Charlottesville's First Black Woman Police Chief Fired As Officers Refused to Comply

·4 min read
Photo:  Tana888 (Shutterstock)
Photo: Tana888 (Shutterstock)

After a midsummer meeting in June 2021, newly hired police chief RaShall Brackney felt the need to double down on her personal safety, unholstering her gun as she left headquarters. Brackney’s fear however was not prompted by the activity on the streets, or even the ongoing public threats made against the police department over the years. Instead, she found herself afraid of her own subordinates, cops who wanted her gone after making some controversial, yet necessary shake ups throughout the force.

That same year, an internal probe was being conducted of the 15 member SWAT team. According to a report obtained by The Washington Post, there were more than just a few issues that required addressing. There was evidence of several officers making racist remarks. One text in particular read that they should “take out” the command staff. And while Brackney found this concerning, most others on staff blew the comment off. The report additionally found an officer training a new hire on how to hide misconduct.

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Brackney had only been hired four years prior in the wake of the infamous Charlottesville riots of 2017, as “Unite the Right” members and allies filled the streets with terror and white supremacist hatred. The day’s events lead to the death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer, and the severe injuries of several others after James A. Fields Jr. drove his car through a crowd of people protesting against the presence of white nationalist groups. The hiring of the city’s first Black woman police chief was intended to be a step in the direction for an area that dealt with underlying racism and systematically oppressive issues long before that fateful day. Her role was to help the city save face as Charlottesville quickly became synonymous with white hate, as well as help to restore the public trust in government.

However, not long after Brackney was sworn in, she was already catching a glimpse of the challenges she was to encounter in the upcoming years. In her first few days, the new police chief says that she was approached in the hall by a commander who told her:

“I voted Republican, and I don’t drink any f—-ing pumpkin lattes.”

Brackney realized that the police department operated with a toxic insular culture that promoted an “us versus them” mentality as the relationship between the public and the government remained fractured after 2017. She immediately got to work on rectifying this issue.

First, she withdrew officers from a regional drug task force which she saw as targeting low level drug users instead of drug pushers. She then made a move to take resource officers out of schools which often leads to the criminalization of behavioral and disciplinary issues. Brackney was also not a fan of special units, as she believed that these were blind spots in police departments where misconduct and corruption occurs. But everyone was not in agreement.

Many officers felt that dissolving these special units weakened the department’s ability to fight crime, and were also disheartened by the fact that they felt the potential to be promoted to these specific roles were now stripped from their career vision boards. They also felt that Brackney was negative and too quick to punish officers, even as investigations were concluded. They even accused her of pushing her own political aspirations.

“My first concern is that the chief is more focused on her political career and personal interests over the safety and mental health of her officers,” one officer wrote. “She will hang any officer out to dry before she admits any personal wrongdoing.”

Many officers and other government officials also questioned Brackney’s ability to lead effectively.

“In order to dismantle systemic racism and eliminate police violence and misconduct in Charlottesville, we need a leader who is not only knowledgeable in that work, but also is effective building collaborative relationships with the community, the department, and the team at City Hall,” City Manager Chip Boyles wrote in a news release.

Ultimately, the department was left with a third of its positions opened after many officers had been fired or willingly resigned. Boyles fired RaShall Brackney on September 1st of last year, and the former police chief is now suing for both gender and race based discrimination.