Bellamy Brown, chairman of Charlottesville’s Police Civilian Review Board, was the subject of intense public and internal criticism during a Thursday meeting due to his perceived role in the recent termination of the city’s police chief.
The meeting was the board’s first since the city’s surprise announcement a week prior that Chief of Police RaShall Brackney’s employment contract had been terminated. In the wake of this decision, much attention has been focused on Brown and the role he may have played by advocating for Brackney’s firing.
During an Aug. 12 meeting of the CRB, Brown read a statement calling for a change in leadership within the city police. The statement, which Brown clarified was not issued on behalf of the board, followed conversations he had with the Central Virginia Chapter of the Virginia Police Benevolent Association that he said had been ongoing for months. The meeting also saw the board approve a draft of its expanded powers ordinance, a significant step that has been overshadowed by recent internal turmoil.
The PBA pushed for a change in leadership after the results of a 17-question survey to membership showed that officers and police staff were dissatisfied with Brackney. The PBA also has been a vocal critic of the CRB, leading many to express surprise and frustration at Brown’s apparent alliance with the group.
Following Brackney’s termination, Mayor Nikuyah Walker publicly implied that Brown sought the chief’s termination out of a mistaken idea that she was involved in Brown not being offered the position as the CRB’s executive director.
During the public comment section of Thursday’s meeting, various community figures, former members of the initial CRB and board member Nancy Carpenter criticized Brown for his statement at the last meeting and his involvement with the PBA.
Among the first to criticize Brown was Katrina Turner, a member of the initial CRB that drafted the bylaws that helped to establish the current body.
“We fought for this PCRB because of 2017. Because of the way the police stood down and did nothing that day but look on at the chaos unfold,” Turner said, referring to the violent Unite the Right rally. “We need a board that the people can come to when they’ve been done wrong by the police. We don’t need a board that’s going to include the police.”
Harold Foley, a representative of the People’s Coalition, an area group that works to end racial injustice in the criminal justice and legal system, emphasized issues previously expressed by the group about Brown’s Aug. 12 message.
The coalition previously called on Brown to resign, arguing that his involvement with the PBA and Brackney’s firing was an inappropriate use of his position that damaged the credibility of the CRB.
“I’ll be honest with you: we — me, the People’s Coalition — didn’t see eye-to-eye with Chief Brackney,” he said. “But we’d rather see a system that’s going to be there to disrupt misconduct in terms of police coming into my neighborhoods, Black and brown and poor neighborhoods, and mistreating us, victimizing us.”
Sarah Burke, another former member of the initial CRB, lamented the potential damage Brown’s involvement with the PBA had done to the public’s trust in the board and the likelihood of the City Council approving board draft ordinances with investigative powers.
“You all submitted a really great ordinance that a lot of us worked really hard for, and I’m worried that this investigative matter with the statement might have ruined that,” Burke said. “I also want to note that the PBA survey was created by the PBA, which represents officers alleged to have conducted misconduct.”
Various members of the public called for Brown and the CRB to answer questions about the reasons behind Brackney’s firing. Answers about this decision have been few and far between, with the city and City Council largely declining to comment on the matter and Brackney’s not-for-cause termination meaning that likely only she is able to publicly disclose the reasons.
Brown reiterated this lack of knowledge on the CRB’s end, clarifying that neither he nor the board made the decision to terminate the chief’s employment contract.
“We didn’t have any control over that decision, and we weren’t part of that decision, so the misconception that somehow we pulled the trigger or we did XYZ, that’s completely wrong,” he said. “You want us to give you answers over something that we don’t have, and we’re never going to have.”
In a later public comment section, attorney Jeff Fogel accused Brown of interfering in one of his civil lawsuits involving police misconduct. According to Fogel, Brown called his client, LaQuinn Gilmore, and urged him to drop Fogel. Gilmore was the victim of an unlawful detention earlier this year, which has resulted in the firing of a city police officer and a lawsuit.
“Do you think that’s within the confines of the chairman of the board for this body? Is that appropriate?” Fogel asked.
Though Brown mostly refrained from directly addressing claims and questions posed during public comment sections, he did respond to Fogel and said that Gilmore was a longtime friend and he was concerned with comments Fogel had made about the case.
Following this revelation, board member Deirdre Gilmore, who is LaQuinn Gilmore’s mother, spoke about the frustrations she has with the PBA’s apparent involvement with the CRB and Brackney’s termination.
“I think it’s thanks to the PBA that we lost the chief, and my take on all of this is that the reason they got rid of her is because there’s never been any accountability in this city, the beautiful-ugly city that is Charlottesville,” Deirdre Gilmore said.
If her son had not recorded his interaction with the city police, he would never have been believed, she said. The board’s work has been tainted by recent events and something needs to change, she said.
Ultimately, the accusation that Brown had talked to a person whose complaint against the city police was something that may eventually be heard by the CRB proved to be a compounding issue for some board members.
CRB Vice Chairman Bill Mendez called for a vote of no-confidence in Brown. The vote was largely symbolic, as only the City Council has the ability to either demote Brown from his position as chairman or remove him from the board altogether, something Mendez said would create a dangerous precedent of overreach.
Only Mendez and Carpenter voted in favor of no confidence in Brown, with members James Watson, Jeffrey Fracher and Brown voting against the measure. Gilmore abstained by default due to technical issues, though a tied vote would have still meant the measure failed.
Brown pushed back against implications that the statement he read at the Aug.12 meeting was a surprise to the other members, citing several members he had sent copies of the speech to and a suggestion from Mendez that he add a line clarifying that the statement only represented his own views.
Mendez said he told Brown that the statement was a bad idea and had pushed back against it, but did confirm that he had suggested the line.
The lengthy meeting ended with little accomplished but on the hopeful note that once the board’s newly hired executive director starts then perhaps they could refocus their work on the ordinance.
On Tuesday, the City Council approved the appointment of Hansel Aguilar as executive director of the CRB. He is expected to begin in the position by as early as the end of the month.
The CRB is scheduled to meet next at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 14.