Richmond police chief resigns after viral footage of police SUV driving into crowd

Richmond, Va., Police Chief Will Smith has resigned, Mayor Levar Stoney (D) announced Tuesday, amid controversy over the police force's handling of recent protests.

Stoney said at a Tuesday press conference that he had requested and received Smith’s resignation, adding, “He has served this city with grace, but we are ready to move it in a new direction.” Major William “Jody” Blackwell, a 16-year veteran of the department, will serve as interim chief.

Stoney’s announcement came after an incident Saturday night when a police SUV drove through a crowd of protesters gathered at the statue of Robert E. Lee on Monument Ave., which has become a central hub of demonstrations in the city. Weeks before, the police fired tear gas into a peaceful protest with about 20 minutes remaining before a mandatory curfew took effect.

The mayor said in a tweet earlier this week that the driver of the SUV has been placed on leave pending an investigation.

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On Sunday and Monday night, meanwhile, police fired pepper spray and rubber bullets at protesters. The department has claimed officers responded with “great restraint” after rocks were thrown at them, but a witness, Jimmie Lee Jarvis, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that none of the demonstrators threw anything until police fired pepper spray.

“It turned violent,” Jarvis told the newspaper. “But the first act of violence was from the police.”

In his press conference Tuesday, Stoney also vowed a slate of reforms for the department, including a so-called Marcus Alert, named for Marcus David Peters, a man killed by Richmond police in 2018 during a mental health crisis. Under the alert, police would collaborate with the Richmond Behavioral Health Authority in response to calls involving a person experiencing such a crisis.

Stoney has also called for a civilian police review board and cited ongoing efforts to remove the statues of Confederate figures on Monument Ave. The statues, like others in cities nationwide, have been a frequent target for vandalism or toppling during the protests, with many local and city governments intervening to remove the statues themselves.