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Judge dismisses former Charlottesville Police Chief Brackney’s racial discrimination suit

A woman stands outside at a podium speaking. A man in a suit stands behind her.

A district court judge this week threw out former Charlottesville Police Chief RaShall Brackney’s lawsuit that alleged city officials discriminated against her based on her race and gender when they fired her in 2021.

In his 39-page memorandum opinion, Judge Norman K. Moon rejected five of the 11 counts brought by Brackney, saying that she did not present enough facts to support her case. Brackney’s attorney conceded the remaining six counts, which means they will no longer pursue them.

“At this stage of litigation, only allegations in the complaint are considered,” said George Rutherglen, a law professor at the University of Virginia. “You just look at what the complaint says and assume that the plaintiff’s allegations are true and see if they plausibly support recovery for the plaintiff.”

Brackney’s suit made numerous allegations against nine city officials and a police union head, among them that those individuals conspired to have her fired because of her race and gender, and in retaliation for her decision to discipline white officers.

Shortly before her firing, Brackney said she learned that members of her department’s SWAT team were engaging in “disturbing behaviors” while on duty. After an investigation, she disbanded the unit and several officers were either fired or resigned.

It allows us to sort of close the book on the Brackney era.

—Mayor Lloyd Snook

Following that decision, the local chapter of the Police Benevolent Association conducted a survey of officers with questions about how they felt toward their chief. The survey results painted Brackney in a negative light.

Charlottesville officials initially defended Brackney, but within days former City Manager Chip Boyles changed his mind. In that time, he said, he learned of a second survey that Brackney herself had conducted that also showed officers were unhappy — and many wanted to leave.

Boyles spoke with several people in the department and quickly determined that Brackney was not fit to lead. Less than two weeks later, he fired Brackney.

Boyles resigned from his position shortly after firing Brackney, saying the public backlash for the decision was more than he could cope with.

More on Brackney’s firing and lawsuit

“You need a short course on employment law and procedure to understand” the details of the judge’s decision, law professor Rutherglen said. “But the law, in general, is this: A plaintiff has to give factually, fairly specific allegations that satisfy every element of the plaintiff’s claim. The plaintiff can’t just say, they engaged in racial discrimination against me. The plaintiff has to allege the facts that plausibly show that there was discrimination or harassment.”

Brackney’s attorney, Charles Tucker, said that she had done just that.

“The legal standard for our complaint at this early stage in the case was two-fold: put the defendants on notice as to why they were being sued and plead the facts supporting a plausible claim,” Tucker said in a prepared statement. “To this end, we submitted an extensive — not exhaustive — complaint with supporting exhibits, showing all who were willing to read it, that we in fact met the standard.”

Following the judge’s decision, Charlottesville Mayor Lloyd Snook, who was named in the suit, expressed relief that the case had been dismissed.

“I’m very glad that Judge Moon recognized that when Chief Brackney was fired a year plus ago, that nobody acted out of any improper motive, and I thought that was absolutely the right result. I’m glad that the judge acknowledged that,” Snook told NBC29. “It allows us to sort of close the book on the Brackney era, and as we’ve got a brand new chief, let the brand new chief move on and establish his own imprint on the department.”

That new chief, Michael Kochis, began work on Jan. 6. The city had been without a permanent police chief since September 2021 and finalized the hire at the end of last year.

Brackney has the option to appeal Moon’s decision to a higher court. Though her attorney did not explicitly say they would, he did mention in his statement that they would not let the matter drop.

“When we embarked on this case with Dr. RaShall Brackney, we understood that the process would be equal to a 15-round heavyweight title fight,” Tucker said. “We did not come into this lawsuit with any delusions regarding Charlottesville’s atmosphere of entitlement or its institutions of cultural supremacy. Our advice to the Defendants: Don’t go whistling Dixie yet, because we have only just begun to battle.”