Prosecutors present no evidence of planned Dogwood Dell shooting, toss gun charges
Richmond prosecutors have withdrawn charges against two people originally from Guatemala who police accused of planning a mass shooting at the Dogwood Dell Fourth of July celebration. A prosecutor told a Richmond judge Wednesday the office has no evidence tying their arrests to a planned shooting at that location.
Richmond police arrested Julio Alvarado-Dubon on July 1 for possessing a firearm as a noncitizen. Virginia State Police arrested Rolman Balacarcel, whose last name is spelled “Balcarcel” in federal documents, four days later in Albemarle County and charged him with the same crime.
At a July 6 press conference, Richmond Police Chief Gerald Smith credited an anonymous “hero citizen” with tipping off police about a planned shooting at Dogwood Dell amphitheater, where Fourth of July celebrations were scheduled.
“One phone call saved numerous lives on the Fourth of July,” Smith told reporters at the press event.
Alvarado-Dubon and Balacarcel went before Judge David Hicks for a preliminary hearing Wednesday. Hicks said prosecutors never brought evidence that either defendant planned a mass shooting at a specified location. It wasn’t until after their arraignments that Hicks heard of the alleged plot through media reports.
Hicks asked prosecutors if they had information that either defendant was going to be involved in a shooting at Dogwood Dell.
Clinton Seal, the attorney representing the commonwealth of Virginia, said, “No.”
Hicks said he asked the question because two of his three sons were at Dogwood Dell for the Independence Day celebration, and he needed to recuse himself if the location was tied to the case.
A lack of information regarding the Richmond Police Department’s anonymous tipster and conflicting details about the case raised questions about the evidence against the men and RPD’s narrative that it thwarted a mass shooting.
“We really don’t know where they got the Dogwood Dell thing. I’m not sure where that came from,” said Sam Simpson, an attorney for Balacarcel, following the Wednesday hearing. “Because they dropped it in a pretty quick manner, we haven’t really gotten to see all the evidence they might have.”
Smith, however, doubled down on the department’s claims following the Wednesday hearing.
“Following up on a tip from a concerned individual who heard a plot of a mass shooting planned for July 4th, the Richmond Police Department began an exhaustive investigation to determine its validity,” Smith said in a statement. “Based on the initial information and subsequent investigation, investigators recovered firearms and several hundred rounds of ammunition from [Alvarado-Dubon’s] residence.
While the local charges were dropped, both Alvarado-Dubon and Balacarcel have been charged in federal court related to their immigration statuses.
According to a federal indictment, Balacarcel had “previously been removed from the United States” in 2013 and 2014. Alvarado-Dubon, in addition to being “unlawfully present in the United States, did possess a firearm, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 922(g)(5)," according to a federal indictment.
VPM reached out to Mayor Levar Stoney’s office for comment on the case, but has not received a response.