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Pattern of Police Brutality and Misbehavior in Petersburg, VA

August 1, 2014

By John K Rooney

In my personal experience, police in Petersburg, VA have been respectful of civil liberties such as free speech compared to Prince George County, for instance, where the Bill of Rights seems not to exist. However, when I heard of the assault on 19 year old Devin Thomas by Petersburg Officers Vance Richards and others, I was concerned and compelled to investigate.  The blow/s to Thomas’ head required a hospital visit where he was diagnosed with a concussion.  A week later, Thomas remarked that he still felt the affects of the concussion.  Watch on You Tube “Teen arrested, claims officer assaulted him.”  The aggression occurred after Devin was caught taking video of an arrest on his smart phone at the Petersburg East Apartments. The police department claims they are conducting their own internal investigation, but a witness I spoke with said they have not been questioned by investigators.

I interviewed several eyewitness to the incident and they indeed confirmed Devin’s account of being assaulted, hit with the club, possibly tasered along with other acts of violence for the non-crime of “video recording.” There was more to the story. Witnesses say one officer with a canine (PG I assume) threatened to turn the barking dog loose on the young people and make it attack them if they did not go inside. This terrified the youngsters.  Clearly, people, are free to video and stand watching if they are not directly interfering with the police.  From what was explained to me, the neighbors could have been observing because the traffic stop arrest was accompanied by a startling escalation of force that seemed unnecessary.  After my interviews. I realized that these types of abusive encounters may not be unusual in the poorer sections of the city.  To make matters worse, Thomas is charged for resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.  After years of hearing story after story of police abuse, I have learned that bogus “catch all charges” is (SOP) standard operating procedure when the police cross the line.  In most cases, the falsely-accused poor lack the thousands of dollars needed to defend themselves in a kangaroo court case, so they are crushed.  Emanuel Artis was charged for “trespassing” when he attempted to file a complaint against a cop at the Petersburg police station.  Even with an attorney, Artis was convicted and ended up losing his driver’s license because he could not pay his fine.

A message to bad cops, especially in the Devin Thomas case: SHAME, SHAME on you!  Vance Richards, if you are guilty as the evidence and testimonies indicate, you are an average-size man with a gun, taser, billy club and backup and you attack a 140 pound skinny, unarmed kid like Devin – for taking video – for standing – because he didn’t lick you boots, figuratively?  What were you thinking?  I think you are just a bully with a badge.  Charges should be brought against you based on evidence of sadistic, violent assault and violations of Devin’s civil rights.  If we had a real grand jury, this would most certainly be the case.  Look, if you feel the need to release your aggressions do what normal tough guys do, take up boxing or mixed martial arts and face off with real tough guys. That’s a fair match, but beating up unarmed residents is just shameful cowardice.  Confess your transgressions and pray that God forgive you. Don’t hide behind crooked prosecutors and judges who are circling the wagons to protect you. They have their reward, trust me.



While passing out fliers with my team in the poorer sections of town, I discovered something about this city.  As much as I detest race-baiting and the use of the race card as a political strategy, I have to admit my conclusion after hearing numerous complaints from concerned residents.  There seems to exist a dual police policy in which the nicer sections of town receive better treatment from law enforcement.  However, the poorer, mostly black areas are subjected to harsh treatment, little respect for civil rights, and a pattern of what appears to be the establishment of a totalitarian-style police state.  The trend is not just in Petersburg, there is a growing epidemic of police abuse across the country. 

In Petersburg, examples of cops randomly frisking people on the street are common (4th Amendment violation). Poor African Americans, especially the young, are treated as if they are all criminals with no rights.  Cops break up peaceful family picnics and often order people on the sidewalks to “go inside!”  How would you like an armed man breaking up your backyard picnic and coercing everyone to leave?  On a sweltering without air conditioning, would you not prefer to be outdoors?  There are instances in which the young are intimidated by cursing, abusive police and they try to run away. The officers chase them and beat them.  I heard a couple of cases of outright murder by police.  In one account, police force their way into a house to conduct a search.  When asked about a warrant, a cop states that the lady’s son admitted he had drugs in the house, therefore, the officer needed no warrant.  After the search, the son said he never admitted to any drugs in the house.  When police are rewarded for lying, violating citizens’ rights and breaking the law, there is nothing out of the realm of possibility they may not do, including planting drugs as false evidence, lying about canine signals or even planting guns into the hands of those they gun down. These cops that patrol the hood are known unofficially as the “bum squad” and I’m told they are specially trained to operate in unprofessional ways.  They use tactics of intimidation and oppression that discourage needful cooperation, rather than working to establish trust with the public.  I believe these methods are counterproductive.  They also turn average cops into criminals.

Furthermore, I am concerned that the corruption goes even deeper. There are allegations of police dealing drugs, bootlegging alcohol and skimming drugs from busts for their own dealer network. Pertaining to pathological violence, one man told of two officers who lifted him up high and dropped him onto the ground just to inflict pain.  In April, Officer Black used a choke hold on Deborah Fisher and bent her backward over a railing, injuring her back. The use of excessive force and unreasonable charges were triggered by her son’s lawful video recording of a police bust (You Tube: Deborah Fisher Petersburg). Government illegally spies on all of us but often attacks those who try to bring transparency to its misdeeds. Everywhere one might go in the poorer sections of town, people will tell of some horror story such as the officer who busted a young lady for a small amount of drugs.  He offers her a deal. She gives him sexual favors and he does not take her to jail. There are hundreds of such stories across town that go unspoken, wounds that fester and further alienate the community from the very people who are hired to protect them.

I also suspect the police chief is aware of these issues and is in general support of police misbehavior.  Moreover, many in City Counsel seem not to be concerned, but they do intend to reward themselves with a new, gleaming City Hall.  Charges still have not been dropped on Devin Thomas which should tell us a lot.  It is obvious to me, Chief Dixon needs to go.  Most of City Counsel probably needs to go. Someone should inquire concerning Officer Patterson and his disciples. Patterson is hated throughout the less affluent parts of town. Let’s clean up Petersburg and promote real justice with sound policing policies!  Stay updated by using Virginia COP Block and get involved.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. Cherrell permalink
    September 11, 2014 10:22 pm

    Are there any updates for the Devin Thomas case or any of theses cases?

    • tiffany permalink
      January 21, 2015 8:27 pm

      devin thomas was convicted and sentenced to community service this was a grave this young man was not served justice in the petersburg court system the judges, courts, police heads cator to their cops the judges in general district have extreme bias for cops testimony the cops word might as well been written in stone the only way to win is through appeal to another court where you can get a fair shake the judges in petersburg general district are also very ignorant or unwilling to hear codes and laws you can present them with code and law and they’ll still find in favor of a cop with a fuzzy story get the police report if you can to compare what was wrote in the report against what the cop says in the court it will often show their lies make sure you lawyer questions every word a cop says and object object object don’t accept defeat you get a few appeals

      • tiffany permalink
        January 21, 2015 8:35 pm

        that should read this is a grave injustice

  2. January 23, 2015 1:01 am

    I understand Devin’s lawyers bailed on him. I don’t know the reason, but I certainly want to know. It is customary for lower court judges to always rule in favor of the cops. I’m not surprised, but I do feel angry about the judgement. I will also state that if the cops gave false or misleading testimony then the heavy judgement of God upon them. If there’s one thing God hates and that’s false testimony and unjust judges. Misery and perdition to unjust judges and prosecutors, by the hand of God. Think I’m kidding?

    Perhaps Devin said something derogatory or complained; there was a violent arrest taking place in the street according to witnesses to which I had spoken. People tend to become disgusted with hearing and seeing a pattern of police brutality and abuse on citizens. Feeling helpless, they may get angry and want to speak out and vent. We still have free speech, right?

    Another point that should be made is that people DO have a right to resist an illegal arrest, even unto the death of the officer, according to law. An illegal arrest is a criminal act that can terrify a victim because it is akin to armed kidnapping. I’m planning to write a letter to the editor on that one. Even so, I would not suggest resisting arrest because the cops might just kill or beat the resister. The officer may actually be within his right to arrest you. You have to know what you’re doing in legally resisting an unlawful arrest. I knew a man in Colonial Heights who was badly violated by cops on a couple of occasions. This man cold-cocked at least one offending officer and put him in his place! He actually got away with it. Even so, it is very dangerous, especially if you are black.

    In addition, most judges would totally disregard the law and throw the book at any resister, because they often do not judge according to law. This I know from many examples including one in which I was arrested in Prince George Co. while trying to obtain an officer’s name in order to file a complaint against him. I was found guilty for trespassing because the deputy (Stith) didn’t want to identify himself. I’m afraid many prosecutors and judges, through many instances of wrongdoing, are lacking a conscience, but there are a few good ones remaining. There are good cops as well, we just need more of them.

    I would appreciate more information on the Devin Thomas case. Please post what you discover and make sure the info is accurate. Thanks.

    John K Rooney

  3. January 25, 2015 10:00 am

    Thanks. I know Phil Waylato. Will try to contact him.

  4. John Smith permalink
    December 3, 2015 6:43 pm

    I can’t comment on the Devin case because I wasn’t there. I seem to be the minority in that sense. However, I can tell you about some poorly supported assumptions you made that are misguided. As well as some that happen to be accurate. It’s not called the bum squad. They call them the “bum-rush squad” (unofficial of course). That squad isn’t designated for ‘the hood’. It’s all over the city. You just chose to keep your inquiries to the hood. The main problem isn’t their tactics rather the fact that they’re reportable only to the Chief. So any complaint goes to the Chf Dixon and he’s under no obligation to entertain it. As far as the poorer sections of pburg, they’re a high crime area simply because they have a large amount of criminals there. If you don’t believe me, walk around there on the weekend around midnight. Make sure you give someone your social before hand, so they know what to put in the victim section of the report. The rest of your story here are based on the stories of those that have a grudge with the police. So there’s no way of determining what’s true or false. Unless you believe only cops would lie. And the solution to the whole problem is what you described as the problem. You blame the police administration and city council. I agree with that 100%. But the chief is selected by the city and the city are elected officials. So all those poor mistreated victims of yours need to focus their efforts on educated voting and stop embellishing stories to someone that’s obviously not concerned with facts. Most problems in petersburg could be solved on one election cycle. But they continue to vote for ppl they know or based on skin color. Stop putting all of the blame on the people causing the problems and start holding those accountable for keeping them in a position to cause problems.

  5. December 3, 2015 7:50 pm

    Videos don’t lie. Watch them and then pretend the victims are white or members of your family. Do you care now? Furthermore, the police take that oath to defend the Constitution like any other government official. That oath, before God, is meant to be a check against tyranny. In other words, cops have the right and obligation to disobey illegal or unconstitutional commands.

    Tactics are a major problem. An ever increasing police state mentality among law enforcement creates a wedge between them and those they are paid to protect. People know when they are being abused and they resent it. I know it’s tough on those streets, but cops cannot build trust by violating the rights of citizens. There was a time when cops were skilled in de-escalating situations, but many now have a thirst for violence. People begin to look upon them as criminals and they wouldn’t be wrong in thinking this way.

    The things I have heard on the streets indicates the problem goes way deeper than what is revealed in this report. I’m talking about real criminal activities by some of those in blue, working hand in hand with street thugs. People in the poorer sections of town know this and they are afraid to speak out. Dismissing all the complaints as coming from folks holding grudges shows an obvious callousness toward them. When there’s smoke there usually is fire and in this case there is an awful lot of smoke. Casual dismissal only feeds the division and tensions.

    Police need to revert back to sound policies. They need to study the old TV shows Adam 12, In the Heat of the Night or even watch the Andy Griffith show. Think I’m kidding?

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