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Prince William Police Detail their Response to Sudley Road Protest at BOCS Emergency Meeting

| June 2, 2020 | 0 Comments | News

The Supervisors called an Emergency Prince William Board of County Supervisors meeting, Sunday at 4 p.m., to talk with Prince William Police leadership about the “unlawful assembly” Saturday night on Sudley Road in Manassas and the police response. 

Police responded to a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest that turned unruly and somewhat violent after dark. Police then responded in riot gear and were joined by State Police and other departments. 

Use of Force 

Lt. Con. Jarad Phelps said that police forces did use pepper spray, chemical agents and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd. Four Prince William and two state officers were injured and one civilian had their foot run over by a vehicle. Police cars were damaged. Later, five stores along Sudley Road were damaged by demonstrators in the crowd. 

Phelps said he takes full responsibility for the actions of State Police and all departments and said communication could have been better and would have to be improved in the future. There was little time to plan. Officers who held the line, had to use their own discretion when to use force in response to violent protesters. They responded to being pelted with glass bottles or rocks, and repeatedly told people to evacuate the area for everyone’s safety. 

Phelps said officers said it “multiple, multiple, multiple times.” Once they remained they were committing a misdemeanor. He said the officers did show “great restraint” as they were being pelted with heavy objects. 

Sequence of Events

According to Phelps, the group that met in the early evening at the intersection of Sudley Road and Sudley Manor Drive in Manassas were peaceful. No permit was required as protesters were on public sidewalks and were exercising their right to assembly. 

Police were present to ensure they did not block traffic on the road and the demonstration remained peaceful.

Around 8 p.m. the atmosphere grew heated as protesters were joined by others. The larger crowd became rowdy, directing anger towards police officers on the scene.

Around 8:30 p.m., the tone definitely turned, said Phelps. People marched down to Sudley Road, blocking the road to vehicular traffic. Police declared it an “unlawful assembly” and asked people to disperse. Items were thrown at officers. 

To address this, police closed the road, asked people to avoid the area, and focused on moving traffic and pedestrians out of the area. Meanwhile, people were throwing large rocks at officers and vehicles. Several police vehicles were damaged. 

At this time, a large group began walking down Sudley Road heading towards I-66. 

Prince William Police called the State Police to stop them from blocking the interstate. At this point, believing it had turned violent, Prince William Police also called for back up from officers trained to handle these types of civil unrest situations. Police that showed up wearing gear. Phelps said said it was a calculated risk, knowing it would increase tension, but he felt it was necessary to protect people. 

Around 10 p.m., Smoke could be seen in videos from VDOT’s road cameras. 

Phelps said they repeated told people they must evacuate the area. Police from other jurisdictions also arrived to help: Fairfax, Haymarket and the City of Manassas. 

State Police joined Prince William Police holding the line and trying to disperse protesters from the road. Fairfax County Police were stationed on the perimeter near shopping centers and restaurants to protect property. 

Phelps said it was unfortunate buildings were damaged and he takes full responsibility for that as well. He said first and foremost they focused on lives. 

Going forward, they will focus on communication, and getting ahead of future events that are planned so they can have a calming presence.

Supervisors Discussion 

Supervisors thanked police for the way they handled the situation and showing restraint. 

Supervisor Margaret Franklin (D-Woodbridge) said she was disappointed by the way state police reacted. 

“State police escalated the situation in my opinion by using the chemical agent that they used. I do want to make the distinction between the county police and some other agencies that were out last night,” she said. “Our guys did the best that they could last night. I do have an issue with the way state police have reacted.” 

Phelps said he would not point fingers at other agencies. “Anything that happened that night is on me.” 

Franklin added, almost tearing up, that they had a conversation with Phelps and “it has been excellent.”

Supervisors asked how they could help. Do police want them to call a curfew? 

No, Phelps said, calling a curfew would likely add “fuel to the fire.” Tell the community, “Please, please, legally, peacefully.” 
Occoquan Supervisor Kenny Boddye (D) asked Phelps to make sure other departments adhere to the same culture as the Prince William Police. Phelps agreed. 

Supervisors agreed Prince William police have a great reputation. 

Coles Supervisor Yesli Vega, who served as a police officer and sheriff’s deputy, said that while they all feel pain over George Floyd, and people can certainly protest, it is also important that the police maintain law and order.

“By no means does that mean we are going to allow our county to burn. You are the authority in our county,” she said to Phelps. “You are going to do what you need to do to make sure you protect law abiding citizens. That is your duty.”

Gainesville Supervisor Pete Candland (R) said he was concerned about the damage to businesses in his district. While people’s live are paramount, people’s livelihoods depend upon their businesses. Most of the business owners he said are first generation Americans. 

Brentsville Supervisor Lawson (R) said her interactions with Prince William Police have always gone smoothly, whereas she had bad experiences with officers elsewhere. But, Boddye said she should not conflate that with the experiences African Americans have with police. Lawson responded that she was talking more about the culture of the PWC police force. Boddye explained she still needs to be mindful of the difference.

Neabsco Supervisor Victor Angry (D) said that even though their department has a great culture, there are still some “stubbed toes.” He told a story of how he was once questioned as a “suspicious person.” He said that is something that happens to African Americans and black parents have to have “the talk” with their children. 

He wants people to know they don’t have to get violent to have their voices heard. The board of county supervisors offers them a forum. “I will go to bat for your guys.” He invited people to come to the chamber for citizen’s time. “You can peacefully rally. (But) this is where magic happens. We’re going to come in and we’re going to change the culture. It is changing. I’m ready to do the work, so let’s go.” 

State of Emergency 

[Previously Published] The Prince William County Board of Supervisors also discussed the option to declare a county-wide state of emergency. Supervisors agreed they do not want the Virginia National Guard to come into the county, they already have the assistance of the Virginia State Police, but they would like to access funding if necessary.

Lt. Col. Jarad Phelps said there were costs associated with the protest that turned to a “civil unrest” and “unlawful assembly” on Sudley Road in Manassas, Saturday night. They include overtime for officers and damage to police vehicles. Therefore, having a local State of Emergency could be useful for fiscal reasons.

Supervisors wanted to make sure that calling a county-wide state of emergency would not increase  police presence by calling in the National Guard or conducting things in a matter that could escalate tensions.

The county executive would have to call at county state of emergency that would then be approved by the board. The County also could not implement a curfew without the approval of the Governor as per Virginia law.

No decision has been made as whether to place the county under a State of Emergency, but County Executive Chris Martino agreed to further look into the matter. It will be added to Tuesday’s agenda, unless a reason arises to act more expediently.

Community Meeting

A meeting of the Prince William Police Citizen Advisory Board and other involved citizens, led by Reverend Cozy Bailey, husband of Supervisor Andrea Bailey of the Potamac District, proved very fruitful for the community, according to Phelps. However, Republican supervisors said they were unlawfully excluded from the meeting that began at 12:30 p.m.

Supervisor Candland said he was not invited even though Saturday’s protest occurred in his district.

“This was happening in my location. And I’m more worried about the fact that you were there, and you saw there were more supervisors attending this meeting…That’s an unlawful assembly of the Board of County Supervisors,” he said. “You let that happen, Chair Wheeler…That’s very concerning. I’m extremely concerned about that.”

Brentsville Supervisor Jeanine Lawson agreed. Any time more than two supervisors meet, it becomes a public meeting and all need to be invited, she explained. 

Chair Ann Wheeler said she expected it to be a meeting with herself, Chief Barry Bernard, Lt. Col. Phelps and County Executive Chris Martino. “And I walked in and there was 60 people in the room.” 

Phelps said he invited the Citizen’s Advisory Board. Some of those invited, invited other “community leaders.” Invitations spread very informally, said Supervisor Angry. He said it was only mentioned to him by a constituent an hour before the meeting started.Once he got there, he realized it was Citizen’s Advisory Board meeting and maybe hewasn’t suppose to be there.

However, as however word spread, the result was all of the Democratic supervisors ended up in attendance and none of the Republicans were even made aware of it. 

Lawson said it is a state code that was violated and once the supervisors saw they were all there, they should have been invited to join. The Chair should know better and so should all of the others. “I would have at least been invited to that.” 

Phelps said it “was a very healthy discussion.” They wanted to invite community leaders and especially the faith-based community for transparency. 

Lawson said she was not blaming him. Maybe “overlooked in the fray of everything.” But then she came back to the topic, repeating her frustration. 

Bristow Beat did not attend the Community Meeting. From all accounts it was productive. 

© 2020, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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