A candidate for Charlottesville commonwealth’s attorney was arrested after midnight Friday following a confrontation hours earlier involving right-wing blogger Jason Kessler and social-justice activists outside a Downtown Mall restaurant.
Attorney Jeff Fogel, 72, was charged with simple assault, a misdemeanor, after a man alleged that Fogel lightly pushed him with an open hand. Fogel said he was later awakened at his home at 12:30 a.m. by at least five police officers who arrested him without incident.
Kessler, an outspoken proponent of keeping the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Lee Park, found himself at the center of a protest while eating dinner at Miller’s Downtown with a group of friends.
In a Facebook post on May 28, Kessler announced that he would start doing a “regular Charlottesville meetup,” the first of which would be at 7 p.m. Thursday. In the post, he said it is “very important for us to network and have community in this hostile environment.”
Thursday’s meeting place was not mentioned on the post, but Kessler did ask those interested to send him a private message to “get vetted.”
From his perspective, Fogel said he went down to Miller’s on Thursday to have dinner — a “delicious hamburger,” he said — when he observed Kessler at a table outside with about 10 other people. Fogel said another group of people, including members of Showing Up for Racial Justice, went over to Kessler with signs and began chanting “Nazis go home.”
Kessler has said he does not identify as either a white supremacist or a white nationalist.
“I was just watching and at some point, Kessler got up and tried to provoke people by sticking his camera in their face,” said Fogel, who also noted that two Charlottesville police officers were observing the situation.
Fogel then said one of the people with Kessler came up to him and called him a “communist.”
“After 20 to 30 minutes of a mob harassing us and blocking the entranceway to Miller’s, and the police failing to charge these individuals with disorderly conduct, my friend and I confronted Fogel,” Kessler said. “Fogel assaulted my friend.”
When Kessler and his friend started walking to the police department, he said Fogel and several activists followed them. Fogel said he wanted to give police his side of the story.
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When he arrived at the station, Fogel said a supervisory sergeant was brusque with him and, at one point, reportedly told him to “shut up.” In a video shared on the SURJ Facebook page, Fogel is seen speaking to a Charlottesville officer, who asks him to take a seat so police can ask him some questions.
In the video, Fogel is seen speaking to one of the officers and asking about the complaint made against him. At one point, Fogel gets closer to the officer and raises his finger while speaking.
“Don’t put your finger in my face,” the officer said.
“You’re telling me that,” Fogel asked.
“I am telling you that,” the officer replied. “As an officer of the law, you’re in my police department.”
“And I’m an officer of the law, as well,” Fogel said.
“And you assaulted this gentleman here,” the officer said.
Fogel denied the accusation and the officer told him the incident was caught on video. Asking Fogel for his information, the officer told Fogel they would get his side of the story, as well. At that point, the officers separated Kessler’s party from Fogel’s party, according to the video footage.
While officers repeatedly asked Fogel for his personal information, Fogel repeatedly asked them why he was required to give it before he could leave. One of the officers said it was because he was a suspect in a misdemeanor assault. At the end of the video clip, Fogel is seen leaving the police department.
While Fogel thought the matter would end with a simple summons, he said that when he opened his door in his pajamas after midnight, he saw about five police cars in front of his house.
“I was shocked,” he said. “There were at least five officers there, and when I asked why there were so many, one of the officers said it just happened that way.”
Police said Fogel was arrested without incident, but they would not comment on the number of officers dispatched to Fogel’s home.
Fogel then was taken in front of a magistrate at the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail. He said the magistrate was curt with him and said he did not like the way Fogel interacted with the sergeant on duty at the police department.
After going through the booking process, Fogel was released on a personal recognizance bond and returned home.
Speaking about his candidacy for commonwealth’s attorney, Fogel said he did not think Thursday’s incident will have any impact on the June 13 Democratic primary.
“As long as it doesn’t have an effect on my spirit, I don’t think it will have an effect on my campaign,” said Fogel. “I don’t consider Jason Kessler to be a significant person. I don’t think he is taken seriously on these things, and I don’t think this will harm me in the public eye.
“I still have a lot of work to do for this election, and I intend to focus on that.”
Steven Rosenfield will represent Fogel in court. Fogel also said he has filed a complaint against the magistrate and intends to file a second complaint against the Charlottesville police sergeant.
When asked about Fogel’s account, a police spokesman said the only information being released on Friday was in a statement about Fogel’s arrest.
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The incident follows a similar confrontation last month. Veronica Haunani Fitzhugh, 38, was arrested by city police on Wednesday, according to Pam Starsia, a member of SURJ. Fitzhugh was one of several people reportedly seen yelling and chanting at a group of men at an outdoor Downtown Mall seating area in the 400 block of East Main Street on the morning of May 20, according to police.
Fitzhugh faces a charge of misdemeanor assault after she allegedly called the men Nazis and told them to leave the Downtown Mall. She will be represented by Fogel. In a statement on Facebook, Fitzhugh addressed her arrest and called for the Charlottesville community to reject racism.
“I was arrested, put in the darkness of the [police van] and delivered to the magistrate stemming not from a May 20 incident but from the white supremacy that has been an undercurrent of Charlottesville for too long,” Fitzhugh wrote. “It’s not about heritage … it’s about white supremacy, hidden and torch-lit.”
“It’s about defending our community against fascism, hidden and torch-lit,” she wrote.
Starsia, who said she does not speak on behalf of SURJ, said Fitzhugh is being targeted by Kessler, as well as Charlottesville police, who, she said, sent six officers to arrest Fitzhugh. She said such charges of assault are usually served as a summons and not through arrest.
“Her arrest continues his pattern of abusing the legal system to systematically target black anti-racism activists in our community,” Starsia said. “No one has harmed or threatened Jason Kessler in any way.”
“However, he is learning that his abhorrent views have not found as much harbor in Charlottesville as he had hoped, and he is lashing out at those he blames for the unpopularity of his racist neo-Nazi ideology, including Veronica,” she said.
As a result of what was described as “antagonistic” behavior toward other customers, Kessler was asked not to return to Miller’s, according to restaurant owner Scottie Kaylor. He said the incident was disruptive to the business and hard on staff.
“I do not feel comfortable kicking people out or barring them because another group deems them to be unworthy citizens,” Kaylor said. “I have no idea if the accusations espoused by the protesters against some of our patrons last night are true.”
“I also take issue with being put in a position that makes it appear I am defending an ideology I do not agree with,” he said. “We will not be engaging in a campaign to exclude people based on their political views.”
Miller’s has been in the community for more than 36 years, Kaylor said, and anyone who conducts themselves in a respectful manner will be welcome at the restaurant. He said the restaurant evaluates each situation as it occurs and do the best they can.
“I pray all this will just go away and we can just cook some burgers and serve some beer,” Kaylor said.