Jul 12, 2022 - News

Details scant in Richmond's alleged July 4 mass shooting plot

Illustration of a spotlight shaped like a police badge.
Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Richmond police announced last week that they had foiled an alleged mass shooting plot, but since then authorities have offered conflicting accounts and little evidence.

Driving the news: The men accused in the plot were in court Monday morning for bond hearings.

  • Both Rolman Balcarcel Ac, 38, and Julio Alvardo-Dubon, 52, are now being held without bond.
  • A judge had initially granted Alvardo-Dubon a $15,000 bond, raising questions about whether police had sufficient evidence to support the accusations.

What happened: The hearings were brief, and prosecutors did not lay out any preliminary facts regarding the mass shooting to justify holding the suspects without bond.

  • Police say the men intended to attack a city Fourth of July celebration at Dogwood Dell, but authorities haven't charged either man with plotting a mass shooting. Instead, they are being held on charges of possessing a firearm as a noncitizen.
  • Both men are immigrants from Guatemala living in the country illegally, according to court records, which say police seized rifles, handguns and ammunition from the Southside home they shared.
  • Alvardo-Dubon's lawyer did not object to prosecutors' request that his bond be revoked, with lawyers noting that immigration authorities intended to detain him were he to be released.

What they're saying: Balcarcel's lawyer, Samuel Simpson V, told the Associated Press he would be "very surprised" if the men were planning a mass shooting.

  • "It's my understanding that these guys are from Guatemala, and they're just here to work," Simpson told the news service.
  • Prosecutors have so far refused to discuss the case with reporters.

Meanwhile, what little information police have provided has at times conflicted.

  • Chief Gerald Smith initially emphasized at a press conference last week the role of a "hero tipster" warning of an attack on Dogwood Dell.
  • There was "nothing that indicated Dogwood Dell other than the tip," he said at the news conference.

Yes, but: The department's press office told WRIC the anonymous tip did not specify a location. In a subsequent news release, the department said investigators concluded Dogwood Dell was the intended target based "on the initial information and subsequent investigation."

  • And law enforcement sources told WTVR that officers assigned to work that day were not warned or informed of the potential plot.

Context: RPD isn't exactly a model for community trust at the moment.

  • The department's announcement that it had foiled the alleged attack came a few days after it was forced to retract false statements it made justifying a tear gas attack on peaceful protesters two years ago.

What's next: Legal observers say it's too soon to know what to make of the allegations.

  • Steve Benjamin, a prominent local defense attorney, tells Axios that it's not unusual for officers to use placeholder charges to make a quick arrest.
  • But he said that if the police department's version of events is accurate, he would expect authorities to seek additional charges against the men, such as conspiracy to commit murder or conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism.
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