Richmond police have added 74 incidents in which officers used force during the recent period of civil unrest, mostly involving the use of chemical irritants, according to the department’s latest update of its public report.
The tally of the new incidents brings to 94 the number of times Richmond police used force from May 29 to June 26, mostly during confrontations with protesters.
Meanwhile on Tuesday, the City Council’s public safety committee delayed until late September a discussion on the ban of these methods and others used for crowd control, though several council members questioned their continued use as demonstrations continue nightly.
Police Chief Gerald Smith asked for the delay in order to prepare written guidelines and policy changes that he’s already verbally implemented, including having him or his command staff make the call on when to use these dispersion measures. Before he took over the department earlier this month, Smith said “the decision-making point was too far down in the ranks.”
Under this change, Smith ordered the use of chemical irritants over the weekend when protests led to fires, damage to buildings and nearly two dozen arrests. These incidents should be reflected in the department’s July report, expected Monday.
Smith said he stood by his decision to use these crowd control measures last weekend, calling the crowd “riotous.”
“Banning these things outright, without the opportunity to revise and improve the policies around them, could lead to some other circumstances. If we did not have these tools the other night, that causes that physical contact. We’re going to have physical contact with people to stop riotous behavior,” Smith said during Tuesday’s virtual committee hearing.
The three-member committee asked Smith to come up with some alternative measures for unlawful assemblies.
In a story earlier this month, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that police had failed to include dozens of incidents of force in its monthly reports from May and June. At the time, police said there was a backlog pending review and would update the reports.
Police updated its June report on July 17, adding the 74 incidents from May 29 to June 26. An additional 20 incidents during the same period had been included in an earlier update.
It’s the first full accounting police have provided of its response to the unrest, sparked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, that began in Richmond on May 29. Most, though not all, of these 94 incidents stem from clashes between protesters and police.
The use-of-force reports have been posted online, updated monthly, since 2018, after Marcus-David Peters was killed during a confrontation with a Richmond police officer. Officers self-report the data.
A review of the earlier reports showed officers reported using force against Black people five times as often as they did against white people. But the latest update from police provides the racial makeup of the person against whom force is used in only 10 of the 94 incidents during the protest period. In a note on the report, police said they would update the report to reflect demographic data as those individuals are identified.
In many cases, like the June 1 tear gassing at the Robert E. Lee statue, these forceful dispersion tactics are used in large and diverse crowds.
Prior reports listed eight types of force, including the use of ASP batons, K-9 dogs, firearms, foggers, OC or pepper spray, physical force and Tasers. But in this latest report, 25 types of force were included. All but one of those added appear to be some sort of chemical irritant.
Council members Michael Jones, the 9th District representative, and Stephanie Lynch, the 5th District representative, introduced the resolution seeking to ban police from using tear gas, rubber bullets and flash-bang grenades in the city, after experiencing these measures themselves.
“The tear gassings and the incidents that happened on Lee Circle, incidents that happened on various nights of the demonstrations, have caused significant and substantial harm to some of our residents,” Lynch said Tuesday in introducing the paper before the public safety committee, which neither she nor Jones sit on. “It was evident to me, having been on the frontlines myself, talking to both police officers and participants of the demonstrations, that we were not adequately training our police officers on how to properly use these non-lethal forces.
“When we put our police officers in a line, in a heightened posture, even with peaceful demonstrators and protestors, it is nine times out of 10 a recipe for disaster that ends in a heightened response,” she said. “I know that this is only one step toward helping us move the conversation to proper use.”
Smith agreed that more training, particularly for higher-ranking members of his command staff, was needed to make the decision on the ground when and how these chemicals and other measures are used.
Defending his decision to deploy chemical irritants over the weekend, he said the changes he’s already implemented show “these can be used effectively and used with restraint and used in a way that did not produce any kind of injury to anyone in the crowd.”
Ten residents spoke in favor of the ban. Several cited the 1925 Geneva Protocol that banned the use of tear gas in warfare, which came as a surprise to Councilman Chris Hilbert, who represents the 3rd District, and Chief Smith. Councilwoman Kimberly Gray of the 2nd District, where much of the unrest has taken place, said the same protocol allows an exception for use by domestic law enforcement.
“We heard council members come to the defense of police officers who were being heckled and hit by plastic water bottles. They called those actions violent. But where is the concern for Black Lives Matter demonstrators being pelted with rubber bullets and being assaulted with chemical irritants during a pandemic,” said Naomi Isaac, an organizer with the Virginia Student Power Network. “It’s clear that they are not using these weapons to protect and serve anyone but themselves.”
The committee, made up of Hilbert, Gray and Reva Trammell, the 8th District representative, voted to delay the discussion on any ban until its next meeting on Sept. 22. The committee doesn’t meet in August.
The last time Richmond had this many consecutive days in the 90s and 100s, people escaped the heat by packing into theaters showing “Apollo 13” and “Waterworld.”
And this month could tie or come close to breaking an “Inception”-era record for hottest July overall.
Persistent 90s rival the record run
A typical summer might see us have a streak of 10 days at or above 90 degrees before catching a break. Last year’s longest spell of 90s lasted twelve days.
Wednesday marked Richmond’s 20th straight day in the 90s (or higher), which makes this the second-longest such run on record behind one in the summer of 1995.
Thursday is likely to see us hit day number 21 with a high in the mid-90s. Then a front and its storms could drop readings to the 80s on Friday, halting this streak.
The forecast involves more lower-to-mid 90s by the weekend then perhaps some upper 80s by the middle of next week. So for now, that quarter-century old record looks like it will survive.
Longest streaks with a high at or above 90 degrees in Richmond:
(To update our story from July 17, Roanoke has now surpassed the record for consecutive 90-degree days there. Tuesday was day number 28. Previously, Roanoke’s superlative streak of 90s lasted 22 days in 1966.)
Richmond is also stringing together an impressively long run of nights in the 70s.
Thursday was day 15 with a low at or above 70 degrees, and Friday would bring it into the top 10. With nights in the 70s confidently on tap through the middle of next week, we have a real shot of approaching the top four. It will be an interesting trend to watch as we go through August.
Longest streaks with a low at or above 70 degrees in Richmond:
Closing in on the hottest July
All of these scorching afternoons and too-warm nights have pushed the monthly average for July close to record levels.
The readings so far — plus predictions for the remaining days — average to 82.8 degrees. That would tie Richmond’s monthly record set in July 2010. The runner-up was July 2012 at 82.7 degrees. July 2019 also came in high at 81.5.
For comparison, the monthly normal is 79.3 degrees, based on the 1981 to 2010 era.
Including this year, seven of Richmond’s eight warmest Julys have occurred since 2005. The other one was 1993.
The exact readings on Thursday and Friday will determine if July 2020 takes the lead.
Whether or not it’s our hottest July outright, this month still yielded some of our hottest days locally since the early part of the 2010s.
Persistent warmth has been doing some heavy lifting outside of these hottest stretches. The peak heat of this month (and by extension, this year) was 101 degrees on July 19 and July 28.
Just as noteworthy, but probably not as obvious, the month’s coolest high so far was a still-hot 88 on July 1.
Historically, it’s common to catch a break from summer patterns with at least one cloudy July day in the 70s. Even blazing hot 2010 had a day that only topped out at a somewhat mild 83.
So depending on how Friday shapes up, 2020 could have the “warmest-coolest day” for any July on record. Or maybe we should call it the “least cool” July in addition to the “near hottest.”
In a similar vein, no day this month had a low below 66 degrees. July usually doesn’t have such a stubbornly high temperature “floor.” Many past years showed some occasional relief in the form of lower 60s or upper 50s. Those not-so-hot summer nights are getting harder to find as our climate continues to warm.
The sprawling intervals of heat and warmer summer nights are some of the most robust signals that we’re feeling the effects of human-caused climate change.
Richmond’s mean July temperature has risen by 2.7 degrees over the past 50 years, according to analysis by Climate Central. That translates into dealing with a few more dangerous 95-degree days in a typical summer than we would have a half-century ago. Even in a scenario where heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions are stabilized in the coming decades and concentrations level off, climate models show that a July like this would be the norm here within 50 years rather than the exception.
In Nation & World | Pentagon moving 12,000 troops from Germany to Italy, Belgium, U.S. | Page A10
Nation & WorldA10
C This Weekend
TV / History C6
Virginia’s U.S. senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, are urging help be sent to the immigration detention center in Farmville — where roughly 9 in 10 detainees have tested positive for COVID-19, drawing national attention.
In a letter to President Donald Trump on Wednesday, the Democratic senators asked for the White House to work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to dispatch experts to Farmville.
As of Wednesday morning, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement reported that 290 detainees had tested positive for the coronavirus and 262 of the confirmed cases were under isolation or monitoring. According to Kaine and Warner, there were 26 confirmed cases among staff members.
There were 312 detainees at the center, which is owned by Immigration Centers of America, as of Tuesday. ICE said Wednesday that most of the detainees testing positive had no symptoms; one had been hospitalized, and three who were exhibiting symptoms were being monitored at the facility.
In their letter to the president, Kaine and Warner wrote: “The Farmville ICE facility and surrounding community now face a dire situation where almost every detainee at the Farmville facility has tested positive for COVID-19. This presents a clear risk to individuals within the facility but also endangers the broader community as facility staff and released detainees have interaction with the general public.
“It is incumbent upon your administration to work with the CDC to create and deploy teams of epidemiologists to conduct an assessment of the pandemic’s impact at the Farmville ICE facility,” the senators added. “State and local officials stand ready to support the CDC in efforts to help contain the current outbreak before it spreads to the surrounding Farmville community.”
Gov. Ralph Northam’s office offered state help to Farmville in May. In an email, Northam spokesperson Alena Yarmosky wrote Wednesday that the governor is “deeply concerned about increases in COVID-19 cases within ICE detention centers, most notably at the Farmville Detention Center in Virginia.
“On July 22nd, the Governor sent a letter directly to President Trump ... seeking urgent CDC intervention and widespread testing of all residents and staff,” Yarmosky wrote. “The CDC responded and is currently working with state and local health officials to further assess the situation. The Governor appreciates their quick response.”
In May, Northam’s office offered to help conduct COVID-19 testing that could be used to curb the spread of the virus in the facility.
Kaine and Warner’s letter Wednesday complained that they have repeatedly pushed the Trump administration to prevent and mitigate the spread of the coronavirus in Virginia detention facilities. A second facility is located in Caroline County.
In a prepared statement Wednesday, an ICE spokesperson said that the welfare and safety of detainees is a high priority and that steps have been taken to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, including the use of expanded voluntary testing for detainees in the agency’s custody.
ICE said the Farmville facility “has ramped up its efforts to protect and care for detainees in its custody by providing face masks, procuring additional handwashing stations and most recently, administering comprehensive testing of all detainees.”
Testing was offered to all detainees at Farmville from July 1 to July 3 to learn the scope of COVID-19 cases at the facility.
“The majority of those who tested positive are asymptomatic, but are being closely monitored and receiving appropriate medical care,” ICE said.
The agency said medical checks are done twice a day, including a temperature screening.
“ICE continues to incorporate the Centers for Disease Control’s COVID-19 guidance, which is built upon the already established infectious disease monitoring and management protocols currently in use by the agency,” the agency said in its statement.
Kaine and Warner say that after a transfer of 70-plus detainees from Florida and Arizona in June led to a spike of more than 50 coronavirus cases at Farmville, they urged the Department of Homeland Security to prioritize the health of detainees and workers and to stop transfers between facilities.
Within two weeks of the June transfer, more than half of the detainees tested positive for COVID-19, the senators wrote.
Out of 22,000 detainees across the U.S., there currently are 941 positive cases, according to ICE. Almost 4,000 detainees have tested positive at some point, and three have died.
Virginia has temporarily stopped admissions to two state mental hospitals, as a series of COVID-19 outbreaks has intensified pressure on overcrowded behavioral health institutions.
Piedmont Geriatric Hospital stopped admissions more than two weeks ago after a COVID-19 outbreak that has killed five patients, infected 24 others and sickened nine employees at the state hospital in Burkeville, 55 miles southwest of Richmond in Nottoway County. Six of the infected patients are receiving medical care in private hospitals.
State behavioral health Commissioner Alison Land halted admissions at Southern Virginia Mental Health Institute in Danville on Wednesday, days after alerting Virginia legislators of an escalating crisis in state mental institutions that reached their full capacity at the end of last week and are scrambling to find private institutions and community programs to accept patients.
“With the increase in state hospital census, it is very difficult to maintain bed availability while addressing the infection control, staffing concerns, and isolation protocols to prevent an outbreak within our congregate settings,” Land and Secretary of Health and Human Resources Dan Carey said in a letter to General Assembly members on July 23.
The state hospital in Danville has confirmed COVID-19 cases among four staff members and seven patients, including one recovering in a private hospital. However, the interconnected, communal layout of the hospital’s three units has forced the state to quarantine the entire facility until the Virginia Department of Health tests all staff and patients.
“It makes it very difficult, without doing some facility-wide testing, to determine who may be exposed and who may be asymptomatic,” said Angela Harvell, deputy commissioner for facility services at the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services.
Statewide, 92 patients and employees at Virginia’s behavioral health institutions have tested positive for COVID-19, with almost 300 test results still pending. The only deaths have occurred at Piedmont, but the state is coping with outbreaks at Eastern State Hospital near Williamsburg, where 16 employees and six patients have tested positive, and Southeastern Virginia Training Center in Chesapeake, where three employees and five patients also have tested positive for the disease.
Western State Hospital in Staunton has one patient and two employees who tested positive for COVID-19. Five other state institutions have confirmed COVID-19 infections among staff, but not patients — Central State Hospital near Petersburg, four; Catawba Hospital near Salem, four; Northern Virginia Mental Health Institute in Falls Church, four; Central Virginia Training Center in Lynchburg, one; and the Virginia Center for Behavioral Rehabilitation, next to Piedmont in Burkeville, with three.
The only state institutions with no confirmed cases of COVID-19 are Hiram Davis Medical Center next to Central State in Dinwiddie County; Southwest Virginia Mental Health Institute in Marion; and the Commonwealth Center for Children and Adolescents in Staunton, the state’s only psychiatric hospital for children.
Lull, then overload
The crisis began in Virginia’s behavioral health institutions after a lull in admissions turned into an overload beginning in mid-June.
Land and Carey said the patient census at the state’s seven mental hospitals for adults had been stable or declining early in the coronavirus public health emergency that began in early March, but the situation worsened rapidly as Virginia began to loosen restrictions the state had imposed on business and public life to control the spread of COVID-19.
“As communities began to reopen, state hospitals experienced rapidly increasing census levels and are currently at critical levels with utilization at or above maximum capacity statewide,” they said in the letter.
The crisis is worst in geriatric hospitals for elderly patients with psychiatric issues, who are hard to place in private psychiatric facilities or nursing homes that have been at the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in Virginia. Piedmont had been operating above its capacity before the outbreak began, but now has 92% of its beds occupied.
“That is where the real problem is,” said Sen. Frank Ruff, R-Mecklenburg, whose district includes Piedmont, as well as two nursing homes in Mecklenburg County that have had 176 COVID-19 cases and 27 deaths between them.
“It’s regrettable, but I don’t know there is any real solution,” Ruff said Wednesday.
Geriatric units were operating Wednesday at 115% of capacity at Eastern State; 110% at Southwest Virginia Mental Health Institute; and 105% at Catawba. Systemwide, Virginia’s mental hospitals were operating at 98% of their capacity on Wednesday, with both Central State and Western State at or slightly above 100%.
State legislators have been trying to reduce reliance on state institutions for emergency psychiatric care, but the system already was overloaded before the coronavirus crisis.
The assembly included money in the two-year state budget to help relieve the pressure on state institutions, but those investments were suspended in April because of concerns about a shortfall in predicted tax revenues to pay for increased spending.
‘Put the fire out’
“The house is on fire,” said Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, the leader of a bipartisan legislative commission to make long-term changes in Virginia’s behavioral health system. “We’ve got to figure out how to put the fire out and move forward.”
Deeds said he remains focused on spending less money on institutions and more on community-based programs to keep people out of institutional care, but the assembly will face difficult choices when it convenes next month to revise the budget to match spending with potentially $2 billion less in revenues that had been forecast for this year and next year.
Suspended budget initiatives include almost $50 million to expand mental health services in communities, more than $25 million to pay for supportive housing for people with behavioral health problems, $20 million to discharge patients from institutions when they no longer clinically need to be there, and $15 million to reduce the daily census at state institutions.
“That’s something I think should be a priority,” said Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta, who chairs the Senate Finance health and human resources subcommittee.
State officials previously have blamed the problem partly on an increasing reluctance of private psychiatric facilities to accept more patients under temporary detention orders.
Private psychiatric hospitals also are scrambling to contain the spread of COVID-19 in their facilities, forcing them to operate with fewer beds and leaving Virginia with fewer options as it responds to coronavirus outbreaks at state institutions.
“We’re the only room at the inn,” said Land, a former private hospital official whom Gov. Ralph Northam appointed commissioner last year after Commissioner Hughes Melton died from injuries in a traffic accident.
As a result of the state diverting admissions from stricken hospitals, 17 people in psychiatric crisis are waiting — primarily in private hospital emergency rooms — for placement in beds for treatment after being found a threat to themselves or others, or unable to care for themselves.
“They have to go somewhere,” Land said.
Two days after the Chesterfield County School Board approved a virtual learning reopening plan, the Board of Supervisors announced an audit of the school system and the Chesterfield Education Association.
The reason for the audit stems from bullying allegations toward Chesterfield teachers who wished to return to the classroom come September, according to Chesterfield Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Leslie Haley.
Some teachers have claimed they were bullied by both school system staff and the teachers union, added Haley, who announced her request of the audit during the July 22 meeting of the supervisors.
The School Board voted 4-1 to begin the school year online during its July 20 meeting only a few hours after Superintendent Merv Daugherty recommended a virtual start.
When asked if teachers have approached the school system about the allegations, a schools spokesman responded with the language of School Board Policy 5015 , which states:
“The School Board prohibits abusive work environments in the school division. Any school board employee who contributes to an abusive work environment will be appropriately disciplined. Retaliation or reprisal against school board employees who make allegations of abusive work environment or assist in the investigation of allegations of abusive work environments is prohibited.”
Haley found it “troubling … that there was bullying going on [and] harassment going on by members of your [Daugherty’s] department and the CEA,” she said during the meeting.
In an interview Tuesday evening, Haley said, “I’m hoping this reveals nothing, but if it’s actually happening we need to stop it.”
Without hesitation, Daugherty agreed to the audit on July 22.
“I support you 100% in that issue. I would be appalled if any of my staff did that,” Daugherty said during the supervisors’ meeting. “If we have to sign a letter of agreement or an MOU [Memorandum of Understanding], I will.”
During the public comment period of the July 20 School Board meeting, Meg Herring, a Chesterfield parent who was in favor of having the option to return to school and mentioned the alleged bullying, spoke “to advocate for the teachers who have personally reached out to me because they are afraid to speak up.”
“Younger, underrepresented teachers want to return to the classroom but fear bullying to speak out,” Herring said.
According to Herring, teachers said Sonia Smith, president of the teachers union, deleted opposing comments off a Facebook Live feed and “called out people inappropriately that were commenting in dissent of her opinion.”
In recent weeks, a fellow administrator of the page “caught comments of micro and macro aggressions,” directed at both Smith and the union, Smith said in an interview Tuesday. The administrator deleted those comments and banned the people who wrote them because of how vile the language was, Smith said.
“What I do for educators and school employees, how I advocate for them has come into question,” Smith said.
Smith added that the “Chesterfield Education Association Facebook page is a space for members and potential members, Chesterfield school employees.”
The teachers union called for a virtual start to the school year in a statement earlier this month. Smith said pushback occurred for teaming up with the Richmond Education Association regarding school reopening. Smith said there’s “cross-pollination” between the two unions, with some Chesterfield teachers living in Richmond and vice versa.
Some people also took issue with the union’s former Facebook profile photo of a raised fist gripping a pencil, Smith said.
As a racial and social justice awakening continues to grow throughout the country, a symbol of a Black raised fist is being used with the Black Lives Matter movement.
“The fist gripping the pencil was equated with the Black Lives Matter movement,” Smith said. “People were saying the union was potentially communist and Marxist [because of the profile photo].”
The first stage of the audit — gathering information from Chesterfield teachers and school staff — is underway by the county’s internal audit department, which routinely audits both county departments and the school system, Haley said. There is no cost to the audit and no concrete timeline at this time.
While Supervisor Jim Holland “eagerly awaits” the audit results as “there is no place in our county and school system for bullying,” he has opposed the audit of the teachers union.
The CEA “is not a county agency or department so the Board [of Supervisors] does not have standing to audit them in my opinion,” Holland said.
But Haley said since the board members of the teachers union are county teachers, “they are subject to the same policies” as any other county employee.
Smith said auditing the union “is an overreach of government.”
“I respect my superintendent saying he is all in, I get it because there is nothing to hide. There is no bullying.”
ACC approves nontraditional season. Page B1
Virus in Va.
State’s case total rises by 999. Page A6
Region’s jobless rate was 9.2% in June. Page A8
Aid for cities
Trump rejects demands from Dems. Page A10