Debriefing Charlottesville Part I: Virginia Criminal Codes

An important distinction in law enforcement responses, in civil unrest conditions, is between misdemeanor and felony.  Video and photographs, not including the homicide that occurred, shows that many protestors with weapons were committing felonies.  Virginia's Crimes Against Peace and Order chapter lists the following:

  • § 18.2-405. What constitutes a riot; punishment.
    Any unlawful use, by three or more persons acting together, of force or violence which seriously jeopardizes the public safety, peace or order is riot.

    Every person convicted of participating in any riot shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.

    If such person carried, at the time of such riot, any firearm or other deadly or dangerous weapon, he shall be guilty of a Class 5 felony.

  • § 18.2-406. What constitutes an unlawful assembly; punishment.
    Whenever three or more persons assembled share the common intent to advance some lawful or unlawful purpose by the commission of an act or acts of unlawful force or violence likely to jeopardize seriously public safety, peace or order, and the assembly actually tends to inspire persons of ordinary courage with well-grounded fear of serious and immediate breaches of public safety, peace or order, then such assembly is an unlawful assembly. Every person who participates in any unlawful assembly shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. If any such person carried, at the time of his participation in an unlawful assembly, any firearm or other deadly or dangerous weapon, he shall be guilty of a Class 5 felony.

Conclusion: the open carry people in Charlottesville, at the moment of command to leave the area, committed felonies by carrying firearms, knives, and probably the batons and sticks.  Remaining in place after order to leave, by itself, is only a misdemeanor.

  • § 18.2-411. Dispersal of unlawful or riotous assemblies; duties of officers.
    When any number of persons, whether armed or not, are unlawfully or riotously assembled, the sheriff of the county and his deputies, the police officials of the county, city or town, and any assigned militia, or any of them, shall go among the persons assembled or as near to them as safety will permit and command them in the name of the Commonwealth immediately to disperse. If upon such command the persons unlawfully assembled do not disperse immediately, such sheriff, officer or militia may use such force as is reasonably necessary to disperse them and to arrest those who fail or refuse to disperse. To accomplish this end, the sheriff or other law-enforcement officer may request and use the assistance and services of private citizens. Every endeavor shall be used, both by such sheriff or other officers and by the officer commanding any other force, which can be made consistently with the preservation of life, to induce or force those unlawfully assembled to disperse before an attack is made upon those unlawfully assembled by which their lives may be endangered.

Conclusion: Police must, as matter of duty imposed by law, go into the crowd and command them immediately to disperse.  However, if people assembled fail to comply, the law states the officers "may use such force is reasonably necessary to disperse them and to arrest those who fail to disperse."  So the statute is permissive, not mandatory here.  However, the next sentence states that every endeavor "shall be used" (a duty again), consistent with preservation of life.  Officer must try to induce or force those unlawfully assembled to disperse before an attack is made upon those unlawfully assembled by which their lives may be endangered.  In Charlottesville, considering the number of weapons in circulation, behavior, and traffic, the officers should have done a lot more.  The code gives them civil and criminal immunity to do so.

  • § 18.2-414. Injury to property or persons by persons unlawfully or riotously assembled.
    If any person or persons, unlawfully or riotously assembled, pull down, injure, or destroy, or begin to pull down, injure or destroy any dwelling house or other building, or assist therein, or perpetrate any premeditated injury on the person of another, he shall be guilty of a Class 6 felony.

Conclusion: every protestor on either side who, as the main aggressor, injured another with pre-mediation, committed a felony.  That appears to include the rushing and beating with batons and flag poles, intentionally targeting people with caustic sprays or smoke canisters, among other things.