WASHINGTON — Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas stood by the actions of state and local police in response to violent clashes between protesters on Saturday, but said that city police weren’t dressed in riot gear and that police resources were stretched as the large crowds swarmed through city.
“We were spread thin once the groups dispersed,” Thomas said during a news briefing Monday afternoon.
City officers were dressed in their daily uniforms and did not have protective gear because officials were hoping for a peaceful event. State police riot officers were called in after the violence erupted about an hour before the rally was set to begin, Thomas said.
“Gradually the crowd sizes increased along with aggressiveness and hostility of attendees towards one another,” he said.
Despite complaints that police did not do enough to stop the brawling or to keep the two sides apart, Thomas said police broke up fights but said that individuals would strike and then dissolve back into the volatile crowd, making it difficult to intervene.
Thomas said officers were never told not to interfere in fights that broke out nor were officers instructed not to make any arrests. At least six people were arrested on Saturday, including the Ohio man charged with second-degree murder for killing a Charlottesville woman who was there as part of a counter protest.
It took an hour to clear Emancipation Park and the surrounding streets downtown. Groups kept moving through the city and it was difficult to maintain order over such a large area, he said.
“Absolutely I have regrets,” Thomas said. “We lost three lives this weekend … it was a tragic, tragic weekend.”
As many as 36 people were injured in the melee including some of the people injured when a car drove through the crowd of protesters on Water Street.
Anyone who was assaulted Saturday can report it to Charlottesville police by calling 434-970-3280 or sending an email to email@example.com.