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Advocates Criticize Curfew Arrests; Question Jail Procedures

protesters marching down monument avenue
As curfew approached, demonstrators continued to march down Monument Ave on Sunday. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM)

Whittney Evans contributed to this reporting.

Richmond Police Chief William Smith said they arrested about 230 people during a third night of protests on Sunday. This comes after the mayor and governor declared a city-wide curfew between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m.

In a press conference on Monday recorded by CBS-6, Chief Smith said curfew violation was the primary charge, but people were also arrested for firearms violations, burglary, and vandalism.

“I want to make sure that the citizens of Richmond know that our enforcement of the curfew was directed solely at those that were involved in violence and destruction of our city,” Smith said. 

Kat McNeal said she was with a group who continued to march after the curfew went into effect at 8 p.m., but didn’t see anyone carrying out property destruction. She told VPM that officers told her group to take Leigh Street out of the area. But different police arrested them when they neared the Martin Luther King Bridge. 

“We were confronted by a larger group of police officers. [They] told us to get on the ground that we were being arrested,” McNeal said. “We got on the ground, face down. They zip tied our hands behind our backs, searched us and then loaded us into a transport van.” 

McNeal said they were transferred to a police bus, and later the city jail. She said while in custody, officers took little to no safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

“My temperature was never taken, I was not tested, social distancing was not observed in any capacity. I was, after a certain point, provided with a paper mask,” McNeal said. 

Phil Wilayto, a local advocate with the Virginia Defenders for Freedom, Justice and Equality, said he spoke with Richmond Sheriff Antoinette Irving who told him the jail had limited testing capacity, and that people were only given a test if they showed symptoms or asked for one. 

“You have 650 people in a confined space, some of them who are being released back into the community and there is no testing being done,” Wilayto said.

Lawyers who were at the jail this morning said they weren’t given any information about arrests, were denied access to their clients and were not allowed into the jail or the court building.

Richmond Attorney Charlie Schmidt said several people were held on busses overnight, waiting to be processed. He told VPM he was not allowed to enter the jail or speak to his clients who had called him for legal help. And he said people were being released out of the back entrance of the jail. 

“That is unheard of. I mean, I just think that is criminally negligent,” Schmidt said. “They know we’re out front, waiting for people to be released so we can give them support because they’ve been sitting in busses for hours. Their phones have died. Some of them have not been given the opportunity to make a phone call.” 

Zakk August confirmed he was asked to leave the rear of the jail. He told VPM that police arrested him and about six others protesting peacefully. Their group had broken away from marchers after police tear-gassed them. 

VPM made several requests for comment from RPD and the sheriff’s office regarding COVID-19 safety precautions and why lawyers were denied access to their clients, but did not receive any answers to our questions.