No jail time for community organizer and housing advocate

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 1/20/2022, 6 p.m.
Veteran community organizer and housing advocate Omari Al-Qadaffi will not have serve any jail time for his role in an …
Mr. Al-Qadaffi

Veteran community organizer and housing advocate Omari Al-Qadaffi will not have serve any jail time for his role in an anti-eviction protest July 1, 2020, at the John Marshall Courts Building in Downtown.

Retired Newport News Circuit Court Judge David F. Pugh on Tuesday sentenced the 41-year-old activist to 30 days in jail on two misdemeanor counts stemming from the protest, but suspended all the time in placing him on probation.

Judge Pugh rejected the argument of assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Katherine Groover that Mr. Al-Qadaffi, who had entered the courthouse, led the protest or incited about 75 protesters outside to damage the building or attack deputies.

A deputy was injured and a large plate-glass window was shattered as protesters became angered at Mr. Al-Qadaffi’s arrest.

A housing rights advocate with the Legal Aid Justice Center, Mr. Al-Qadaffi was at the courts building as a representative of the legal aid group seeking to encourage the courts to suspend hearings on evictions during the pandemic.

Judge Pugh found the video evidence Ms. Groover presented showed Mr. Al-Qadaffi only sitting on the floor inside the build- ing before he was taken into custody and could not be blamed for the actions of others.

Mr. Al-Qadaffi pleaded guilty in October to misdemeanor charges of trespassing and resisting arrest; Tuesdays hearing was to determine his sentence. He had appealed his sentence from Richmond General District Court, where he had been given a total of 180 days in jail, with at least 120 days suspended.

Judge Push was assigned to hear the case after Richmond’s Circuit Court judges recused themselves.

Before imposing the sentence, Judge Pugh said he was im- pressed with the letters that people had written in support of Mr. Al-Qadaffi. The letters detailed Mr. Al-Qadaffi’s importance as a community organizer, for seeking to increase low-income residents’ access to healthy food and for his role in assisting people with housing issues.

Although he did not testify, Mr. Al-Qadaffi told the judge before he was sentenced that he did not intend any violence and regretted that a deputy sheriff was injured. He said he did not know how the protest that began peacefully got out of control and rued the chaos that occurred.