Former Charlottesville Police Chief RaShall Brackney is suing the city of Charlottesville as well as several current and former city officials for $10 million in connection with the September 2021 termination of her contract.
In the federal lawsuit filed Wednesday morning, Brackney alleges that her firing was due to discrimination on the basis of race, color and sex. She also accuses the city and officials of defamation, business conspiracy and unlawful retaliation, among other allegations.
Brackney and her lawyers announced the lawsuit at a press conference outside the U.S. Federal Building and Courthouse in downtown Charlottesville Wednesday morning. Brackney is represented by Charles Tucker, Jr. of The Cochran Firm.
In the suit, Brackney and her lawyers allege that city officials engaged in a months-long conspiracy to have Brackney fired.
“[Brackney] was fired for being a Black woman who was trying to reform a police department,” Tucker said during the press conference.
Brackney filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in November, asking for a $3 million settlement. The city did not enter into a settlement agreement with Brackney. According to her lawyers, she was recently granted the right to sue the city.
“Brackney embraced the type of police reforms that the department needed and that the people of Charlottesville so rightly deserved,” Tucker said. “Unfortunately, Brackney’s work and dedication angered some powerful people within the local government.”
The lawsuit names 10 individuals as defendants in addition to the city, the majority of whom are current or former city employees. Brackney is suing former city manager Chip Boyles; City Attorney Lisa Robertson; former city communications director and FOIA officer Brian Wheeler; Mayor Lloyd Snook; City Councilor Sena Magill; former Councilor Heather Hill; Interim Police Chief LaTroy “Tito” Durrette; former Assistant Police Chief James Mooney; former Police Civilian Review Board chair Bellamy Brown; and Police Benevolent Association Central Virginia chapter president Michael Wells.
City officials declined to discuss the lawsuit. City spokesman David Dillehunt said the city does not comment on matters of pending litigation.
According to the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, Brackney lists 11 causes of action for the lawsuit. They include race discrimination; color discrimination; gender discrimination; tortious interference with employment contract; unlawful retaliation; violation of Virginia’s whistleblower statute; violation of right to freedom from government discrimination; defamation; business conspiracy; violation of the Virginia Human Rights Act; and violation of right to Freedom of Information.
Brackney claims city officials created their own survey of police officers in an attempt to malign Brackney following her own internal investigation, discipline and termination of SWAT team members.
According to a city statement released Aug. 20, 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.”
Brackney claims city officials doctored records and included fabricated documents in responses to FOIA requests she filed and alleges defamation on the basis of statements made by city officials in news stories and press releases.
At the press conference Wednesday, Brackney said she has audio tapes of every conversation she has ever had with Boyles as well as tapes of conversations with other city officials.
“Let me tell you, those audio tapes are shocking. The city of Charlottesville and CPD was and still is so invested in its racial paternalism, misogyny and nepotism. They would rather conspire to oust me than dismantle or confront corrupt, violent individuals in CPD and city government,” Brackney said.
Brackney did not say if she plans to release the tapes.
She said during the press conference that she has a message for the defendants.
“You have been put on notice,” Brackney said. “As our former mayor [Nikuyah Walker] said, we have unmasked this illusion.”
On Sept. 1, Boyles exercised his right to terminate Brackney’s employment contract not-for-cause upon 90 days’ notice. Brackney, who was hired by the city in June 2018, was on paid administrative leave until Nov. 30, 2021.
In an op-ed published in The Daily Progress on Sept. 17, Boyles said he fired Brackney because he was concerned after at least 10 department leaders said they would leave because of Brackney’s leadership. Boyles said he felt he had to make a “hasty” decision to save the department.
Boyles also said he regrets the decision and wishes he had worked with Brackney and city councilors more before making the decision to fire her.
Boyles has maintained his decision was not related to Brackney’s decision to discipline and terminate members of the SWAT Team, and that he supported her in that decision.
Boyles stated in the op-ed that the results of an internal survey and a survey conducted by the Police Benevolent Association influenced his decision.
During an Oct. 4 City Council meeting, then-Mayor Nikuyah Walker played a recording she had made of Boyles that revealed he believed Wells and the Police Benevolent Association had an agenda to get Brackney fired.
“All he has in his sights is the chief’s badge,” Boyles said of Wells in Walker’s recording. “I think he could care less about the officers. He’s on a mission.”
Brackney’s termination led to more departures in City Hall. Walker decided to withdraw from her re-election campaign, partially citing Brackney’s termination and how both Boyles and city councilors handled it.
Boyles later resigned from his position on Oct. 12, citing “public disparagement” and a “broken relationship” with Walker following his decision to fire Brackney.