Charlottesville Police Chief RaShall Brackney hopes to use an accusation that the University of Virginia Police Department didn’t cooperate in the investigation of a bar fight and stabbing to reexamine the operating agreements between the two agencies, but other officials don’t back up her characterization of the case.
Brackney has accused UPD and UVa of withholding evidence and conducting an internal investigation into a Nov. 17 melee at Asado Wing & Taco Co. that involved several people, including two UVa football players and a UVa track athlete.
Brackney said she plans to use the dispute to begin a renegotiation of the mutual aid agreement between CPD and UPD that governs cross-jurisdictional operations. City and UVa officials and the commonwealth’s attorney are meeting Wednesday to discuss the agreements.
UPD, university officials and the commonwealth’s attorney don’t corroborate Brackney’s story, saying that all relevant evidence has been turned over and the two departments worked collaboratively on the investigation.
City and university police agree that at least one person was injured in the bar fight. Beyond that, the stories diverge.
City police responded to nearby calls at 12:31 a.m. and 1:48 a.m., according to CPD Capt. Jim Mooney, but no department was dispatched for a fight at Asado.
According to CPD, UVa and UPD, a group that had been fighting at The Standard, an apartment complex near the University of Virginia, later got into a brawl at Asado.
According to several sources, at least two UVa football players were involved in the scrum at Asado and a track athlete may have been involved, as well. At least one football player was suspended for the team’s two games following the fight for violating team rules.
The Daily Progress is withholding all names associated with the case because no one has been charged with a crime.
The melee spilled out onto the street and someone was beaten and stabbed, according to CPD. CPD spokesman Tyler Hawn told the Progress that the victim was treated and then released from the UVa Medical Center.
Brackney called the event a “severe beating, stabbing and possibly attempted homicide,” while UVa officials said the injuries and incident appeared much less serious.
In an interview last month, Asado owner Kevin Costello described the security video of the altercation, saying that two football players could be seen on the screen when an unidentified man entered the picture and the fight ensued. Costello said the football players didn’t commit the stabbing and “got themselves out of it.”
Neither law enforcement agency knew about the fight or potential victim until Nov. 19 when it was reported to the dean’s office and disclosed to UPD.
Requests to discuss the case with Longo were handled by UVa spokesman Brian Coy.
Brackney and Mooney say that city police weren’t properly notified of the incident and that the university improperly entered into an investigation in which it didn’t have jurisdiction.
However, UVa officials say they worked collaboratively with CPD in a timely manner.
According to CPD and UVa, university police officers contacted city police when they were notified about the fight on Nov. 19 and CPD assumed jurisdiction on Nov. 21. Some confusion ensued as city police worked to match the brawl to their report logs — up to that point, police had only known about earlier incidents at Boylan Heights and The Standard possibly related to the Asado incident.
By the time CPD assumed jurisdiction, university officials had already conducted what they called a fact-finding mission to investigate the report the Office of the Dean of Students had received.
In an email, Brackney accused Longo and the university of conducting an investigation in which “they have no authority or jurisdiction.” She later claimed that UVa is withholding “everything,” including “interviews, evidence, witnesses to interviews, phone calls, text messages, any of those things, video, possibly from cellphones, they’re claiming are protected.”
However, Coy said that CPD was told the entirety of the information obtained by UPD, which mentioned an injury and fight at Asado.
“We stand ready to provide additional resources or information that may help city law enforcement in this or any other case, and we will provide student information subject to privacy constraints that are mandated by federal law,” Coy said. “Effective community safety requires robust interagency coordination. In pursuit of that goal, we are committed to working closely with local, state and federal law enforcement partners on this and all future matters.”
Commonwealth’s Attorney Joe Platania said he had received everything he would need to determine whether or not to make a case.
“I have thoroughly reviewed all relevant reports, interviews and video surveillance” related to the brawl, he said, including evidence gathered by CPD and UPD.
Platania said he is not seeking additional information related to the crime.
An email exchange between Brackney and Longo titled “UVA Football and Track Incident,” obtained from the city under a Virginia Freedom of Information Act request, shows a breakdown in communication between the chiefs. Brackney was frustrated because she thought that UVa was stonewalling her department and dodging her calls.
Brackney alleged that the university conducted an internal investigation involving UPD, football coach Bronco Mendenhall, Athletic Director Carla Williams, the athletics department, student affairs officials and the university’s general counsel.
“We know they were involved and some of that information is protected because it is an ongoing investigation,” Brackney said in an interview with The Progress. “But [University Counsel] Tim Heaphy has been very clear that those interviews or those persons involved in those interviews, they’re claiming [the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act] as their exception to releasing any of it.”
Mendenhall, Williams, other athletics officials and UVa President Jim Ryan did not directly respond to requests for comment, instead forwarding inquiries to Coy.
But other officials said FERPA would not be a defense against a court case if Platania decided to bring one — any documents governed by FERPA would have to be released under a subpoena.
Coy said that student affairs notified the athletics department about a complaint against student athletes, but that was the extent of athletics’ involvement in the investigation.
Platania said that, after reviewing everything, he is not bringing charges, particularly “considering the unwillingness of the injured individual to meaningfully cooperate with law enforcement.”
When contacted Tuesday about Platania’s comments, Brackney emailed a statement that said Platania “may have the information needed to decide whether or not to move forward with this case,” but, she wrote, CPD has not received all requested evidence, including statements witnesses made to university officials.
“The lack of access to information vital to this case directly impedes the Charlottesville Police Department’s ability to fully investigate this case,” she wrote.
In a statement, Longo said that he believed UVa police handled the case appropriately.
“Going forward, I hope to continue the productive relationship we enjoy with the Charlottesville Police Department and public safety teams throughout the region,” he said.
Question of jurisdiction
Brackney said she will use this case to revisit the mutual aid agreement that governs operations between the two agencies.
Neighboring police departments typically have such agreements guaranteeing assistance in cases that might cross jurisdictional lines.
Under state law, the University Police Department only has jurisdiction over university-owned property and “upon the streets, sidewalks and highways immediately adjacent to any such property.” The jurisdiction can be extended under mutual aid agreements between the university and a surrounding locality.
Asado is at 1327 W. Main St., across the street from university property.
The 1995 mutual aid agreement is generic. The executive agreement for implementing it was approved in 2005 during Longo’s tenure as city police chief and bears his signature.
The executive agreement covers when UPD officers can operate outside of their normal areas of jurisdiction. Such instances include in joint operations or in responding to law enforcement emergencies.
The agreement says that responsibility for investigations within the city limits “shall remain with the Charlottesville City Police.”
University officers are required to “promptly notify the City Police of any arrest or evidence of a crime committed in the City.”
Mooney said that notification didn’t occur properly and a UPD investigation has hampered the city’s work.
Because of the age of the agreements, Brackney said there’s an “absolute requirement” to reexamine them.
Mooney said a violation of the agreement is a “civil process,” but the case “does force us to look at some things.”
“It certainly has opened some opportunities for discussion about how we’re going to do it in the future,” Mooney said. “It will cause us to look at our mutual aid and executive agreement to make sure we’re all on the same page.”
In the fallout of the 2017 Unite the Right rally, the city, UVa and Albemarle County have emphasized better coordination and collaboration, but Brackney said the case shows there’s still work to do.
Law enforcement officials say they’ve effectively reached a dead end investigating the fight at Asado. All evidence has been collected, but witnesses aren’t cooperating so prosecutors can’t charge anyone.
Hawn said the department has developed multiple suspects, but declined to release any information about or description of those suspects.
The case has been turned over to the Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office.
There’s no statute of limitations on violent felony crimes in Virginia. Therefore, while no one has been charged and the case sits on the shelf, someone could be held responsible if a witness comes forward at any point in the future.
“Somebody got stabbed, so it’s a felony. This wasn’t a simple assault — a misdemeanor that disappears in 365 days — this could go on forever,” Mooney said. “This student changes his mind in a year, we’re going to open it again. At this point, there has been no prosecution, no arrests, but I still consider it an active investigation.”
A $1,000 reward leading to an arrest is available through Crime Stoppers. Tipsters can call (434) 977-4000 or city police Detective Cundiff at (434) 970-3280.