(Reuters) – Authorities in Charlottesville failed to protect both public safety and free speech during a white nationalist rally over Confederate statues that turned deadly in the Virginia college town in August, an independent review said on Friday.
The violence between counter-protesters and the white nationalists, who were outraged by the city’s plan to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, marked an eruption in tensions over the symbols of the Civil War’s losing side.
A 32-year-old woman was killed when a car plowed into a group of counter-demonstrators.
Friday’s report by a former U.S. attorney, Timothy Heaphy, faulted law enforcement agencies for breakdowns in planning and coordination that led to “disastrous results.”
“The city was unable to protect the right of free expression and facilitate the permit holder’s offensive speech,” said Heaphy’s report, commissioned by Charlottesville officials amid criticism of the response to the Aug. 12 “Unite the Right” rally.
“This represents a failure of one of the government’s core functions — the protection of fundamental rights,” the report said. “Law enforcement also failed to maintain order and protect citizens from harm, injury, and death.”
Charlottesville spokeswoman Miriam Dickler said the city did not have an immediate comment to the findings.
Activists and residents in Charlottesville, home to the University of Virginia, had demanded answers about how the rally turned deadly. Other cities across the U.S. South have since acted to remove monuments to the Confederacy.
The Charlottesville city council later voted to cover the Lee statue with dark fabric until a lawsuit is resolved that challenges the city’s authority to take the monument down.
Editing by Daniel Wallis and Bernadette Baum