Sep 19, 2022 - News

RPD’s misleading mass shooting narrative unravels

CHief smith

Police chief Gerald Smith. Photo: Ned Oliver/Axios

Richmond Police Chief Gerald Smith’s claim that his department foiled a July Fourth mass shooting is falling apart in slow motion.

Flashback: Smith and Mayor Levar Stoney were unequivocal back in July: City police stopped a mass shooting that targeted the fireworks display at Dogwood Dell.

  • "We do know that they were coming to do a mass shooting at the Dogwood Dell at our Fourth of July celebration," Smith told CNN.

Driving the news: Records obtained by WTVR last week show Smith was told before he embarked on his press tour that it was uncertain whether officers had actually stopped a shooting.

  • “At most, maybe prevented [a] mass shooting,” was how Smith’s chief of staff Spencer Cochran put it in a text message briefing his boss, per WTVR.

Why it matters: Up until now, scrutiny focused on the alleged location of the shooting after prosecutors disclosed in court that they had no evidence Dogwood Dell was threatened, contrary to Smith’s claims.

  • The new reporting suggests it’s uncertain there was ever enough evidence to support allegations that a mass shooting was planned at all.

What they’re saying: Smith last month apologized for “any confusion or anxiety” he caused but stood by his past statements as logical deductions based on a tip received by officers.

  • And Stoney’s administration has chastised Richmond City Council members for publicly raising questions about the case, the Times-Dispatch reported.

The other side: City officials continue to face extensive criticism for the way they’ve handled the issue.

  • “He simply needs to man up and tell people he made up the story,” the Richmond Free Press wrote in a scathing editorial last week.

What’s next: Smith embarked on a listening tour last week, but at the first two meetings, he only accepted questions submitted in writing and refused to address the alleged mass shooting plot, telling attendees he had already discussed the issue “over and over again,” per WTVR.

Meanwhile, neither of the two Guatemalan men police accused in the plot have faced charges related to an alleged shooting plot.

  • One of the men pleaded guilty to a single charge of entering the country illegally, which carries a maximum sentence of two years.
  • The second, facing a single charge of possessing a weapon as an undocumented immigrant, is seeking to have evidence against him suppressed, arguing in court fillings last week that officers searched his home illegally.

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Richmond.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Richmond stories

No stories could be found


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Richmond.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more