read the full letter click here:

In a response letter Friday, Chief Durham responded to each concern laid out by the ACLU of Virginia regarding the Trump rally in June.

June Trump rally protests

“This response will address those specific concerns and clarify actual actions taken by the Richmond Police Department on that evening; noting that I, along with my entire Command Staff, were present and on the scene, however these concerns were not brought to our attention,” the Chief said in the letter.

Durham said he has dedicated his career to ensure the safety of all citizens, employees and officers, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation and political affiliation.

He also agreed to meeting with the organization to discuss the issues and how to fix them.

“It is with those same open arms that I accept your invitation in your letter to ‘meet with you personally’ to discuss your concerns in more detail, noting your letter offered no possible solutions,” he wrote.

Here is Chief Durham’s full response to the laid out concerns:

Directly addressing stated concerns in your July 18th letter:

1) Information Communicated by RPD Officers:

On the evening of June 10th, the “Trump for President” Campaign, leased the Coliseum through contract for a Trump Rally.  Based on the documentation provided to the RPD, the lease included the ingress and egress areas of the Coliseum and the Rally required a ticket for admission to the event.  Accordingly, based on the nationally televised outbreaks of violence at earlier Trump Rallies in other Cities across the country and the seeming escalation of that violence, I, in consultation with law enforcement officials from recently visited Cities by Trump, sought to develop a public safety plan that best protected life and property, secured the leased premises, while still allowing for the free exercise of expression.

Based on the above, for safety and tactical reasons a path was established for the ingress and egress to the Coliseum for those individuals who had tickets to the event.  Additionally, a Free Speech section was provided among the “non-event” reserved areas where individuals could stand and freely express themselves.  The path for admittance into the Coliseum passed directly in front of the free speech area within touching distance. RPD’s purpose for asking whether individuals had tickets for the event was to properly direct them to the admission line or to other areas in close proximity allowing for expression.  RPD did not inquire as to whether the person was an actual Trump supporter, just whether that had a ticket.  If they did not have a ticket, the individual was directed to the free expression areas.  Some of those individuals stated that they were protestors, others identified themselves as the “I love God” group and so forth.  Regardless of affiliation, if they did not have a ticket, they all received the same instructions, including those individuals who may have been Trump supporters.

2) Officers Badges displaying “mourning bands” across the center of their Badge

I begin by stating I know of no officer who had their badge numbers covered, nor individuals with tape on their badges.  It is a long held custom and practice in law enforcement for officers to shroud their badges with a “mourning band” when an officer has died.  However, it is important to note, the mourning band does not cover their badge number nor is it worn in the area of the badge number. Mourning bands are worn across the center of the badge, while badge numbers, in the case of badges with actual numbers, are displayed at the bottom. All officers, unless working undercover or special operations are required to wear their name tags and pursuant to Departmental policy are required to provide their names when asked whether in person or via phone. Accordingly, on June 10th many officers, due to the unfortunate death of one of our long-standing officers, were displaying mourning bands on their badges, but this would not have obstructed badge numbers if present. A photo of a shrouded badge is attached with this correspondence.

3) Misstatement regarding “Protestors” being corralled while Trump supporters were allowed to allegedly move freely.

As stated earlier, the Rally required a ticket for admission to the event.  If an individual did not have a ticket, the individual was directed to the free expression areas.  Some of those individuals stated that they were protestors, others identified themselves as the “I love God” group and so forth.  Regardless of affiliation, if they did not have a ticket, they all received the same instructions, including those individuals who may have been Trump supporters. And those with tickets, regardless of political views, were directed to the admissions line.

In response to your bottleneck assertions, from going back and discussing the evening with members who were present and based on the after action briefing, at no time did anyone bring to RPD’s attention that there was an alleged bottleneck on the 5th street side.  To the best of RPD’s knowledge and planning, individuals could enter and exit from the 7th Street side and 5th Street side, and from behind.  We are unaware of, nor was it brought to RPD’s attention that anyone who went to the restroom had difficulty returning to the free speech areas.  Finally, in this portion of your letter you note that “Trump” supporters entered the free speech areas and engaged in “antagonizing” behavior.  It is unclear whether you are asserting their behavior exceeded the legal limits for free expression of their First Amendment rights. Any “alleged public intoxication” was not brought to the attention of my officers nor do I have any indications that they observed any such behavior directly.

4) Altercation between Trump supporters and Crowd of Protestors

In this section of your letter you assert that an officer allowed Trump Supporters into the protest zone and those individuals were allowed to freely walk in and out of the crowd of protestors.  Officers were not instructed to inquire as to political affiliations of individuals entering “non-event” areas, nor the content of their views. Rather their goal was to direct individuals with tickets who were going to the event to the path for admittance and all others were directed to the “non-event” areas.

You also note that several of the individuals in the non-event area “chanted pro-Trump slogans and pushed their way into the center of the crowd. . . Several individual fights broke out and police removed the three men and two protestors.”  Again, the non-event reserved areas allowed for the freedom of expression within the permissible limits of the law. As such, individuals stating pro-Trump slogans would not rise to the level of police intervention, however, the first sight of a physical altercation brought a swift and immediate intervention from Police bringing the physical altercation to a quick end without any substantial injuries to those involved or in the crowd surrounding them.

5) You assert after the rally, during the march through downtown Richmond, “Trump supporters or those wanting to antagonize the protestors followed closely behind and around protestors”

In this section of your letter, you claim Police “failed to keep opposing protestors apart” as they marched through downtown Richmond.  The City of Richmond has a Permit process for demonstrators to seek permits requesting Police to facilitate their procession.  No such permit request was filed in conjunction with a “march through downtown,” for any identifiable group nor was there a request for Police assistance regarding “the march through downtown.”  Moreover, since no route or notice from demonstrators had not been provided for this march, Police had the dubious role of disbursing crowds at the Coliseum for a known event and tracking an unidentified “march through downtown.”  I am pleased, we were able to successfully maintain order at both venues without incident during this time period. Specifically regarding your assertion that Trump supporters followed closely behind protestors “wanting to antagonize” them — again it was not the role of RPD to regulate the content of permissible expression of Free Speech or separate groups based on the content of their message, but rather to ensure public safety via tactically sound methods.  As mentioned before, any “alleged public intoxication” was not brought to the attention of my officers nor do I have any indications that they observed any such behavior directly.