Police were called to the Mudhouse on Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall on Oct. 21 for a report that a person wearing a Baby Yoda hat had thrown a brick through a front window of the coffee shop.
Now, 33-year-old Charlottesville resident Renee K. Buchanan is a facing not only a vandalism charge but also a felony charge of assault on a law enforcement officer for spitting on a policeman’s head, a case certified last week to a higher court.
As incidents of attacks on law enforcers have led to bloodshed nationally and amid reports of declining morale and officer attrition inside the Charlottesville Police Department, Charlottesville courts have been the site of several recent felony prosecutions for alleged assaults on police. This preliminary hearing for Buchanan took place Thursday.
“I Mirandized him,” testified Charlottesville police officer Tobyn Whitten. “He admitted he threw a brick through a window.”
Whitten told the prosecutor that he was searching through Buchanan’s backpack when the suspect began shouting “expletives.” The written police report alleges that Buchanan then called Whitten a slur.
Whitten in court on Thursday was then asked what happened next.
“I heard something like spit being spat and felt something on the back of my head,” Whitten testified.
As the prison-garbed Buchanan watched from the witness table, his lawyer, public defender Hayley Setear, had some questions of her own.
“Did you take any photographs?” Setear asked.
“No,” answered Whitten, but he noted that a fellow officer had worn a body camera that “captured everything.”
“Were there any photographs of spit landing on the ground?” asked Setear.
“Well,” explained Whitten, “the spit landed on my head.”
Judge Andrew Sneathern had heard enough.
“I will certify this matter to the circuit court,” said Sneathern, sending the case to a grand jury on Feb. 21. Sneathern asked Buchanan if he understood the process.
“Sure,” answered Buchanan.
Court records show that Buchanan’s Mudhouse incident occurred less than a month after he was found guilty of failure-to-appear and assault. Punishments for those crimes were mostly suspended – until the Mudhouse charges.
“Allegations of spitting on police officers will be taken very seriously,” prosecutor Joe Platania said outside of court.
“The commonwealth attorney is doing his part to make this a city where officers want to work,” said veteran defense attorney Scott Goodman. “The theory is that if the word gets out that you go to jail for assaulting a police officer then people will stop doing it.”
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