Charlottesville, VA – Charlottesville Police Chief Alfred Thomas abruptly announced his retirement on Monday, amid criticism of his department’s response to the violent protests and rallies that took place in the city in July and August.
Chief Thomas, who has 27 years of law enforcement service, said his retirement was effective immediately, CBS News reported.
“Nothing in my career has brought me more pride than serving as the Police Chief for the City of Charlottesville,” he said. “I will be forever grateful for having had the opportunity to protect and serve a community I love so dearly.”
He provided no reason for his departure.
A 220-page independent review of the riot was released on Dec. 1.
The report was compiled by former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia Tim Heaphy and his law firm, Hunton & Williams.
The team examined city officials’ and law enforcement’s response to the events, including May’s torch-lit rally and a July rally orchestrated by white nationalists and white supremacists, as well as the culmination of events during the Unite the Right rally in August, WVIR reported.
The clashes between violent hate groups and violent antifa counter-protesters at Charlottesville’s Emancipation Park on Aug. 12 and 13 ultimately left one dead and dozens injured, Vice News reported.
The report alleged that Chief Thomas deleted text messages that were relevant to the investigation of the events, and that officers feared he would retaliate against them if they spoke with investigators, the Associated Press reported.
Chief Thomas’ attorney, Kevin Martingayle, said the chief denied having deleted any text messages.
Heaphy’s team concluded that city officials and law enforcement administrators gravely underestimated the potential violence the clashes could create.
“There was a sense that we found of ‘we got this,’” Heaphy said, according to WVIR.
“In sum, this was a poorly conceived plan,” Heaphy said. “Good intentions gone awry. A failure to protect, which was a product of a failure to communicate and a failure to prepare.”
The response plan created by law enforcement administrators and city officials left officers who were out on the front lines underprepared and unauthorized to act until the situation escalated to violence, Heaphy explained.
“I talked to a dozen police officers who were very disappointed in their inability to react to this disorder,” Heaphy told Vice News.
Blue Lives Matter heard accounts from officers who claimed that they were ordered ahead of time not to use any crowd control chemicals or weapons.
According to the report, part of the police administration’s response strategy was to allow violence between the groups to escalate so they would have reason to shut the event down without raising civil rights issues.
“We have evidence from the command center that the chief actually said, ‘Let them fight. Let them fight for a little while and it’ll make it easier to declare an unlawful assembly,’” Heaphy told WVIR.
Once officers were given permission to react, they didn’t even have their riot gear on-hand because they weren’t allowed to bring it ahead of time. Officers had to seek out their riot gear from nearby staging areas. Many were using these tools for the first time.
The report indicated that administrators and officials had received “accurate information” about the potential threat and number of people who planned to descend on the city for the rally, and should not claim to have been surprised in that regard, Vice News reported.
“It’s not an intelligence failure,” Heaphy said. “It’s a failure, frankly, to appreciate the significance of that intelligence and prepare adequately for what occurred.”
A lack of radio communication between law enforcement agencies also negatively affected how line officers were able to respond to the escalating violence.
The independent investigation lists numerous points of failure in response to the events, as well as a multitude of recommendations to help handle future situations.
Following Chief Thomas’ announcement, City Manager Maurice Jones described the outgoing top cop as “a man of integrity who has provided critical leadership for our department since his arrival,” the Associated Press reported.
“We wish him all the best in his future endeavors,” Jones said.
Charlottesville Deputy Police Chief Gary Pleasants will serve as interim chief until a new chief is appointed, the Associated Press reported.
That announcement is expected within a week, city officials said.