Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas on Monday pushed back on reports that officers stood by as violence erupted at a white nationalist rally in the Virginia city on Saturday.
“Throughout the entire weekend, Virginia state police, Charlottesville Police Department intervened to break up fights and altercations among those in attendance at the rally site,” Thomas said at a press conference. “This began on Friday night and continued through Sunday.”
He said police “had a very large footprint during this entire endeavor.”
ProPublica on Saturday reported that “an assortment of Virginia State Police troopers and Charlottesville police wearing protective gear watched silently from behind an array of metal barricades” as white supremacists attacked counter-protesters during the rally. One man was charged with second-degree murder and other counts after he rammed a car into a crowd of protesters, killing one person and injuring more than a dozen others.
Thomas said police “had a plan” to bring attendees of the white supremacist rally “in at the rear of the park” where they planned to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee.
“They agreed to cooperate with the plan. Unfortunately they did not follow the plan,” he said. “They began entering at different locations in and around the park and we had to quickly alter our plans to help facilitate that process.”
Asked about reports that police stood by as white supremacists, many of whom carried shields and clubs, attacked protesters, Thomas said officers were not initially dressed to intervene and “had to quickly transition” into “protective gear.”
“We were certainly not intimidated by the firepower of the alt-right,” he said. “However, it was prudent to make sure that officers were equipped to go out and deal directly with the violence at hand.”
“I witnessed personally dozens of acts of violence, people being assaulted and other general assaults as well with police officers in sight watching who did not intervene or help those victims,” a reporter pressed. “Did you give any orders to police officers not to help people who were being assaulted?”
“No,” Thomas replied.
“Why didn’t you intervene, though?” a reporter pressed.
Thomas took a different question.
Asked whether he believed one side bore more responsibility for the violence than the other, Thomas said, “This was an alt-right rally,” but added there were “mutually combative individuals in the crowd.”
“It took probably an hour to gain control of the streets,” he said. “It was a challenge. It was certainly a challenge. We were spread thin once the groups dispersed.”
Thomas said he “absolutely” had regrets about the events of the weekend.
“We lost three lives,” he said. “We certainly have regrets. It was a tragic, tragic weekend.”