Oct 31, 2022 - News

Richmond’s police chief drama

Gerald Smith. Photo: Ned Oliver/Axios

Nearly a week after former Richmond police chief Gerald Smith stepped down, Mayor Levar Stoney's administration is still refusing to say whether he was asked to resign.

What's happening: Instead, things got a little weird at City Hall.

Catch up fast: First, Stoney publicly insisted he had nothing to do with hiring and firing police chiefs, despite past public statements about his role in the selection process, including handpicking Smith for the job two years ago and personally requesting the resignation of Smith's predecessor.

  • "I don't get involved," Stoney told reporters, per WTVR.

Later in the week, Stoney's chief administrative officer Lincoln Saunders issued a statement acknowledging that he had discussed the situation with Stoney, saying the mayor had signed off on his selection of an interim chief.

  • But Saunders still didn't address questions about what prompted Smith's departure.

Meanwhile, a copy of Smith's letter of resignation acknowledged he had "made some mistakes" but offered no other insight into the situation.

Stoney's press secretary Jim Nolan referred questions to the city's public information officer, who did not respond to a request for comment.

Between the lines: Even as Stoney has refused to discuss why Smith left, he hasn't sounded particularly disappointed about it, saying it was time for change. And there are plenty of reasons Stoney might have wanted to move on.

  • The department has faced low officer morale and struggled to fill 150 vacancies despite salary increases intended to attract more officers.
  • And Smith's insistence that Dogwood Dell was the target of a foiled terror plot this summer became an embarrassment for the department after internal documents revealed officers had told him there was no known target and that the department "at best, maybe" had prevented a mass shooting.

👀 The latest: Smith's initial account of the threat was once again contradicted at the end of last week, this time by federal prosecutors, who said in court filings they will only seek a six month sentence for a single charge of entering the country illegally against one of the men police had accused in the plot.

  • The prosecutors wrote that they reviewed the police department's allegations and concluded there wasn't evidence to prove he was "planning to shoot people at a big event on the 4th of July or commit other acts of violence."

What's next: The new acting police chief Rick Edwards has been with the department for 21 years and has already drawn strong praise from the Richmond Coalition of Police, which represents more than half of the city's officers.

Stoney has promised a national search for a permanent replacement.

  • He made a similar pledge before hiring Smith, but abandoned it before the job was publicly advertised.

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