Virginia's Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
News

Charlottesville Police Chief Lambasts Local Church

123626723_2148204031989687_8703977633526014763_n.jpg
Charlottesville Police Department Facebook Page
/

Charlottesville’s Police Chief  is taking a local church and its pastor to task. RaShall Brackney called the Reverend Linda Peebles irresponsible and said she should be fired over a letter complaining about police conduct.

The trouble started October 7th when a black man named Walter Hoffman was on his way to the Unitarian Church where he was a member. Hoffman reportedly cut through a resident’s yard, walking on a private sidewalk and driveway, prompting a call to 911. A young woman – aware that there had been several burglaries in the area – reported a black man, who had previously broken into her neighbor’s house, was loitering nearby. She told the dispatcher the man was dressed in brown.

A few minutes later, a patrolman looking for that suspect reported being flagged down by a black man wearing a brown shirt.

“He said he saw her run inside the house and lock the door, so he thought we were looking for him,” he recalled.

At least three officers questioned Hoffman, and bodycam video shows he was distressed.

“He’s upset because they called because he’s black," a policeman concluded. "He says he walks here all the time.  He goes to this church for the last ten years.”One officer suggested Hoffman stop cutting through private property.

“If you walk on their sidewalk, right in front of their house,  residents will freak out," he told Hoffman, "so why don’t we not do that?"

Word of the incident got back to the church’s lead minister, Linda Olson Peebles, who wrote a letter to Chief Brackney. 

“We expressed our concern that people should feel safe to walk on the streets of our neighborhood,” she says.

Reading from Peebles’ letter, Brackney said officers were accused of harrassing Hoffman for walking while black.

“The suspect looked nothing like our church member other than both men are black," the letter stated.  "Even after the police acknowledged Mr. Hoffman was not a suspect they still demanded his social security number and identification.”

An internal investigation went on for about seven weeks, and during that time local and social media erupted with attacks on the police. Brackney blames the Reverend Peebles’ public complaint.

“It directly led to an editorial in UVA's student newspaper, the Cavalier Daily," she recalled. "It called for the firing of all officers involved.  Actions and accountability are needed. The call to apologize or be terminated for their actions should start with Rev. Dr. Linda Olson Peebles and their board who all signed off on this as well as the many social justice agencies who co-signed in this smear campaign.”

She scolded those who assumed the police were racist without checking on the facts.  Of course, during the investigation those facts were not available. 

Lt. Michael Gore, who led the probe, said every effort was made to protect Walter Hoffman.

“The detective went back to his desk and on that same day sent out an e-mail department wide, stating that Mr. Hoffman did nothing wrong and should you encounter him, treat him with kindness.”

The chief of police said she was disappointed by the church and its leadership – a sentiment echoed by the Reverend Peebles.

“I’m really disappointed in the outcome of all of this, because it feels like the police department minimizing what happened, minimizing the fact that we were concerned as people of faith who want to make sure our members are safe, and attacking us for asking the police to respond to us,” Peebles said. 

Sshe expressed surprise that Brackney had not called her rather than holding a press conference. Peebles said she would drop the matter at Mr. Hoffman’s request but would continue to stand with people of color in the fight for justice.

This news comes as the city of Dallas announces it’s considering several finalists for chief of police there – among them, Charlottesville’s RaShall Brackney.