RaShall Brackney, Charlottesville’s first Black woman police chief and the person hired to head the department after the deadly Unite the Right rally, saw her $10 million wrongful termination lawsuit dismissed Friday by a federal judge.
“I was always pretty confident in the result,” Mayor Lloyd Snook, one of the targets of the suit, told The Daily Progress. “This is a chance for the city to move into a new era with a new police chief.”
The lawsuit’s dismissal by U.S. District Judge Norman K. Moon came just three days after Brackney’s first permanent successor, Michael Kochis, formerly chief in the town of Warrenton, was sworn in during last week’s City Council meeting. Brackney was hired in the spring of 2018 after predecessor Alfred S. Thomas Jr. resigned in the wake of an official report blaming him for not acting more assertively during the Unite the Right riot in 2017. Brackney was fired three years later amid accusations that, in trying to impose internal discipline, she acted too assertively.
“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 in a courthouse press conference upon filing her suit last year.
Using her full name of Rashall M. Brackney-Wheelock, the former chief filed a 73-page federal complaint June 15, 2022, accusing 10 government and police leaders of plotting to oust her and then harming her reputation with their public comments. All she was doing, she asserted, was trying to bring order to the force.
Among Brackney’s complaints were videos by or about members of the city’s SWAT team. A city statement asserted that an investigation showed one officer saying about city command staff, “I say we kill them all and let God sort it out.” Other evidence, according to a statement issued while Brackney was chief, asserted that officers were “videoing simulated sex acts, circulating nude videos of females and themselves, [and] videotaping children of SWAT members detonating explosives.”
In addition to suspending or terminating several officers, Brackney disbanded the SWAT team. In separate actions, Brackney also pulled SROs, school resource officers, out of schools and removed Charlottesville officers from JADE, the Jefferson Area Drug Enforcement task force.
“As Chief,” according to Brackney’s suit, “Dr. Brackney embraced progressive reforms rooted in proven political and organizational theory and she focused on equity, social justice, and restorative justice.”
When a Police Benevolent Association survey suggested officers had lost faith in the department’s leadership, Brackney called the results a “hit job.” The association chief publicly denied the allegation. On Sept. 1, 2021, then-City Manager Chip Boyles notified Brackney of her termination, calling her “not a good fit.”
Brackney alleged that her firing harmed her reputation and her ability to find employment. Subsequent verbal statements, such as Snook’s assertion that “even Black women officers were leaving,” compounded the situation, she alleged. In her complaint, she cited various counts including race discrimination, gender discrimination, retaliation, contractual interference, business conspiracy and violation of Virginia’s whistleblower and human rights statutes.
In its motion to dismiss the suit, the city skipped the facts and went straight to the law. The city asserted that Brackney’s boss Boyles approved some of her disciplinary moves but reminded her that she was an “at will” employee.
“Concerns of trust and confidence in her leadership,” the motion alleged, “strained relationships across government, community, religious and regional stakeholder groups.”
“I decided to act because I felt we were heading into another situation where Charlottesville Police Department would be gripped in chaos,” Boyles wrote in a post-termination op-ed.
Before coming to Charlottesville, Brackney served as police chief at George Washington University. Her quest for post-Charlottesville employment included an unsuccessful bid last fall for the chief’s position in Minneapolis, the city where an officer was convicted of murder in the highly publicized 2020 death of a Black man named George Floyd.
More successful was Brackney’s recent appointment as a distinguished visiting professor at George Mason University. In addition to her undergraduate degree, Brackney holds both a master’s degree in public management and a Ph.D. in instructional management and leadership. This term, she’s listed as teaching “CRIM 490: Law and Popular Culture.” Also, she notes on LinkedIn that she’s writing a book with the working title “The Bruising of America: When Black, White and Blue Collide.”
Snook said he didn’t fear a trial or the accusations. He readily conceded that he said that Black female officers fled Charlottesville Police Department during Brackney’s tenure, and he said members of the force deserve a morale-boosting leader.
“They’ve told me they think they’re on the upswing,” said Snook. “They felt like they hit bottom and they’re moving back up again.”
His thoughts on the former chief?
“I wish her well,” said Snook. “I hope that she finds a job that she likes.”
The city may not have heard the last of Brackney. Contacted Sunday afternoon, her lawyer had something to say.
“We will be sending out an official statement in the morning,” attorney Charles Tucker Jr. wrote in an email to The Daily Progress. “This is far from over.”