Richmond, Virginia Police Chief William Smith has resigned after Mayor Levar Stoney requested his resignation over the police department’s handling of protests Tuesday (June 16).
Smith’s resignation came after he apologized over law enforcement’s use of tear gas at peaceful protesters assembled at a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, June 2.
The resignation also comes amid protests against police brutality and racial injustice following the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
In a press conference, Stoney said her high expectations of the Richmond Police Department (RPD) included a willingness to talk with the community about reform and public safety.
“So it boils down to whether leadership of RPD embraces the change or stands in the way,” Stoney said. “That is why, as of this morning, I have requested Chief Smith’s resignation and he has tendered it.”
Tensions have escalated over the weekend after peaceful protests at the Robert E. Lee statue at Monument Avenue were allegedly met with police violence.
On Saturday (June 13), a police officer drove an SUV through the crowd of protesters who were blocking his path to the statue. That officer has been placed on administrative leave and Stoney has ordered his city’s top prosecutor to investigate the incident.
As a crowd of protesters marched from Monroe Park to City Hall on Sunday (June 14), Smith said RPD officers showed “great restraint” as protesters threw projectiles at them.
One eye-witness disputed Smith’s statement. Jimmie Lee Jarvis told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that protesters were only shouting at police and did not throw anything at police lines before police released pepper spray into the crowd.
“[The protest] turned violent but the first act of violence was from the police,” Jarvis said.
Stoney thanked Smith for his service during the press conference, saying he was “a good man” who “put his heart and soul into the service of the police department and to this city.”
Stoney has appointed Major Jody Blackwell to serve as the interim police chief until Smith’s replacement is selected.
“[Blackwell] will lead our healing and trust-building within our community,” Stoney said.