By MORGAN WINSOR, ABC News
(RICHMOND, Va.) — The police chief in Virginia’s capital has resigned following weeks of citywide protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney announced at a press conference that William Smith has stepped down from his post as the city’s police chief at Stoney’s request.
“One thing is clear after the past few weeks — Richmond is ready for a new approach to public safety,” Stoney told reporters Tuesday. “There is work to be done, and we’re ready to do it.”
Smith, who didn’t attend Tuesday’s press conference, was nearing his one-year anniversary as police chief after being with the Richmond Police Department for 23 years, according to Richmond ABC affiliate WRIC-TV.
“Chief Smith is a good man,” the mayor added. “He has served this city for a very long time. He has put his heart and soul into the service of the police department, and to this city, and I thank him for his service.”
Stoney named Maj. William “Jody” Blackwell as interim chief of the Richmond Police Department.
“Interim Chief Blackwell is willing and able to focus on the necessary public safety reforms,” Stoney said. “He will lead our healing and trust-building within our community.”
The announcement comes on the heels of tense demonstrations and repeated clashes between protesters and police officers. Richmond police have been criticized for deploying chemical irritants and rubber bullets, including one incident on June 1, when officers reportedly fired tear gas at a peaceful group of demonstrators about half an hour before the mayor’s mandated curfew went into effect.
Three advocacy groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Virginia, sent a letter on Monday to Richmond’s mayor, police chief and commonwealth’s attorney raising concerns over the “escalation of violence against protesters.”
Protests against police brutality and racial injustice erupted in cities across the United States and around the world following Floyd’s death while in police custody. The unarmed 46-year-old black man died in Minneapolis on May 25, shortly after a white police officer was filmed kneeling on his neck as three other officers stood by.
The officer who prosecutors say pinned Floyd down for nearly nine minutes, Derek Chauvin, has since been charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The three other officers each have been charged with second-degree aiding and abetting felony murder as well as second-degree aiding and abetting manslaughter.
Hundreds of protesters converged outside the Richmond Police Department headquarters on Monday for the second night in a row. Officers reportedly used chemical irritants, flash-bangs and rubber bullets to disperse the angry crowds.
“I have high expectations for the Richmond Police Department, our law enforcement. At a very minimum, I expect them to be willing to come around the table with the community to reform and reimagine public safety,” the mayor told reporters Tuesday. “So it boils down to whether the leadership of RPD embraces the change or stands in the way.”
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