Police Chief Alleges City "defamed her and besmirch her reputation."
Charlottesville asked its first Black woman police chief to hold officers accountable. Then she was fired after officers complained. Now she's planning to hold Charlottesville accountable.
"For removing the police from our schools, for disbanding JADE, for disbanding SWAT, for those actions, for doing what is right, for doing what is just, my professional reputation has been diminished, harmed, and devalued by this City, the former City Manager, the former Asst Chief, three current Councilors, the PCRB Chairperson, and two other PCRB appointed members, among many others. And for the audacity...for the actions I took, for the attempt to dismantle racism, misogyny, nepotism, and police violence, I was deemed, quote, "not a good fit" for this City." - Charlottesville Police Chief RaShall Brackney, November 9
"True civilian oversight doesn't work without transparency," wrote Karl Mansoor, a former Albemarle County Police Officer, in response to efforts in 2008 to form a civilian police review board in Charlottesville. "When allegations of misconduct are brought forward, the public has to know not just the allegations and final results of the investigation, but all the information, the specific details….if law enforcement can hide those details it leaves room for tolerating misconduct."
Last year, Mansoor stood by that statement, speaking with The DTM about the current effort to form a police review board, adding that one of the main problems with police culture is an "us vs them" attitude that the training police receive, which puts a strong emphasis on officer safety, tends to reinforce.
To combat that attitude, Mansoor said that police leadership needed to be transparent about releasing information after incidents so that the full picture is presented.
Indeed, Charlottesville finally appeared to have a Police Chief willing to do that. The day it was announced that RaShall Brackney -- who has now filed a discrimination and wrongful termination complaint — would be the first African American woman to become Charlottesville Police Chief, there were protesters outside city hall chambers, and community members inside, demanding that she hold police officers accountable. Indeed, City Council selected her with an expectation that she would enforce accountability as a way to re-build the trust of the community, a job that would require her to change the culture within in the police department, address community demands for reform, all while supporting and gaining the trust of the officers under her command. It was a big job. Some might say an impossible one.
While it didn't happen soon enough for some, and Brackney's outspoken and forceful manner clearly rubbed some people the wrong way, she did work toward police reform by applying real-world consequences for bad behavior and releasing detailed information about incidents.
Last year, when an Instagram video surfaced of a Charlottesville Police Officer kicking and tackling a man to the ground on the Downtown Mall, Chief Brackney released the body camera video of the incident the very next day, which, unlike the Instagram video, showed the lead-up and follow-up to the arrest [the bodycam fell off during the scuffle]. Brackney also suspended and then fired CPD Officer Jeffery Yeager for his actions during the arrest of Andre Henderson. Yeager was eventually convicted in court of assault and battery. Brackney also fired CPD Officer Joseph Wood for his decision to detain LaQuinn Gilmore in January, calling it "unwarranted and unlawful," and released the body-cam footage of the incident. On the flip side, Brackney also released body-cam video of an incident on Rugby Road, and forcefully defended CPD officers who had been accused by a local church group and community activists of racially profiling a Black man after responding to a call from a citizen in the area. She also removed police officers from schools and disbanded the Jefferson Area Drug Enforcement (JADE) Task Force. Finally, as detailed in an August 20 City press release, Brackney had disciplined members of the SWAT Team who, among other things, were caught "videoing simulated sex acts, circulating nude videos of females and themselves, videotaping children of SWAT members detonating explosives," and making comments about City command staff such as “I say we kill them all and let God sort it out."
"In response to the discoveries, the Chief took swift action to dissolve the SWAT Team," the press release stated. "The Chief gave notice of possible disciplinary action to the police corporal, who then resigned from employment. The Chief referred three other collateral matters for criminal investigation by outside agencies, who declined to find any unlawful conduct; subsequently, the Chief gave notice of possible disciplinary action to two other SWAT Team members, one resigned and one was subsequently terminated from employment."
However, as Brackney worked toward holding officers more accountable for their conduct and behavior, Brackney herself became the target of that "us vs them" attitude among police officers, and even some in City government began to express concerns about her leadership rather than with the police conduct and behavior she was exposing.
"I understand the Police Chief has issued an "all hands" call for a meeting tomorrow morning," wrote City Councilor Lloyd Snook in a June 13 email to City Manager Chip Boyles and Deputy City Manager of Equity Ashley Marshall, over two months before Boyles fired Brackney over concerns about her leadership. "My source has given me information that I know is known to [City Attorney] Lisa Robertson, and may well be known to you as well, that suggests a disciplinary issue that may have consequences for more than a few officers, which may result in the resignations of a significant number of officers because of their unhappiness with Department leadership."
Brackney had clashed with Snook last May when he was pressing her for budget and operational information and was publicly criticizing the department's lack of transparency.
"It is terrible that Council gets more information about the police budget from members of the public who send us the police department responses to FOIA requests than we get from the police department through the budget process," wrote Snook in a November 23, 2020 email to Brackney and his fellow councilors, also requesting an analysis of the police calls for service and a more transparent response to calls for defunding the the police. "The budget information given to us was so sparse as to be meaningless," said Snook.
"CPD is being criticized and you are comfortable with publicly adding to that clamor versus being a part of the solution," responded Mayor Walker. "Give...Chief Brackney the same respect as you have yourself this morning. Allow them to process your request with you or Mr. Blair instead of thrusting it into a public spotlight to make yourself appear to be a beacon of police reform."
"If you think that this is going away if we don't talk about it publicly, you are wrong," replied Snook. "I'm not trying to be "a beacon of police reform," though I am not afraid of the discussion."
"I am not suggesting voices not be heard or elevated—I am suggesting your feigned public interest in responding to constituents is not aligned with your private actions," responded Brackney, saying that CPD had submitted the budget accounting former City Manager Tarron Richardson had asked for, and pointing out that Snook had told Asst. Police Chief James Mooney in an email that he did not support those calling for defunding the police.
"Lastly, as to calls for service and our interactions with the public," Brackney continued, "so you are positioned to respond more intelligently, feel free to actually read our annual report which has been posted since late September. Sadly, as an elected leader, you continue to traffic in these types of exchanges which do not inform the work, but instead detract from real efforts at reform."
Presumably, the "disciplinary issue" Snook was alluding to in his June 13 email was the information Brackney had about the behavior and conduct of officers on the SWAT Team. Just ahead of the release of that information PBA president Micheal Wells launched a public relations effort to undermine Chief Brackney's leadership, sharing the results of an officer climate survey with reporters, as well as the Chair of Police Civilian Review Board, and dismissing the as yet to be released SWAT Team videos as "officers acting silly."
"For what really is an abused police department that can't serve their community well because they feel like they can't do anything right. Like they're in an abusive relationship with their command staff," Wells told CBS19.
"If something's not done, they're going to lose all of these officers," Wells continued, "and they're going to pay for training for new officers who come to the realization that they're in an agency that doesn't appreciate them and doesn't support them."
Ironically, Boyles, the man who would end up firing Brackney on September 1, had earlier recognized that Wells and the PBA were deliberately targeting Brackney.
“This Wells guy, all he has in his sights is the chief’s badge,” said Boyles in an August conversation recorded by Mayor Nikuyah Walker. “He is living 24 hours a day seven days a week to try and get her fired. He can say all he wants to, I think he could care less about the officers. For him, it’s a mission.”
Wells would also share secret recordings of police command staff saying critical things about Brackney with Boyles. The same day Boyles announced he had fired Brackney, Wells sent him a text: "Today, I'm proud of you. You did a great thing for this City." Later, when Wells must have found out about Mayor Walker's recording, he texted Boyles again: "You don't think I care about CPD officers?"
Remarkably, Wells would also say the quiet part out loud in a Charlottesville Tomorrow story.
“The city manager when I met with him was not even aware of the [department] survey," Wells said. "Frankly, people are scared of [Brackney] because— and I believe [Boyles] is scared of her because he’ll be called a racist because that’s her [modus operandi] because she’s a Black female and she makes it known on certain terms that if you don’t agree with her, you’re racist.”
Meanwhile, by signing off on the August 20 press release fully supporting Chief Brackney, then firing her 10 days later, Boyles found himself in a communications crisis, one he sought to fix by using the services of a high-powered Washington, DC public relations firm to craft an Op-Ed in the Daily Progress, and a statement to City Council, hoping to explain his reasons for firing Brackney.
Boyles said he felt problems within the police department were "growing out of control" and chose to act by firing Brackney before the department was "gripped in chaos." And while he admitted that he wished he had "engaged the City Council more directly" in the decision and "worked in partnership with Chief Brackney to develop an improvement plan," he claimed he did not have "the luxury of time" and believed it was critical to terminate Brackney's employment. Two officer surveys assessing officers’ opinions of department leadership, one by the Virginia Police Benevolent Association and one by the CPD, were "troubling" he said, and "revealed substantial concerns of trust and confidence in the leadership." Boyles said he felt "key leadership positions" within the department were "in jeopardy of becoming vacant" and that firing Brackney was a way to prevent "deeper divides" from erupting within the department. In an earlier press release, Boyles implied that Brackney was not effectively collaborating with the department, local government, and the community.
Of course, just a few weeks earlier, Boyles had signed off on that August 20 City press release, despite the results of the surveys, which also highlighted her work bringing reforms to the department, adding that it "could't be done without discomfort, and the City officials responsible for undertaking this work will not be popular among the individuals whose behavior is being required to change."
In the end, however, Boyles chose to resign on October 12, citing the "public disparagement" he was shown following his decision to fire Brackney by "a few vocal community members" and Mayor Walker, and the negative effect it was having on his health and well-being. But less than two weeks later, it was revealed that Boyles had been hired as Executive Director of the George Washington Regional Commission in Fredericksburg. According to a press release from the Commission, they conducted a nationwide search for the position, which included initial interviews with candidates and two rounds of interviews with the finalists, which suggest Boyles was on his way out the door anyway.
As for the conduct of the SWAT Team members, nothing further has been released to the public, and all City Councilors, save for Walker, who announced she was not seeking reelection, in large part, because of Boyles' decision to fire Brackney, expressed support for Boyles and his decision to fire her. Meanwhile, Captain Latroy “Tito” Durrette, a former SWAT Team commander, was promoted to Major and tasked with leading the department until a new police chief is hired. And just recently City Council appointed Marc Woolley, who had previously been considered for a Deputy Manager position, as interim city manager.
Brackney, however, is not going away quietly. In a media release announcing her decision to file an EEOC complaint, Brackney claims she was "shockingly terminated" and alleged that the City and the Police Department "engaged in a campaign of coordinated retaliation and acts to directly defame her and besmirch her reputation," something she is seeking $3 millions in damages for.
"We have now uncovered collusion by members in the city hierarchy who orchestrated an attempt to remove the chief of police of Charlottesville," said Brackney's attorney Charles Tucker at a press conference outside City Hall on November 9, "...and for what? For doing her job."
“I continue to experience and I’m subjected to humiliating acts of discrimination, continued disparate treatment, harassment, and retaliation,” Brackney said at the press conference, “ all of which result in an undue stress and continue to create a hostile work environment for me.”
"For removing the police from our schools, for disbanding JADE, for disbanding SWAT, for those actions, for doing what is right, for doing what is just, my professional reputation has been diminished, harmed, and devalued by this City, the former City Manager, the former Asst Chief, three current Councilors, the PCRB Chairperson, and two other PCRB appointed members, among many others," Brackney continued. "And for the audacity...for the actions I took, for the attempt to dismantle racism, misogyny, nepotism, and police violence, I was deemed, quote, "not a good fit" for this City."
Note: this story was made possible by research and Freedom of Information Act Requests for communications by city officials from local activist Tanesha Hudson.