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Huguenot shooting report: Some RPS protocols ignored

Superintendent Kamras works on his computer
Shaban Athuman
VPM News File
Superintendent Jason Kamras listens during a Richmond Public School Board meeting on Monday, July 10, 2023 at Huguenot High School in Richmond, Virginia.

A circuit court judge required the third-party investigation’s release.

Richmond Public Schools made public a report it commissioned examining a shooting at Huguenot High School’s 2023 graduation at about 1 p.m. Wednesday.

RPS initially declined Freedom of Information Act requests from multiple media outlets seeking the report’s release. The Richmond Times-Dispatch and WTVR sued the division for access to the documents. And this week, a judge issued an opinion saying it would need to be shared with the public.

Sands Anderson compiled the report, collecting more than 100 documents from school officials. It also conducted interviews with more than a dozen school employees and school board members.

Tameeka Smith — the mother of Shawn Jackson and wife of Renzo Smith, who were both killed in the shooting — chose not to participate.

Before the investigation began, school officials determined that a number of topics would be avoided, including: what crimes were committed and by whom; whether the shooting could have been prevented; what graduation policies should change; criminal prosecutions; and internal personnel issues.

School officials reviewed Sands Anderson’s report in November 2023.

Among other findings, the report said RPS protocols that would have disallowed Jackson from participating in the graduation ceremony were not followed. Jackson was a homebound student due to safety concerns dating back to late 2021, according to the report, and mental health issues.

Whether a homebound student participated in any in-person school activities was to be the principal's decision.

In a memo, Kamras stated that Monique Harris, a guidance counselor at Huguenot who had worked with Jackson since ninth grade, “was acting as the principal’s designee in making the decision about whether Shawn should participate in the graduation ceremony.”

The report went on to state that Harris “repeatedly and explicitly advised that she did not” consult with school leadership about her decision.

In an email exchange with Jackson’s mother, Harris wrote, “I will just squeeze him in [the graduation ceremony] if you feel that it’s too dangerous” for Jackson to participate in graduation practice.

Robert Gilstrap, Huguenot principal at the time, declined to speak with Sands Anderson. He no longer works for the school system.

Graduation day

Eighteen-year-old Jackson and his stepfather, Smith, 36, were killed outside Huguenot’s graduation ceremony at the Altria Theater in June 2023. Five other people were injured in the shooting, which took place after the graduation.

Amari Pollard, who was 19 at the time of the incident, is facing first-degree murder and firearms charges.

At the time of the shooting, then-interim police chief Rick Edwards said Jackson and Pollard were engaged in a yearlong dispute. And prior to the shooting, the pair exchanged words at the theater. Following the incident, Pollard attempted to flee the scene, but was taken into custody.

“For Richmonders, this must be the time that we put down guns and lift up our hearts,” Mayor Levar Stoney said a day after Huguenot's graduation. “This must be that moment. We know our history. We know we all want peace. … We want peace. Every elected official here, every community leader here stands together because we are begging our community for peace.”

Since the shooting, the district began planning to install metal detectors at more schools. The work’s been delayed.

Among the documents released Wednesday was an email Kamras sent Sands Anderson.

“On behalf of the RPS Administration, I want to thank you for your comprehensive report,” he wrote. “I am deeply grateful for its critical insights into how we can continue to improve as a school system. I also appreciate the sensitivity, humanity, and professionalism you brought to the investigation process.”

A status hearing in Pollard’s case is scheduled for Tuesday in Richmond City Circuit Court.

Corrected: January 17, 2024 at 6:13 PM EST
A previous version of this story misstated the date of the shooting.
Elliott Robinson is the news director of VPM News.
Dave Cantor has been an editor with VPM News since 2022, juggling daily digital and broadcast stories.