Journalists win lawsuit to release police department planning documents during Charlottesville rally

Following a lawsuit brought by two freelance journalists represented by attorneys from the Reporters Committee, the public will have access to more information about how the Charlottesville Police Department and Virginia State Police planned for the August 2017 “Unite the Right” rally. The rally left 19 injured and led to the death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer, as well as two Virginia state troopers, Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Trooper Berke M.M. Bates, who were killed in a helicopter crash while monitoring the day’s events.
In 2017, Reporters Committee attorneys filed suit on behalf of Jackson Landers and Natalie Jacobsen for access to the safety or operational plans for the rally after the journalists’ requests for the records under Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act were denied. The two sought access to the plans to find out what preparations law enforcement made before the rally and whether police were given a stand-down order or otherwise directed to not respond to acts of violence or make arrests. 
The City of Charlottesville reached a settlement with the journalists and provided them with a redacted copy of its operational plan, which, when compared to officers’ actions on the day of the rally, showed law enforcement officers “didn’t follow written orders to intervene in outbreaks of violence and were focused on securing an area for rally speakers who never delivered speeches.” The city’s plan noted that law enforcement anticipated large crowds and violence at the rally and called for officers to “keep close watch of crowd members who are exhibiting behaviors which could become violent,” “make arrests when appropriate for unlawful behavior,” and “interven[e] swiftly if security threats are identified.” 

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