Police Chief Will Smith orders policy review after tear-gassing of protesters

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 6/11/2020, 6 p.m.
Restraint. That appears to the watchword for the Richmond Police Department that is still smarting from a June 1 incident …
Chief Smith


That appears to the watchword for the Richmond Police Department that is still smarting from a June 1 incident in which officers fired tear gas and pepper-sprayed a crowd of hundreds protesting police brutality and racial injustice about 30 minutes before a city-imposed 8 p.m. curfew.

Police Chief Will Smith has largely remained mum about events that have unfolded in the city following the death in Minneapolis of George Floyd at the hands of police. He has not commented on the vandalism, shattered windows and looting of city stores between May 29 and 31 or the more recent toppling of statues in public parks.

But in a statement issued Monday, Chief Smith apologized again for the tear-gassing and pepper-spraying of peaceful protesters around the Lee statue on Monument Avenue. He declined to release the names of the officers involved or any details now that a departmental inquiry and a separate probe by Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Colette W. McEachin are underway.

“I have ordered a review of our use of force and crowd management policies as well as all tactics used,” Chief Smith stated.

He also announced plans for meetings with “community leaders to advise us on how our policies, training and practices need to change to reflect the needs of our city, and I am personally committed to continuing the conversation on police reforms.”

One person who was tear-gassed has filed a lawsuit claiming the department used excessive force and violated people’s constitutional rights. The suit could complicate the release of additional information.

Meanwhile, Mrs. McEachin announced that she would not seek jail time for any of the 233 or so people arrested March 31 for misdemeanor curfew violations. Community service could be an option, she indicated. Attorneys have volunteered to represent those charged. Only a small fraction face felony charges in addition to curfew violations.

Separately, Henrico authorities are holding Harry H. Rogers of Hanover County, who was described by prosecutors as “an admitted leader of the Ku Klux Klan and a propagandist for Confederate ideology” after he drove his truck through a crowd of protesters on Lakeside Avenue Sunday evening.

Henrico Commonwealth’s Attorney Shannon L. Taylor stated that one person was injured, though not seriously, leading to Mr. Rogers’ arrest for attempted malicious wounding, felony vandalism and assault and battery. She is considering a hate crime charge.