Richmond Police Chief sends letter of apology in regard to City Hall fistfight
on October 27, 2011
Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus sent an open letter to city leaders and the press Wednesday apologizing for a failure of communication between his department and the Office of Neighborhood Safety following a fistfight in City Hall on October 14.
Magnus wrote in his message that the RPD and ONS have “made significant strides over the past several years to engage the community in successful violence-reduction efforts.” But the recent events, he wrote, impacted the confidence the public has in the groups’ abilities to work together.
“I believe it is the community that has suffered the most as a result of the miscommunications, poor decision-making, and unnecessary tensions associated with this incident,” Magnus wrote.
While he said both groups hope to reduce violence, their tactics are very different and their relationship is complicated.
“In many ways, the incident at City Hall highlighted issues we needed to deal with eventually because of the inevitable challenges associated with the populations we serve, the work we do, and the legal constraints we have,” he wrote. “I have very strong confidence that moving forward, the Police Department will take all necessary steps to fortify its relationship with ONS, work more effectively with our community partners to implement the Ceasefire project, and address the ONS-RPD protocol concerns that need to be resolved.”
The fistfight broke out on the third floor of City Hall after seven young men from two rival neighborhoods unexpectedly showed up to meet with ONS staff.
“When officers responded to the scene, they discovered broken items, overturned furniture, and a large amount of blood suggesting a more serious assault might have taken place,” Magnus wrote. “In addition, it was clear that multiple individuals involved in the incident had left the scene prior to the officers’ arrival. The responding officers, including a supervisor, began questioning the staff and others from ONS who were still present.”
From there, things began to go awry. Magnus wrote that the responding patrol officers were unfamiliar with how to deal with ONS protocol, particularly in a situation involving City Hall and with perpetrators on the run.
Officers on the scene believed they would have full cooperation from the ONS staff and were clearly frustrated when this did not happen, writing in reports that there was a chorus of, “I ain’t seen nothin’.” Magnus apologized for this particular language used in the report, calling it “unnecessarily provocative and unprofessional.”
Someone from within the department leaked unredacted files to media groups soon after the incident. Although Police Captain Mark Gagan said the RPD is investigating the incident, he added that it has been difficult to track who may have sent it as the files were not scanned or sent on an RPD machine.
“I would say that the police reports are normally screened for content and redacted to protect the authenticity of information,” Gagan said. “It was irresponsible for whoever to release that report.”
In an interview on Monday, ONS Director DeVone Boggan said the leaked records were “malicious and intentional and targeted.”
“We know that it wasn’t an accident,” he said.
Magnus said in his letter that proper protocol for releasing records was not followed, but he did not think the intention was mean-spirited.
“Regrettably, leaks concerning salacious or high profile events/crimes are not uncommon within police agencies, but the timing of the press gaining access to this report made a difficult situation worse,” Magnus wrote.
The debate surrounding ONS has been much more public in the last few weeks as members of the community have used recent City Council open forums to air their support or opposition to the group.
Magnus wrote that he was sorry for any damage caused to Boggan’s reputation as a result of the controversy. He also apologized in his letter for not reaching out to Boggan earlier and for reassigning former ONS liaisons just before the incident.
Changes to the RPD include maintaining a liaison’s assignment to Ceasefire for one more year and establishing better lines of communication with ONS.
Magnus closed his letter by saying that he is committed to repairing the relationships between the RPD, ONS and Ceasefire Working Group, pledging to meet and discuss all issues soon.
A copy of the letter can be read here.
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