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Fallout From 'Unite The Right' Rally Leads Va. Police Chief To Retire

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It's been four months or so since violence erupted at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. And now the city's chief of police has abruptly announced his retirement. From member station WVTF, Sandy Hausman has more.

SANDY HAUSMAN, BYLINE: Few people were surprised to hear that Al Thomas was leaving. In a report commissioned by city council, former U.S. Attorney Tim Heaphy blamed local police for poor planning before the Unite the Right rally and said they failed to protect the public. Speaking earlier this month, he said the chief might have made matters worse ordering officers not to break up brawls.

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TIM HEAPHY: We had evidence from a couple of people in the command center that the chief actually said let them fight for a little while. It will make it easier to declare an unlawful assembly.

HAUSMAN: Chief Thomas denied that. But Heaphy found other faults, including the failure to properly secure streets, allowing a white supremacist to drive his car into a crowd of counter protesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring 35 others.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HEAPHY: Instead of hard barricades, jersey barriers filled with water, dump trucks or even multiple officers guarding those secure points, they put the same people that they put out on the street to direct traffic around the stadium - another horrible mistake in planning. Well-intentioned, but this wasn't a football game. This is an event where people are bent on hurting each other.

HAUSMAN: Before a city council meeting Monday night, many members of the public thought the chief should go. And Mary Carey was not surprised that Thomas had resigned.

MARY CAREY: See, when you are a black man in a society in a city that's full of racism, you don't have very many people to stand in your corner. And I think that he knew that.

HAUSMAN: Janette Martin who heads the local NAACP thought others should also be removed.

JANETTE MARTIN: Even though he was the chief, with all the mayhem, one man was responsible for all of that?

HAUSMAN: The city manager who is also African-American said Thomas was not forced out, that he alone made the decision to step down. And he said the search for a new chief would begin immediately. For NPR News, I'm Sandy Hausman in Charlottesville. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.