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Protesters Arrested Tuesday For Blocking Tow Truck, Interfering With Arrests

Community activists are criticizing the police response to protests Tuesday night outside the Richmond jail. The clash ended in 11 arrests for disorderly conduct, obstruction of justice and impeding the flow of traffic. 

Richmond Police officers were assisting the Sheriff’s Office with protesters who had refused to move from Richmond City Justice Center property after being ordered to do so. One person with a bicycle blocked a tow truck that officers had called to remove a car that was illegally parked outside the jail. That individual attempted to flee and was tackled by an officer. When protesters tried to interfere with his arrest they were arrested themselves. 

“If the Sheriff’s Department told them that you cannot be on our property, then they could have come back to the sidewalk and peacefully protested on the sidewalk,” RPD’s Deputy Police Chief Sydney Collier said in a press conference Wednesday. “But they chose not to. And if you’re going to stand in front of a truck and say, I don’t care what you’re doing, I’m going to stop you, you’re in violation.”

One reporter asked Collier how it was illegal to try and stop a tow truck. Collier responded that it was simply “obstruction”. 

Local activist Chelsea Higgs Wise said the actions by law enforcement were aimed at silencing the voices of protesters. 

“Continuing to use structures like a tow truck, parking fees, other types of expenses to remove our voices from the streets, as we bring attention to a pandemic happening right here in our city center, I think that it’s using state power to inflict state violence,” Higgs Wise said. 

Mayor Levar Stoney defended police during a separate press conference Wednesday. He said if anyone takes issue with how the arrests were made they can file a complaint. 

“We respect people’s right to protest. However, we do not respect the right to break the law,” Stoney said. “And when laws are broken, the Richmond Police Department will do their job.”

Colier said no complaints have been filed as a result of Tuesday night’s incident.  

Protesters were outside the jail Tuesday to condemn conditions at the facility. Richmond City Health Director Danny Avula said as of Wednesday the jail has 91 inmates who have tested positive for COVID-19. 

He said those inmates are kept separate from the rest of the population. 

Mayor Stoney said he’s in close contact with Richmond City Sheriff Antoinette Irving about the outbreak. 

“We want the Sheriff to make sure that the information that she has is readily available to the public and a plan is in place in case of wide-spread infection,” Stoney said. 

In a recent statement, a spokesperson for the Sheriff’s office, which oversees the jail, said measures are in place to reduce the spread. 

“These measures include partnering with the Virginia Department of Health for ongoing coronavirus testing of inmates and staff,” Major Stacey Bagby of the Richmond Sheriff’s Office wrote in an email.

The Sheriff’s Office maintains that no inmates in the agency’s custody have died from COVID-19, despite claims circulating on social media that at least one person has died. 

 

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.
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