Richmond Police chief says he will no longer discuss alleged July 4 mass shooting

George Copeland Jr. | 8/11/2022, 6 p.m.
Richmond Police Chief Gerald M. Smith, suffering from a credibility gap, has shut down any further comment on the alleged …
Chief Smith

Richmond Police Chief Gerald M. Smith, suffering from a credibility gap, has shut down any further comment on the alleged terrorist plot to shoot up the Dogwood Dell amphitheater during the Independence Day celebration last month that led to two arrests.

With departmental leaks indicating he pumped up the story, Chief Smith made clear Monday to reporters at a briefing on the city’s crime statistics that nothing further would be said about the plot or the alleged plotters, Guatemalan immigrants Rolman Balcarcel- Bavagas and Julio Alvarado-Dubon.

“We are closing all discussion about the planned Fourth of July mass shooting,” Chief Smith said in trying to make the story go away. “The matter is now in the hands of the federal govern- ment. As I’ve often stated, we will follow wherever the investigation leads us.”

Earlier this month, at the request of city Commonwealth’s Attorney, Colette W. McEachin, the U.S. Attorney’s Office took over prosecution of the men, who are illegally in the country. They are now facing deportable charges of violating immigration rules and of illegally possessing firearms as non-citizens — but not anything to do with terrorism.

Chief Smith’s statement came weeks after Mr. Balcarcel-Bavagas and Mr. Alvarado-Dubon were arrested based on an anonymous tip to RPD claiming they were planning to commit a shooting at a July 4 event.

Chief Smith first shared this information during a July 6 press conference, where he also identified Dogwood Dell as the intended target based on information from the anonymous tipster he called “a hero.”

“There was never any evidence developed that Dogwood Dell would be targeted,” according to a source who spoke with the Free Press on condition of anonymity. “And other details the chief provided do not stand up to scrutiny. There was no surveillance of the suspects, and the FBI was only minimally involved.

It is not clear why the chief chose to build up the story at the time.

“Everyone has been scratching their head about that,” said one source, who speculated that the chief and Mayor Levar M. Stoney “wanted a big win. The mass shooting in Chicago had just happened, and this looked like a big opportunity.”

Instead, the facts kept getting in the way, leading to increasing skepticism about the chief’s claims of a thwarted terrorist plot. Insiders said he tried to crack down on a few doubters within the department but had to back off to prevent a revolt.

The chief’s decision to stop talking came after his credibility took a hit when Ms. McEachin’s office refused to back up his public statements.

During a preliminary hearing in Rich- mond General District Court Aug. 3, As- sistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Clinton Seal, responding to a question, told Judge David Hicks that while there was “the potential for a shooting,” he could not offer any evidence confirming Dogwood Dell as a potential target.

“The Commonwealth is making, in open court, no allegation with regard to a specified location of Dogwood Dell on the 4th of July 2022 as any potential target that either of these individuals are being alleged to have planned and or plotted,” Judge Hicks said.

Backed into a corner, the chief finally changed his story about the tipster being the source of the information that the two men were planning to target the celebration at Dogwood Dell.

In a release issued after the preliminary hearing, he stated that the information that Dogwood Dell was the intended target came from the RPD investigation of the tip rather than the tipster.

Richmond Free Press reporter Jeremy M. Lazarus contributed to this article.