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UPDATE: Richmond City Council met with the police chief Tuesday night. Some members still have questions about Dogwood Dell

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After a two-hour closed session meeting Tuesday evening with Police Chief Gerald Smith, some Richmond City Council members said they still have questions about the alleged mass shooting plot that was expected to take place at Dogwood Dell on July 4.

Though the council has no power to discipline or fire the chief, who is an employee of Mayor Levar Stoney’s administration, some members said they still have concerns about how the chief publicly claimed that the shooting would happen there despite records showing that detectives told him the location was unknown.

“All of this needs to come out to the public instead of us looking like we’re covering up something,” 8th District Councilwoman Reva Trammell said in a heated exchanged with City Council President Cynthia Newbille, of the 7th District, before the body went behind closed doors.

In a July 6 news conference and in interviews with national media, Smith said police had arrested two suspects after receiving a tip about the alleged plot.

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But authorities have only charged the suspects, who are Guatemalan nationals, on firearm violations and immigration charges. A city prosecutor last month, under questioning from a judge, said police had provided no evidence of an alleged shooting plot at Dogwood Dell.

Richmond police said they received a tip about a potential mass shooting at a large event on Independence Day and arrested the first suspect on July 1, seizing guns and ammunition in a residence. But records obtained by the Times-Dispatch show that detectives told Smith seven minutes before the July 6 press conference that they did not know where the alleged shooting might take place.

Other than the weapons that were seized, authorities have presented no other evidence or information corroborating the tip.

“I really need some sort of resolution in what was given on the tip, what the case file says, the overall investigation and what these two people are going to be charged with and convicted of,” 4th District Councilwoman Kristen Nye said in an interview after the closed meeting. “That’s to be determined. But it’s very hard for me to feel one way or the other when there’s a void of information.”

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“There’s not a lot of information being shared with us about this case,” she added.

Moments before the council went into its closed session meeting Tuesday, which was slated to include a discussion about “police plans to protect public safety and briefings by law enforcement,” Trammell said she took issue with having the discussion in private and accused council leadership of “spinning” the issue.

“It got spun around. We know it did,” she said. “This is wrong, and you know it.”

Though Newbille last week said the discussion would only be about police operating procedures and not Dogwood Dell, a few members said they hoped to talk about it, given concerns that community members have about public safety and whether the chief embellished details about the case for public notoriety.

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After the closed session, Newbille evaded questions about what was discussed and what other actions the council might take following it.

“It was exactly what was printed [on the agenda],” she said when asked about what was discussed. “That was the whole purpose. ... That is what we did in closed session.”

In a statement last week sent through a spokesman, Newbille said the council would not specifically discuss the alleged shooting plot at Dogwood Dell and that it would only be a briefing by the police department about “matters specific to its operational plans in protecting public safety.”

The agenda for the meeting said the topic would be discussed in private under a provision of the state’s open government meeting law that says public legislative bodies can meet privately for discussions of “plans to protect public safety as it relates to terrorist activity,” and briefings by legal counsel, police or emergency personnel about actions taken in response to potential threats.

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Smith last month apologized for any “confusion or anxiety” that his comments may have created but has stood by his conclusion that Dogwood Dell was the likely target. The mayor’s administration has remained supportive of the chief, with Chief Administrative Officer Lincoln Saunders saying that he believes Smith is correct.

Before the council entered the closed session Tuesday evening, Saunders confronted Trammell about her comments, resulting in a brief argument.

Saunders, in a statement sent through a spokesperson Wednesday, said he took issue with Trammell saying the Commonwealth’s Attorney had found no evidence of a mass shooting, as the prosecutor in the case had acknowledged in court that there was “evidence to support the potential for a shooting.”

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Trammell in a follow-up interview Wednesday said administrative officials have been chastising council members for continuing to discuss the case, as it perpetuates news stories about it. Saunders did not deny saying so.

“The chief has acknowledged serious missteps related to communications and, after last night’s discussion, I believe we were all reassured that he and his team with the correct support have a plan for how future communication will be handled,” Saunders said. “As a part of my comments last night with council members, I asked that we not allow the media or critics of the police to pit leadership against one another by continuing to fan the flames of division.”

“In order for us to become One Richmond, we have to first model alignment through our words and behavior,” he added.

Police officials say the department will soon hold district meetings in order to speak with the public to improve trust and communication between authorities and the community. A date for those meetings has not been publicized yet.

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