A man who was assaulted during a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, is suing the city and state police, alleging that officers were ordered to stand down and failed to act even as they witnessed the attack.
According to the federal lawsuit, Robert Sanchez Turner was sprayed in the eye with pepper spray and beaten with canes, and had urine thrown on him during the Aug. 12 rally in Charlottesville, as police officers stood less than 10 feet away and did nothing to stop the assault or arrest the assailants.
“By commanding their subordinates to stand down while hundreds of white supremacists and their sympathizers assaulted and seriously injured counterprotesters, these defendants were essentially accessories to, and facilitators of, unconstitutional hate crime,” states the lawsuit, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times.
Nexus Caridades Attorneys, which filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, is expected to announce additional details about the case Friday.
Many lawsuits seeking to hold police, firefighters and paramedics accountable for seemingly egregious violations of their duty often are dismissed under a legal precedent known as the public duty doctrine, which says that emergency workers have no legal obligation to help people in trouble, only a general duty to the public at large.
The lawsuit does not seek any exception to the public duty doctrine, rather it alleges supervisory liability and deliberate indifference on the part of Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas and Virginia State Police Superintendent W. Steven Flaherty.
It alleges that the two police leaders violated Mr. Turner’s 14th Amendment rights by creating a scenario under which officers failed to intervene in a state-created danger.
“Specifically, Chief Thomas ordered Charlottesville City Police to refrain from intervening in any violent confrontations between white supremacists and counterprotesters unless given a direct command to do so,” the lawsuit states. “The ‘stand down’ order was so absolute that officers were ordered to restrain from intervening even upon observing hate crimes in the form of brutal physical attacks with weapons by KKK members and sympathizers against unarmed civilians.”
Chief Thomas has denied that there was any stand down order and defended his department’s actions that day, saying officers were “spread thin” after those gathered for the rally disregarded an agreed-upon plan on how to enter the city park and police moved in to shut down the event after fights broke out.
Charlottesville spokeswoman Miriam Dickler declined to comment Thursday on the lawsuit, but has said previously that there was no order for officers to stand down.
Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller also declined to comment on the pending litigation.
The allegations stem from events at a white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally meant to protest the removal of a statute of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Demonstrators showed up to protest the rally, and fights eventually broke out between the two sides, causing police to shut down the event and disperse the crowds.
Hours later, a car barreled into a crowd of people who were marching in opposition to the rally. One woman was killed and at least 19 others injured. The driver is being held on second-degree murder charges.
Charlottesville police came under criticism after the event when videos emerged that appeared to show officers standing by while fights broke out between rally attendees and protesters. A number of arrests were later made after police were able to identify people in some of the videos.
Mr. Turner’s lawsuit, which seeks unspecified monetary damages, states that video evidence and witness testimony support the claims that a stand down order was issued.
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