UVa torch march

White nationalists led a torch march through the University of Virginia Grounds on Aug. 11.

New open-flame regulations went into effect at the University of Virginia the same day an independent review took the university to task for a slow and insufficient response to a white nationalist torch rally on Aug. 11.

In a report released Friday, former federal prosecutor Tim Heaphy said the University Police Department ignored information about the possible rally and offers of aid on Aug. 11, which led to a volatile situation that fanned the flames of the next day’s white nationalist rally.

 “There was ample notice of the Friday night torch-lit event to university officials,” Heaphy said at a news conference Friday. “They knew perhaps days in advance and perhaps early in the day on Friday, that there would be some sort of event by the white nationalists that were coming to the Unite the Right rally.”

According to Heaphy’s report, the Virginia State Police provided intelligence that Jason Kessler, organizer of the Aug. 12 Unite the Right rally, and others might “hang out Friday before the event in Charlottesville” to city and UVa police on July 14. As the summer progressed, the Rotunda and Lawn were suggested as a rally site. Emails released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by The Daily Progress show that university officials learned of the possibility of a rally at UVa as early as Aug. 9.

UVa Police Chief Michael Gibson developed a plan to handle the event, but neither created a unified response nor communicated the potential threat to other first responders, nor accepted offers of help from the Charlottesville Police Department or the Virginia State Police.

“It was treated like a free-speech event, not like an event in which people who hate each other would want to fight,” Heaphy said. “A soft response from the university, and the resulting violence and images of the torches, definitely has an impact.”

UPD officers also weren’t fully informed about existing university policy governing open flames, which would have allowed officers to prohibit tiki torches from the Lawn.

“Their response to the Friday night torchlight event was woefully inadequate, even for a small campus police department,” the report said. “The lack of police intervention on Friday night set a dangerous tone for the events of the next day. UPD’s lack of intervention was obvious to everyone present, both among the Unite the Right torch-bearers and the organized counter-protesters who were planning to attend the larger Saturday rally.”

The university’s new open-flame policy went into effect Friday. It states that no one can have candles, fires, tiki torches or lanterns without approval from UVa’s Office of Environmental Health and Safety or the Medical Center Fire Protection Inspector’s Office. Each approval must be passed along to the University Police Department.

Any fire code representative or police officer can stop anyone in possession of an open flame from having it on Grounds.

In a news release Friday, following the publishing of Heaphy’s report, the university reiterated its steps to increase safety and security personnel on Grounds, to hire Margolis Healy & Associates to conduct a review and to make the Academical Village a “facility,” which would allow police to restrict some activities and events from taking place on the Lawn.

More changes to policy will be considered by the Dean’s Working Group, according to the statement. The working group, which was convened by UVa President Teresa A. Sullivan on Aug. 18 to address the rallies, is expected to issue a comprehensive report soon. 

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Ruth Serven is a reporter for The Daily Progress. Contact her at (434) 978-7254, rserven@dailyprogress.com or @RuthServen on Twitter.

Ruth Serven Smith is a reporter for The Daily Progress. Contact her at (434) 978-7254, rserven@dailyprogress.com or @RuthServen on Twitter.

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