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Friday, Sept. 29, 2023

An incident at Market Street Park earlier this month set off a cascade of issues in Charlottesville. The police were accused of being rough with and racially profiling the people without homes camping there. And the city manager responded by lifting the park’s overnight curfew — so that officers no longer evict people staying overnight.

Starting from the beginning: A woman went before City Council on Sept. 16 accusing police of kicking a man who was living in a tent in the park. The downtown park had an 11 p.m. curfew, which means no one is allowed to be there overnight. But, a few weeks ago, folks started setting up tents and sleeping there. Police responded to enforce the curfew.

On Sept. 12, police arrested one man. Then, on Sept. 16, the kicking incident occurred.

You can see what happened yourself at this link. It’s from a news conference Police Chief Michael Kochis held Thursday. In a rare move, Charlottesville Police Department released the bodycam footage for the public to see. State law does not require police departments to ever publicly release footage, and CPD has historically released few videos. The footage of the incident begins at 12:36.

A screenshot of police body cam footage shows an officer with his foot touching the heel of a man sleeping in a tent.

After hearing the allegations that an officer kicked someone, Kochis opened an “administrative investigation” that quickly exonerated the officer. He told reporters and community members Thursday that he and Commonwealth’s Attorney Joe Platania reviewed the body cam footage and found no misconduct. The officer, he said, “touched the heel of the person’s foot with his own foot to wake him up.”

The Daily Progress reported on the news conference.

The other thing the city quickly did after the incident was to remove the curfew from Market Street Park, which means people can now stay there overnight. And they are.

This is what the camp looked like Thursday morning:

A woman with a backpack walks down a path in a park next to several dome tents.
The morning of Friday, Sept. 29, roughly a dozen tents were set up in Market Street Park. Since the city lifted the park’s overnight curfew, more people are staying there. Erin O’Hare/Charlottesville Tomorrow

The growing number of people in the park is a sign that Charlottesville does not have adequate services to help its growing homeless population, some say. The city’s only overnight shelter is run by the Salvation Army. It has 50 beds, and regularly turns people away.

Charlottesville Tomorrow reporter Erin O’Hare reported on this back in March.

A room with linoleum floors and fluorescent lights is filled with cots and bed rolls.
Credit: Kori Price/Charlottesville Tomorrow

Charlottesville’s homeless shelter staff say demand for beds this winter is double what they can accommodate

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But the decision to open the park is not universally popular. Charlottesville attorney Scott Goodman told CBS19 that he expects the camp to grow now.

“You can come to Market Street Park and set up a tent, and the city is not going to bother you,” he said.

On Wednesday, there was a stabbing “in or around the park,” police reported. Some residents fear that a homeless encampment at the park will lead to more crime in an area near the city’s downtown business center.

“Does that not create a precedent for shutting this park down and eliminating this crime that’s in the downtown retail and residential area of Charlottesville?” a man asked Kochis at Thursday’s news conference.

What do you want to know about this issue? Hit this link and let us know. While, as a small team we can’t cover everything, we’d like to know your questions and concerns as we follow up.

Have a good weekend, everyone!

Jessie Higgins, managing editor

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I'm Charlottesville Tomorrow's managing editor and health and safety reporter. If there’s something you think we should be investigating, please email me at jhiggins@cvilletomorrow.org! And you can follow all the work we do by subscribing to our free newsletter! Hablo español, y quiero mantener a la comunidad hispanohablante informada. Si tienes preguntas o información que debo saber, por favor, envíame un correo electrónico a jhiggins@cvilletomorrow.org.