At least three former Charlottesville Police Department SWAT Team members have been fired or resigned in recent months and the team dissolved after an internal affairs review revealed “several disturbing behaviors” in connection with training and operations of the city’s special weapons and tactics group, according to a Friday news release from the city.
The city’s unsigned statement came after the Central Virginia Chapter of the Virginia Police Benevolent Association released survey data that indicated dissatisfaction among its members with the leadership of the city police department. The city said the PBA’s survey and the release of its results occurred during “a difficult reorganization and the recent terminations of employment of members of the city’s SWAT Team.”
According to the city’s statement, an investigation revealed that in connection with training and operations of the SWAT Team, team members had been “videoing simulated sex acts, circulating nude videos of females and themselves, … videotaping children of SWAT members detonating explosives, and firing police department-issued semi-automatic weapons, at unauthorized training events.”
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City Police Chief RaShall Brackney then dissolved the SWAT Team, the statement says; gave notice of possible disciplinary action to a police corporal, who then resigned from employment; and gave notice of possible disciplinary action to two other SWAT Team members, one of whom resigned and one of whom was terminated.
“These actions have not been well received by the former members of the SWAT Team, or by officers who are former members of other special teams previously disbanded by the chief,” the statement said.
Breaking up the SWAT Team also was part of a broader effort to change CPD’s culture and how the department polices the city, according to the statement. Other efforts include severing ties with the JADE Task Force, posting stop-and-frisk data, dissolving specialized units within the department and removing school resource officers from city school buildings.
“The City Council, City Manager and Chief of Police understand that the Charlottesville community expects a unified organizational approach to dismantling systemic racism and eliminating police violence and misconduct in Charlottesville and across the nation,” the statement read. “This cannot be done without discomfort, and the City officials responsible for undertaking this work will not be popular among the individuals whose behavior is being required to change.”
The investigation into the SWAT Team came after an April 2020 video of the police corporal who resigned was sent by a member of the public to Brackney in June of this year. The video showed the corporal “in uniform, wearing a different officer’s name tag, sitting in a police patrol car, and utilizing a city-issued phone,” saying “that unspecified ‘things are f***d up,’ expresses dissatisfaction, and states that he is looking forward to when ‘we can get back to some hood gansta sh**t.’ At one point, he states ‘I hope y’all haven’t killed your f***ng wives or children yet,’” according to the city’s statement.
In an interview Friday, Mike Wells, an Albemarle County detective and president of the PBA’s Central Virginia chapter, said the video was taken out of context, adding that the content was in bad taste but didn’t rise to the level of grounds for separation from the department. Wells also said he had only seen one video in question, which seemed trivial and included the officer describing Netflix’s “Tiger King” series.
The city said the corporal also “participated in text message chats in which he commiserated with officers making comments about city command staff such as ‘I say we kill them all and let God sort it out,’” and that he “participated in other text message exchanges targeting two CPD officers with whom he was angry, stating, ‘let’s take em both out.’”
Wells said he provided the facts by releasing the survey results and that the city was trying to deflect blame for the negative results.
“The survey speaks for itself,” he said. “... My job is to present the facts, and the working conditions are not optimal.”
The association’s survey results were sent to city councilors on Aug. 10, discussed at last week’s meeting of the Police Civilian Review Board and shared with the media this week.
In the 17-question survey, a majority of respondents said they don’t feel supported by the department’s leadership and that they have considered other career options. Additionally, a majority said Brackney, in her role as a leader, makes them feel less secure in their careers and that they don’t believe she has the best interests of the department in mind.
“The men and women of the Charlottesville City Police Department are hurting,” Wells wrote in a letter, adding that the officers have lost faith in the department’s leadership.
Sixty-five people took the survey, which Wells said was open only to police officers, rebutting part of the city’s statement. The city noted in its statement that membership in the PBA includes many individuals who are not current employees, as well as all sworn and retired law enforcement personnel and law enforcement support personnel employed by any public employer.
The PBA survey followed an internal city survey — the results of which haven’t been made public yet.
According to the city’s statement, CPD conducted the internal survey in August 2020 and received approximately 85 responses, which “invited officers to submit comments containing personnel information regarding identifiable supervisors and staff.”
“Before command staff could sort through and analyze all the information, the city began receiving [Freedom of Information Act] requests for the forms,” the statement said. “A decision was made to maintain the confidentiality of the information provided regarding identifiable individuals, in order that the results could be considered and utilized in a productive manner. To date only singularly redacted survey forms have been publicly released to FOIA requesters.”