In a tense meeting Monday, City Council members and City Manager Chip Boyles finally discussed the termination of Police Chief RaShall Brackney as an official agenda item. A recording played by Mayor Nikuyah Walker revealed Boyles believed the Virginia Police Benevolent Association had an agenda to get Brackney fired.
And before it was all over, voices grew loud and tensions flared, but little new information came out about Brackney’s dismissal.
Last month, Boyles exercised his right to terminate Brackney’s employment contract upon 90 days’ notice. Brackney, who was hired by the city in June 2018, will be on paid administrative leave until Nov. 30. Brackney had no public record of wrongdoing or disciplinary action taken against her, which sparked community outrage at the decision.
Toward the end of Monday’s meeting, Walker played a short recording she made of Boyles talking. In the recording, Boyles said he believed Michael Wells, the chair of the PBA, was determined to get Brackney fired.
“All he has in his sights is the chief’s badge,” Boyles said. “I think he could care less about the officers. He’s on a mission.”
Earlier in the meeting prior to hearing the recording, councilors Michael Payne and Sena Magill had voiced their concerns that the PBA has too much influence on the city and has an agenda to push out people it disagrees with. Both councilors said it is important to continue the racial equity progress Brackney made.
The topic of Brackney’s dismissal had been brought up at the last two previous council meetings, but councilors voted against Walker’s motions to discuss it, citing the need for preparation time to discuss the issue and understand what legal parameters were in place for discussing a personnel matter.
For the most part during the meeting, Boyles reiterated points he made in a Sept. 17 op-ed in The Daily Progress, saying 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 stated in the op-ed that the results of an internal survey and a survey conducted by the PBA influenced his decision. He also said he regretted not working with Brackney and the councilors before firing her.
During the meeting, Boyles said he takes responsibility for any wrongdoing in his decision. He said it is important for the city manager in this form of government to follow council’s direction.
“And if at any time I’m not following that direction for the majority of council, I would expect and I would take the responsibility for any advisement you would give me, any discipline you would provide me, for any termination that would be required for not following that direction,” Boyles said.
Boyles said he fully supports Brackney’s decision to discipline and fire members of the SWAT team who, according to a city statement, 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.”
“I have not overturned any of the police department’s disciplinary actions in my eight months here,” Boyles said.
Boyles said 100 employees have left the police department in the last three years. Of those, 93 were resignations, retirements or related to employee behavior, Boyles said. Seven were transfers. About three-fourths of that number, or 74, new employees have been hired in that time to replace the departing employees.
“There is no smoking gun in this,” Boyles said. “It was a combination of things that made me believe we were headed down the wrong direction.”
“The only issue for us, quite frankly, is whether we fire the city manager for firing the police chief. And I want to say very clearly that I think that the answer to that is no,” said councilor Lloyd Snook.
Snook has consistently said he upholds Boyles’ decision. Snook said he thinks it’s important to move forward from the decision to commit to a new and equitable style of policing.
“I think that we had gotten to a point at the end of August, where we had significant questions about whether we were going to end up with a police department in chaos. We need not go back and revisit that,” Snook said.
Walker said she is frustrated the other councilors didn’t have more questions if they really do care about equity. Brackney is a Black woman, and some community members as well as Walker have voiced concerns about how officers’ impressions of Brackney could be racist, sexist or both. Walker asked Boyles when he had access to the PBA survey and internal city survey. He said he received the PBA survey at the same time as the councilors in August and received the internal survey after that.
In a discussion prior to Walker playing the recording, Boyles said he was not confident in Wells’ intentions. He also said the survey was “very unscientific.”
“There was enough information in the surveys [to cause concern] … but I did not like the intention of the [PBA] surveys,” Boyles said.
He said he felt the survey was “intended to highlight Chief Brackney in a less than positive way.”
Boyles said he never discussed the survey results with Brackney.
“I wish I would’ve had a better relationship,” he said.
He said Brackney was “very good” about being transparent with him about issues going on in the department.
Hill said she believes there were factors other than the survey that influenced Boyles’ decision. She said she personally had concerns about Brackney based on incidents separate from those indicated in the surveys, specifically involving community members. She said Brackney had walked out of a city meeting Hill organized to connect with the department members of the Police Civilian Review Board when the board was created.
Boyles said he had a similar experience when Brackney left a meeting he held after she disagreed with points presented in the meeting, which he said “raised concerns” for him about the chief’s leadership.
Hill also gave the example of an incident in 2019 she thought inappropriate. A citizen sent an email to Brackney, and Brackney responded by CCing his employer.
“It’s not appropriate,” Hill said.
The Daily Progress obtained a copy of the email.
Councilors also discussed whether the current chair of the Police Civilian Review Board, Bellamy Brown, should be dismissed.
Brown came under fire for perceived involvement in Brackney’s termination as well as public comments and social media posts he made about the incident. At a PCRB meeting last month, two members of the board voted no confidence in Brown.
Payne said a code of ethics should be developed for the PCRB in terms of member professionalism and neutrality. Magill said she’d like to see this policy extended to all boards and commissions to prevent future problems such as the confusion that swirls around Brackney’s dismissal.
Snook said he was concerned that terminating Brown could be a First Amendment issue and that removing a board member for their speech should be a “last resort.” He did say he believes members of the PCRB should not be publicly sharing their opinions. But because that rule has never been articulated, he said he does think Brown should be removed.
Walker said she “had negative interactions with Brown before” and is concerned how he is using his platform.
The council did not come to a conclusion about whether Brown should be removed.
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