The city of Charlottesville will commence a nationwide search for its next police chief following the termination of RaShall Brackney’s contract, City Manager Chip Boyles announced Friday.
Assistant Police Chief James Mooney will manage the police department until a new chief is hired.
On Wednesday, Boyles exercised his right to terminate Brackney’s employment contract upon 90 days’ notice. Brackney, who was hired by the city in June 2018, will be on paid administrative leave until Nov. 30.
“As I mentioned Wednesday, James Mooney has agreed to continue in his position as assistant chief to assist with this transition,” Boyles said in a city news release. “Major Mooney has said he will not be a candidate for the chief’s position; however, he has committed to helping keep the department moving in a positive direction.”
Mooney was set to retire Wednesday prior to the announcement that Brackney had been fired.
“I want the community to understand that I fully supported the difficult personnel decisions made recently by Chief Brackney,” Boyles said in Friday’s release. “I also supported the publication of her letter on Aug. 20 that shared background information with the community on these departmental and staffing changes. Promoting transparency and fostering trust are also important values for me as city manager.”
Boyles referred to a lengthy unsigned letter published on the city website on Aug. 20 in response to survey data released by the Central Virginia Chapter of the Virginia Police Benevolent Association that indicated dissatisfaction among its members with the leadership of the city police department.
“When Chief Brackney commenced her work, the climate and culture of CPD was embedded in traditional, procedural policing approaches that created an ‘us vs them’ mentality — a warrior mentality — which had not embraced, trained, or espoused the concepts of 21st-century policing demanded by the city’s diverse residents,” the city’s August release read.
Boyles addressed Brackney’s efforts in Friday’s release.
“… in order to dismantle systemic racism and eliminate police violence and misconduct in Charlottesville, we need a leader who is not only knowledgeable in that work, but also is effective building collaborative relationships with the community, the department, and the team at City Hall,” Boyles said. “While very good work and progress has been made, I ultimately decided new leadership was required to continue the city’s progress towards building a new climate and culture within the department.”
Boyles will discuss a police department transition plan with the City Council next week. The council will meet at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. The agenda includes the appointment of an executive director for the city’s Police Civilian Review Board.
“We have many dedicated employees in law enforcement that do very difficult jobs every day and who embrace our vision for reform,” Boyles said. “I want them to know that I share their goal of having both a department and a leadership team that they can be proud to serve.”
Some community activist groups and organizations have voiced disappointment in Brackney’s termination, wondering if it had anything to do with her efforts to address racism in policing.
A letter written by The People’s Coalition, an area group that organizes to end racial injustice in the criminal justice and legal system, suggests that an Aug. 12 statement from CRB Chairman Bellamy Brown may have resulted in Brackney’s termination.
In his statement during the CRB meeting, Brown voiced concerns about the results of the PBA survey.
“If there was ever a case showing why this board should be fully funded and supported, this is it, due to the fact that this is the only government entity that has been transparent with the public on this matter in bringing this to the public’s attention,” Brown said. “A strong policing oversight body would also provide officers with a place to bring reports of abuses or policy violations without fear of retaliation or fear of an unfair process.”
Brown’s statement was his own and was not vetted or signed onto by the CRB members.
The People’s Coalition’s letter denounces Brown’s statement and calls upon the CRB to release its own statement about Brackney’s firing. The letter also suggests that Brackney was fired for working to make changes to the department’s culture of policing.
“The creation of the PCRB was to stop police misconduct and hold police accountable, not to help the PBA challenge [Brackney], who may have been trying to change a problematic culture within CPD. Dr. Brackney has now been terminated from the police department as a result of Mr. Brown’s statement,” the letter from the coalition says.
“While the chief was not particularly in favor of community oversight, the city’s firing her for trying to change police culture is a step in the wrong direction. The People’s Coalition firmly believes that the community needs leaders in the city who will push for change in the problematic culture at CPD. Like many decisions that affect us, Brackney’s termination happened behind closed doors without any transparency.”
“If Mr. Brown was using his authority as the PRCB chair to voice concerns, he should have done so on behalf of the people who had been victims of police misconduct,” the letter said.
The survey data released by PBA includes several responses voicing frustration with the department’s leadership, particularly Brackney. Some respondents said they felt Mooney was the only leader supportive of officers.
“Major Mooney continually praises officers. He is the only command I’ve seen at roll call. There is nothing else positive to say about others,” one respondent wrote.
“The only person in command that pretends to try is … Mooney, but my personal belief is that he has given up because he … just keeps beating his head against the wall known as [RaShall] Brackney,” another respondent wrote.
“Major Mooney seems to genuinely care about his officers. He is the only one,” said another respondent.
Mooney could not be reached for comment Friday.
Jalane Schmidt, a local activist and University of Virginia professor of race and religion, said she feels the termination of Brackney’s contract indicates that Boyles sided with the PBA over Brackney.
“It seems like [Boyles] takes the PBA more seriously than [Brackney’s] efforts to weed out the bad apples,” Schmidt said Friday. “But the whole barrel is toxic. That’s the whole thing.”
On Wednesday, Mayor Nikuyah Walker posted a five-page document to her personal Facebook page titled “Departmental Investigation Executive Summary,” which appeared to be a longer, more detailed version of a press release sent out by the city last month in response to the PBA survey. The document, which is dated Aug. 9, appears to be an official report, but it is unclear to whom it had been sent.
The document contained allegations against several named officers and argued for a united front during reform efforts. The document expanded on information provided by the city on Aug. 20 stating an investigation revealed that in connection with training and operations of the SWAT Team, team members had been “videoing simulated sex acts, circulating nude videos of females and themselves, … videotaping children of SWAT members detonating explosives, and firing police department-issued semi-automatic weapons, at unauthorized training events,” among other allegations.
Schmidt said she was unsurprised by the document Walker posted because it corroborated complaints about the police department that she’s heard from Black and marginalized members of the community for several years.
“That memo said what has been said by various members of the community for years who have not always been listened to,” she said. “The culture [of the police department] is abusive.”
Walker posted about the situation on Facebook again on Friday morning, stating “465 days after the execution of George Floyd, the City of Charlottesville publicly lynched Dr. RaShall Brackney to protect police officers who are fighting the internal reforms she’s implementing to ensure that Black people in Charlottesville never suffer the same fate.”