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No one will take credit for calling state police on UVa campus protesters

On Saturday, a decision was made by someone at the University of Virginia to have state police break up a small anti-war encampment on Grounds.

Exactly who made that decision remains unclear.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin is not taking credit. Various statements from the school indicate it was President Jim Ryan or university police that determined state troopers were needed to remove the two dozen rain-soaked protesters, what remained of a four-day demonstration on a patch of grass near the University Chapel.

Ryan acknowledged that demonstration had been "peaceful" for days before state police officers wearing riot gear moved in and broke up the encampment. He has not, however, explicitly said he was the one who made the call.

“We hoped and tried to handle this locally. But when [UVa police] attempts to resolve the situation were met with physical confrontation and attempted assault, it became necessary to rely on assistance from the Virginia State Police,” Ryan said in a statement issued Saturday night.

He did not elaborate on the “attempted assault,” which he claims occurred after the protesters refused to take down the tents that were erected overnight Friday as a rainstorm moved into the area. A separate statement from the university says that after asking protesters to vacate the premises, “authorities were again met with agitation, chanting and violent gestures such as swinging of objects.” It does not specify the objects, gestures or chants.

Ryan also wrote that individuals unaffiliated with UVa were at the encampment and “presented some safety concerns.”

University spokesman Brian Coy told The Daily Progress that Ryan, along with a senior team of university officials, had spent Saturday at a “command post” on Grounds.

“It’s the place where the individuals who were responsible for monitoring and responding to this incident gathered to monitor events and make decisions,” Coy said.

State police said they received a request for assistance from UVa police at approximately 9 a.m. Saturday. That was an hour after the university says UVa Police Chief Tim Longo asked the protesters to voluntarily remove the tents and after “officials began attempts to collect the tents and were met with agitation and chanting from demonstrators.”

The governor’s office has not said if state police were sent to UVa at Youngkin’s request, instead referring The Daily Progress to an April 30 Youngkin statement where the Republican governor said his administration would, “fully support campus, local and state law enforcement and university leadership to keep our campuses safe.”

Youngkin’s administration has been in “daily contact” with law enforcement and the administrations at Virginia’s universities, according to his office.

“The universities campus police are lead, they usually request help from local and state law enforcement, and we support the leaderships of those universities to keep our campuses safe,” Youngkin press secretary Christian Martinez told The Daily Progress in an email.

“We would not allow encampments, tents,” Youngkin said in a May 3 Bloomberg interview, which his office sent to The Daily Progress. “I think we’ve been effective in coordinating this, and I’m hopeful that we can continue to make sure that safety on our university campuses is paramount.”

In that same interview, Youngkin said that peaceful protests are permitted and “part of the American fabric.”

On April 30 he posted to X: "After repeated warnings and refusal to disperse, law enforcement must protect Virginians."

Local Charlottesville legal analyst Scott Goodman said he believes the university was under pressure from the governor’s office to remove the tents.

“The governor made it clear it’d be state policy not to allow tents on state campuses,” Goodman told The Daily Progress. “The university felt the pressure that comes from politicians. That’s where presidents of universities which are basically state agencies take their cue.”

Those detained on Saturday were sent to Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail, which had originally said 25 people were arrested. On Monday, the jail revised the number to 24. Superintendent Martin Kumer said 16 of them were charged with trespassing, seven were not processed by the jail at all and one was charged with assaulting a law enforcement officer. Neither UVa nor the jail has said how many of those arrested were students, faculty, staff or unaffiliated with the university.

Two of those arrested, one a student and the other a freelance photographer, appeared in Albemarle County General District Court Monday morning. Although UVa is a centerpiece of the city of Charlottesville, it falls under Albemarle County’s jurisdiction.

The freelance photographer in court Monday, 41-year-old Kristen Finn, was charged with unlawful assembly and assaulting a law enforcement officer.

A UVa professor, Geeta Patel, was feet away from Finn during the arrest and disputes the charges and the police’s account that led to them.

The criminal complaint from the arresting officer accuses Finn of attempting to “intentionally impede the dispersant of protestors.” The officer then wrote that a fellow officer was “attempting to push Ms. Finn back.”

Finn, police say, pushed back against that officer before punching him.

“No,” Patel said of the police account. “I didn’t see that at all. What I saw was her being hauled backwards.”

“Kristen did not assault anybody. I made it clear over and over again, she was assaulted,” added Patel.

Patel said she was speaking with an officer who was among the long line of police that was moving towards the crowd in its effort to move the public off Grounds Saturday. Patel, who has no cartilage in either of her knees, walks with a cane and has difficulty moving backwards.

“Then a cop to the side of him was coming towards me, clearly with the intent to hurt me,” Patel told The Daily Progress.

That’s when Finn stepped in, with her back to police, in an attempt to get between them and the older Patel, according to Patel.

“She was asking me to move back. Next thing I knew, she’d been hauled away and arrested rather violently,” Patel said. “She put her body on the line to help a complete stranger.”

A video appears to corroborate Patel’s account.

In it, Patel can be seen speaking to an officer as police continue their march.

“Do not touch her,” a man in the crowd can be heard saying to police.

Seconds later, Finn appears on the left side of the screen. Her back is turned to a police officer as she calmly speaks to Patel. The camera pans to the right, then back to the left as an officer appears to grab Finn by the hand, turning her toward him and then pulling her behind the police line and arresting her. The video does not show Finn punching anyone.

At her hearing Monday, the Albemarle County Commonwealth Attorney’s Office, who is prosecuting the case, did not object to Finn being released or being able to leave the country. Her attorney, Jeffrey Fogel, noted that commonwealth attorney holds an elected office.

“They’re not beholden to the attorney general or the governor,” Fogel told The Daily Progress outside the courthouse. “They don’t report to them the way Jim Ryan and my friend Timmy Longo have to report to them. He can’t call the shots. They tell them what to do. They have masters.”

Many in Virginia have applauded the police response, which was made possible by the decision to declare an unlawful assembly, which is defined in Virginia thus: “Whenever three or more persons assembled share the common intent to advance some lawful or unlawful purpose by the commission of an act or acts of unlawful force or violence likely to jeopardize seriously public safety, peace or order, and the assembly actually tends to inspire persons of ordinary courage with well-grounded fear of serious and immediate breaches of public safety, peace or order, then such assembly is an unlawful assembly.”

After an unlawful assembly is declared, those who remain are guilty of trespassing. Attorney General Jason Miyares referenced this in a Sunday appearance on Fox News.

“The reality is that what you had at UVa were students that were warned repeatedly,” Miyares said. “They were violating both their student code of conduct. It was an unlawful assembly. There was trespassing.”

State police, Miyares said, “had to deal with these students that instead of acting like adults, they acted like coddled children.”

But the university has also been widely criticized, notably by hundreds of students and faculty members that have signed letters demanding answers from the university and for charges against the detained to be dropped.

That includes a professor who was selected as a member of UVa’s recently formed Religion, Diversity and Belonging Task Force. Oludamini Ogunnaike, a professor in the department of religious studies, resigned from the task force Sunday.

“I cannot in good conscience make recommendations to an academic administration that has acted so violently and contrarily to the goals with which we have been tasked,” Ogunnaike wrote in his resignation letter. “How could I recommend ways to make Muslim and Jewish students, faculty, and staff feel more welcome on grounds to an administration that sent in heavily-armed riot police to point guns at, threaten, pepper spray, manhandle, arrest, and ban from grounds a small handful of Muslim, Jewish, and other students, faculty, and staff — many of whom were not even part of the protest encampment.”

An unknown number of students were among the 24 people arrested Sunday. Some students were sent a letter from Longo telling them that they will be barred from Grounds in the future. According to the letter, recipients will be permitted to finish their final examinations and fulfill any academic requirements. They may also continue to live on Grounds until they finish their exams.

“Upon completion of examinations, you must vacate your on Grounds residence,” Longo wrote. The no trespass order will remain in effect until the start of the Fall 2024 semester.

On Monday evening, the university announced that it would be holding a virtual town hall at 12:15 p.m. Tuesday, “to provide an update and answer questions about Saturday’s protest near the UVA Chapel that led police to declare an unlawful assembly and arrest demonstrators who didn’t leave.”


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