City councilors say decision took them by surprise
Wednesday evening, a brief news release indicated that Charlottesville Police Chief RaShall Brackney had been fired. No explanation was given.
On Thursday, Charlottesville Tomorrow asked City Manager Chip Boyles, Assistant Police Chief James Mooney and the city’s director of communications, Brian Wheeler, why the chief had been terminated.
No answers were relayed.
“This is sounding like a soap opera right?” Charlottesville Mayor Nikuyah Walker said during a Facebook Live on Wednesday. “This is government.”
Walker took to social media just hours after Brackney’s termination was announced. She said that she was blindsided by the news. During her hour-long Facebook live video, she hinted at discord among city leaders and alleged that Brackney’s firing may have been racially driven, referencing officers — she says were primarily white — who complained in a recent survey, as factors in Brackney’s termination.
“There’s only been a handful of people who’ve been working on breaking down institutional racism,” Walker said. “We’re losing someone who is doing this work.”
Walker also reflected on how she and Brackney came to their positions in local government near the same time in 2018, as Black women, following the deadly 2017 Unite the Right rally. A city commissioned report found law enforcement response to that rally was lacking.
Councilor Lloyd Snook, like Walker, said he did not know of Brackney’s termination ahead of time. Snook said that Boyles had spoken with him — and likely other councilors — individually, but that the choice to fire her had not been articulated.
“Chip Boyles did not tell us ahead of time what he was doing,” Snook said. “He told us what kinds of things he was thinking about. At no point did councilors say to him ‘fire her.’”
As city manager, it is within Boyles’ authority to terminate Brackney.
Still, Snook says he understands the logic for the choice.
Calling things “not sustainable as they are,” Snook noted several officers in recent surveys indicated they wanted to leave, adding that others had already left.
He also explained that “it’s been alleged to us that officers on duty are doing the bare minimum because they don’t feel motivated” and how it’s the “kind of thing I’ve heard from a number of people inside the department.”
A survey conducted by an independent police association had a question where 90% of the 64 respondents said they have reduced their normal policing activities (like traffic stops and arrests) for “fear of being targeted by community groups.”
“Do you fire the entire department and retain the chief, or do you say ‘let’s get in another chief who can hopefully deal with what we’ve got?’” Snook said. “That kind of morale issue is not just a matter of one or two crank officers, but rather it seems to be a more pervasive problem.”
No other councilors could be reached for comment.
Six days prior to Brackney’s termination, an unsigned city-issued press release lambasted a handful of officers for “disturbing behaviors.” Those officers, the release said, had since either resigned or been fired.
According to the release, in June a member of the public sent Brackney an April 2020 video of a corporal and SWAT team member using profanity, expressing dissatisfaction and a desire to “get back to some hood gangsta s**t.”
“This police corporal also participated in text message chats in which he commiserated with officers making comments about City command staff such as: ‘I say we kill them all and let God sort it out,’” the release said. “He participated in other text message exchanges targeting two CPD officers with whom he was angry, stating, “let’s take em both out.”
An internal affairs review of officers uncovered what the release describes as other “disturbing behavior” such as “circulating nude videos of females and themselves” and “videotaping children of SWAT members detonating explosives, and firing department-issued semiautomatic weapons at unauthorized training events.”
The city released that statement after the Central Virginia chapter of the Police Benevolent Association made public an externally-conducted survey that indicated dissatisfaction within the department.
Results from both the PBA survey and an internally-conducted “climate command survey” indicate that a number of officers are “actively” thinking about leaving the department.
Critiques in the surveys include a lack of communication between staff, lack of morale in the department, and indication for multiple officers that they planned to seek employment elsewhere.
Since her appointment to chief, Brackney has spoken of efforts to change the workplace culture within the police department.
“I’m so confused,” Walker said. “So you fire her because more people might leave the police department but with the actions that those individuals are doing, we would not want them to be here.”