Sealed search warrants shield details in Charlottesville case

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Details about any evidence found in James Alex Fields Jr.’s Dodge Challenger have been secreted for the time being by a Charlottesville judge, WTOP has learned.

Court officials say search warrants related to the crash on 4th Street that killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer during a white nationalist rally Saturday have been sealed by a judge. The judge’s order sealing the documents has also been sealed.

Search warrants often provide insight into evidence police and prosecutors have gathered in an ongoing case, because the accompanying affidavit often includes a detective’s narrative on why the search warrant should be granted.

Statements from police and prosecutors since Fields’ arrest Saturday have not touched on any evidence gathered, or suggested a motive for Fields driving his car at a high rate of speed down the street and crashing into stopped cars, which plowed into counter-protesters.

Heyer, of Charlottesville, was killed, and 19 others were injured.

Contacted by WTOP, city of Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney Dave Chapman was asked why it was necessary to seal court documents in the high-profile case.

“We will answer that question in court, if the issue is raised,” Chapman said. “We make a practice of limiting comments to what happens in court.”

Fields’ court-appointed attorney Denise Lunsford had no comment about the sealed search warrants, and would not say whether she joined prosecutors in requesting the seal.

Late Friday, Charlottesville police charged Fields, 20, of Maumee, Ohio, with five additional felonies — three counts of aggravated malicious wounding and two counts of malicious wounding.

He had previously been charged with five felonies — second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding, and hit and run. The Department of Justice, led by the FBI, is investigating whether evidence warrants filing additional federal charges, which could include hate crime or domestic terrorism charges.

His next appearance in Charlottesville General District Court is scheduled for Aug. 25.

Also Friday, students at University of Virginia began arriving and moving in, with classes set to begin Tuesday.

University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan issued a statement asking the student community to avoid participating in the Wertland Street Block Party.

The annual move-in-week event, held in a nearby neighborhood but not on University property, is known for alcohol, and often results in citations for underage drinking and open container violations.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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