Photos show that Virginia State Police troopers used Charlottesville city vehicles to respond to a weekend rally protesting police brutality, refuting a claim by Charlottesville Police Chief RaShall Brackney.
Planning Commissioner Rory Stolzenberg shared pictures with the City Council during its virtual meeting on Monday and asked why state troopers were seen driving city police marked vehicles for the rally.
Stolzenberg took the photos near City Yard. People wearing VSP uniforms can clearly be seen driving trucks with the city logo and “Charlottesville Police” marked across the side. The trucks appear to be repurposed maintenance vehicles.
“We deserve answers for why dozens and dozens, three buses of state troopers, were brought to Vinegar Hill on Saturday to suit up in riot gear and prepare to disrupt the protest,” he said.
City Yard sits in an area that once was home to Vinegar Hill, a predominantly African American neighborhood that was razed by the city in the 1960s.
“I don’t have any knowledge of any state troopers driving city cars,” Brackney said. “They didn’t have our vehicles and don’t have our vehicles.”
Brackney said Monday and VSP spokeswoman Corinne Geller said Tuesday that the two agencies were operating a unified command led by the University of Virginia Police Department because the rally started on UVa property and was expected to move into the city.
Geller directed questions about troopers’ level of involvement to the city and university police departments.
University spokesman Brian Coy confirmed that UPD Chief Tim Longo led the establishment of a unified command, which would require localities to sign off on any involvement.
Stolzenberg spoke again at the end of the council meeting after the council had a chance to review the photos he sent.
However, Brackney was no longer on the virtual meeting call at the time. City Manager Tarron Richardson said that Brackney would provide an update to the council on Tuesday.
The Daily Progress asked for comment from Brackney and for the update that was expected to be provided to the council on Tuesday.
The city “doesn’t have anything further to add at this time,” spokesman Brian Wheeler responded on Tuesday. Two councilors said Tuesday evening they had yet to receive an update from Brackney.
Hundreds of people protested on Saturday, calling for police defunding in a march that started at John Paul Jones Arena.
The nonviolent protesters marched from the arena down Emmet Street to its intersection with Barracks Road.
In some of Stolzenberg’s photos, three unmarked tour buses are shown driving down 4th Street Northwest toward City Yard flanked in front and behind by marked VSP vehicles. Men dressed in black gear are later seen getting off the buses at City Yard.
Stolzenberg and witnesses on social media reported that the troopers headed to the Barracks Road Shopping Center and turned on Milmont Street. The troopers did not engage with the protesters.
VSP has an office in Albemarle County off of Fontaine Avenue.
Stolzenberg wasn’t the only one to speak about the state police presence during Monday’s meeting.
“It’s odd that so many state police officers would have descended on Charlottesville when we’ve had no incidents here of any concern,” said Don Gathers, a local activist.
Brad Slocum said that he felt Brackney didn’t give a “very satisfactory” answer to earlier questions about police presence. He added that a police aircraft was seen circling the area on radar.
Councilor Lloyd Snook said during the meeting that it would be “very distressing” if state police were using city vehicles without CPD’s knowledge.
Mayor Nikuyah Walker said that state troopers should not be carrying out operations in the city without permission and highlighted a controversy in August when troopers assigned to the Jefferson Area Drug Enforcement task force raided a house in Fifeville.
“This is problematic if we did not know it was happening,” she said. “The state police shouldn’t be here without our permission or our planning and permission, and if they are, that’s a problem.”