State police: Leader's departure not Charlottesville-related

AP News
Posted: Dec 19, 2017 4:56 PM
State police: Leader's departure not Charlottesville-related

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The superintendent of the Virginia State Police announced his retirement Tuesday after decades of service, a move an agency spokeswoman said was unrelated to this summer's violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville.

Authorities have faced unrelenting criticism for their handling of the rally, and Col. W. Steven Flaherty's retirement marks the third announcement in two days of the departure of a top public official with a role in responding. But state police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said Flaherty had been planning to step down at the end of Gov. Terry McAuliffe's administration.

"Having the opportunity to serve in the capacity of Superintendent these past 14 years and three months has truly been the greatest honor of my life," Flaherty, who has more than 42 years with the agency, said in a statement. Flaherty, 64, was appointed superintendent by then-Gov. Mark Warner in October 2003.

The city of Charlottesville announced earlier Tuesday that City Attorney Craig Brown will be leaving at the end of January. And Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas, 50, announced his retirement Monday after less than two years on the job.

The departures come roughly two weeks after the release of an independent review that found serious police and government failures in responding to violence at the "Unite the Right" rally in August that drew hundreds of white nationalists from across the country to the Virginia college town.

Chaos erupted before the event even began, with attendees and counterprotesters brawling in the street. Later, a woman was killed when a car drove into a crowd protesting the white nationalists, and dozens more were injured.

The man accused in that attack, James Alex Fields of Ohio, was indicted by a grand jury Monday on 10 felony counts, including first-degree murder.

The independent review by former U.S. Attorney Tim Heaphy was sharply critical of both the city and state police, saying both "failed to 'stand up' to protect human life."

State police did not share their formal planning document for the rally with the Charlottesville Police Department, the report said. State police also conducted separate trainings, convened an exclusive briefing for its on-scene personnel on the morning of Aug. 12, and used separate radio communications from city police, it said.

Troopers were directed not to enter large unruly crowds to make arrests, something that was not adequately conveyed to Charlottesville police, the report said.

The report also said the agency's level of cooperation with the review was "disappointing." State police refused to make commanders who were on the ground at the rally available for interviews and declined to provide most documents requested, although Flaherty agreed to be interviewed.

State Police Lt. Col. Gary Settle will become the new superintendent, Gov.-elect Ralph Northam's office said in a statement. Settle currently serves as the director for the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

Settle began his law enforcement career in 1984 as a deputy with the Rappahannock County Sheriff's Office and joined state police two years later, according to a biography included with Northam's statement. He was elected sheriff in Rappahannock County in 1996 but returned to state police in 2000.

Northam also announced Tuesday that Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran will continue in that role in the new administration. Moran also helped oversee the planning for and response to the rally.

Brown, the city attorney, has led Charlottesville's legal response to lawsuits over the white nationalist rally and the city's efforts to remove two Confederate monuments.

He joined the City Attorney's Office in 1985 and was promoted to city attorney in 2001. He said in an interview that he is moving into the same role with the city of Manassas in February.

"It's been a difficult six to eight months for this entire community as well as the city government, but I had started to look around before all of that went down," Brown said.