RICHMOND, Virginia (WRIC) – It’s been a year since protests and riots took over parts of Richmond. Hundreds of demonstrators and two policemen were eventually arrested.
It’s been one of the busiest summers in Richmond, and in some ways it’s still not over.
Richmond’s chief prosecutor, Colette McEachin, said Monday she was still awaiting a third party report and could still bring charges against officials accused of poisoning peaceful protesters with tear gas last June.
However, big questions are raised about what could realistically happen in the future. One way to hold these officials accountable expires on Tuesday June 1st.
Tuesday, midnight, the statute of limitations for most misdemeanor charges for the June 1 tear gas incident at the Robert E. Lee Memorial expires under Section 19.2-8 of State Law.
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Videos from the June 1, 2020 incident show protesters kneeling in front of the memorial as they protest the death of George Floyd. Suddenly, RPD and VSP officers arrived and tear gas was used against the group of more than 100 protesters ahead of the curfew that night.
The crowd of protesters fled around the monument to avoid the tear gas and in a video from Public Media in Virginia and shared with 8News, an officer is shown chasing people and spraying them directly with what appears to be tear gas.
What happened that evening caused even more outrage in the community. Will Smith, then Richmond Police Chief, and Mayor Levar Stoney apologized to a huge, angry group outside City Hall the next day. “That should never have happened,” Stoney yelled at the crowd. Smith eventually resigned at Stony’s request after the protests.
The call for accountability grew.
A Richmond man, Jonathan Arthur, filed a lawsuit against 10 Richmond Police Department officers for $ 50,000. He claims the officers violated the protesters’ rights under the first and fourth amendments.
Others asked if any of the police officers were facing criminal charges.
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Back then, Stoney promised action. “Words can’t get this right, and words can’t restore the trust that was broken tonight. Just action. Only action can fix this community, ”he tweeted.
But what has actually happened since then?
Last year police said that some officers involved in the tear gas incident were pulled from the field and disciplined. However, RPD has never provided evidence or details for this.
At the time, Richmond Commonwealth attorney Colette McEachin assured Richmond City Councilor Mike Jones that her office was investigating the matter. Last week 8News asked what was the result.
We learn that McEachin’s office has never investigated.
“My office has no investigators,” she told 8News in an email. “When the CWAO is investigating a suspected crime, we use the RPD as they are the city’s investigative agency. Given the distrust some had of RPD to investigate the tear gas incident, the city hired a third party to conduct an investigation, ”she said.
VIDEO: Chain of events before tear gas was used in peaceful protests in Richmond
According to the RPD, last week the city hired the Arlington-based CNA Institute for Public Research to investigate the evidence from that day on. When this investigation began and how far CNA is with it is unclear. “I am waiting for the report from this third party. I will then review, like I would review a report from any other facility, and make a decision on the evidence to support a criminal complaint, ”McEachin said, adding that she also does not know when the report will be complete .
In Virginia, the statute of limitations for most crimes, such as assault and assault on tear gas demonstrators, is one year. McEachin noted that there is no time limit to file criminal charges. Federal organizations like the FBI can also bring charges at any time.
8News spoke to local criminal defense attorney Russ Stone about the possible charges based on the tear gas incident. He stated that there are some exceptions to the statute of limitations for offenses.
Stone said in some very rare cases a government official could be charged with a “misconduct in office” offense. This limitation period is two years.
Stone said that misconduct is very rare. An example is a city council that spends money. He stated that if a law enforcement member was charged with the tear gas incident, he or she would most likely be charged with something like assault and assault.
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Last year, McEachin’s office announced that a grand jury had presented 18 sealed charges for the actions of eight Richmond police officers during the protests.
A grand jury eventually found no probable cause on 16 of the charges, but went on to charge two Richmond police officers, Mark Janowski and Christopher Brown, of assault and assault after an investigation in an incident on the morning of Jan.
Janowski and Brown are the only known law enforcement officers charged with the summer protests. Although some have speculated about what happened, what they allegedly did has still not been made public by the authorities. The couple will be tried on Wednesday June 2nd.
McEachin told 8News by law it cannot tell whether or not the six other officials were involved in the tear gas incident at the Lee Memorial, now known by some as the Marcus-David Peters Circle.
As of Monday evening, Mayor Levar Stoney’s office hadn’t responded to last week’s 8News request asking about the independent investigation.
It was a summer nobody can forget. After weeks of intense encounters between protesters and law enforcement agencies, dozens of people were arrested and charged. Some protesters are now moving through the judicial system while many others have been dropped by prosecutors.
8News reporter Ben Dennis also contributed to this report.