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'Series of failures' in police response to far-right rally in Charlottesville

The law enforcement response to a white nationalist rally in Virginia that erupted in violence this summer was a series of failures, a former federal prosecutor has said.

The findings of former US Attorney Tim Heaphy's months-long investigation were unveiled on Friday.

City officials asked him to conduct the review after facing scathing criticism over the August 12 rally in Charlottesville.

He found a lack of preparation and poor co-ordination between city and state police, including the fact they were unable to communicate by radio.

The report said a school resource officer posted in the area where a car ploughed into counter-protesters was removed over concerns about safety and not replaced.

Mr Heaphy's report was published online and he is expected to discuss it at a news conference.

Mr Heaphy's team interviewed 150 people and pored over half a million documents for the report, which found a lack of preparation and co-ordination between state and city police and a passive response by officers to the chaos.

The report said the city of Charlottesville failed to protect public safety or the protesters' right to express themselves.

"This represents a failure of one of government's core functions - the protection of fundamental rights," the report said.

"Law enforcement also failed to maintain order and protect citizens from harm, injury, and death. Charlottesville preserved neither of those principles on August 12, which has led to deep distrust of government within this community."

White nationalists who descended on Charlottesville in part to protest against plans to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E Lee began fighting in the streets with counter-demonstrators before the event even officially began.

The brawling went on for nearly an hour in plain view of officers until the event eventually disbanded.

Later, as counter-demonstrators were peacefully marching through a central street, a car drove into the crowd, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring many more.

The report says "planning and co-ordination breakdowns" before August 12 had "disastrous results".

"Because of their misalignment and lack of accessible protective gear, officers failed to intervene in physical altercations that took place in areas adjacent to Emancipation Park," the report said.

State police directed their officers "to remain behind barricades rather than risk injury responding to conflicts between protesters and counter-protesters", and Charlottesville commanders "similarly instructed their officers not to intervene in all but the most serious physical confrontations".

State police and Charlottesville officers were unable to communicate by radio the day of the rally because they were on different channels, the report said.

The review found that one officer was initially supposed to be stationed near the intersection where the car ploughed into counter-protesters, but the officer asked for relief out of safety concerns and was not replaced.

Only a small barrier was in place when the car drove into the crowd, killing Ms Heyer and injuring at least 19 others.

The day's death toll rose to three when two state troopers sent to monitor the scene and support the governor's motorcade died in a helicopter crash.

Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, police chief Al Thomas and other senior officials had previously defended the law enforcement response, saying police had to show restraint because some people in the crowd were heavily armed.

Rally organisers and counter-protesters, as well as some law enforcement experts, have questioned why authorities did not do more to separate opposing forces or step in once the violence began.

City officials had tried to move the rally to a larger park about a mile from central Charlottesville, but their request was blocked by a federal judge after the American Civil Liberties Union sued on free-speech grounds.

Mr Heaphy served as the US Attorney for the Western District of Virginia from 2009 to 2015 after being appointed by Barack Obama.

The Republican Party of Virginia criticised the decision to hire him, arguing he should be disqualified from leading the review because of political donations he made to Democratic candidates, including 200 dollars to Charlottesville mayor Mike Signer's campaign fund in 2015.

Mr Heaphy has said his contributions would have no bearing on the review.



From Belfast Telegraph