Petersburg Police Department Protest Concludes Amid Continued Controversy

Written by: Nathan Cox

After seeing the video of Devin Thomas being assaulted last week, by a Petersburg Police Officer, Vance Richard Richards, for simply filming a traffic stop that happend inside of his apartment complex community, Virginia Cop Block Organized A Peaceful Protest to raise awareness about the situation and to hopefully help bring about accountability and justice to the situation as well.

Tomorrow, Tuesday June 17, Virginia Cop Block has also organized a “Call Flood” and is encouraging people all across the nation who has seen this video of Devin Thomas being assaulted to call the Petersburg Commonwealth Attorney’s Office and the Petersburg Police Department and demand to DROP both the “Disorderly Conduct” and “Resisting Arrest” charges they slapped on Thomas in addition to the concussion on his head from the baton they hit him with. These charges are completely false and unfounded. See the Facebook Event for this event for more information and the correct numbers to call to participate in the Call Flood Event.

As far as today’s protest, this is at least the 3rd organized protest that Virginia Cop Block has organized since launching in 2011. Each one has been a success, has gotten media coverage and has been written about and published on this site. Cop Block is a decentralized project supported by a diverse group of individuals united by their shared goals of police accountability, education of individual rights and the dissemination of effective tactics to utilize while filming police.Pic20

We seek to highlight the double standard that some grant to those with badges. By documenting police actions – whether they are illegal, immoral or just a waste of time and resources – then calling the police stations involved (ideally while recording and then later sharing your conversation), we can work together to bring about transparency and have a real impact.

In addition to this direct pressure on police departments we want to be an educational resource on institutional changes that would curtail the common right-violations and unaccountability today by those with badges and a place to showcase different techniques, viewpoints and courses of action. To curb police brutality, we must first take a look at what the institution really is and what it’s all about. 

Back to today’s protest. Today was successful for several reasons. We raised more local awareness about what happened to Devin Thomas and the ever-growing concern of Police brutality. A didn’t get a crowd count, but it was probably around 50 or so people, maybe more at it’s peak. People from the Community connected with new folks they hadn’t met that are indeed like-minded and want to hold public servants accountable. I personally got to meet and talk to a lot of folks from the Peterburg community and was proud of the turn out and encouraged to hear so many folks want to get more involved in rooting out police misconduct, police abuse and the ever growing double standards that are insidiously wrapped up in the realm of Law Enforcement. Pic15

Unfortunately, however we were not able to get Vance Richards, the criminal who assaulted Thomas, nor Police Chief John Dixon III, nor the public relations officer outside to address the media’s questions and address the public’s concerns and grievances. All they are willing to say is, “It’s under investigation”.
I’m sure that’s the case, and just like the majority of the time, the bully with a badge gets “cleared of any wrong doing”. I truly hope that is not the case with this “internal investigation”. It only makes sense to have independent investigations when things like this go on with Law Enforcement Officers. They are supposed to have integrity, but can we really expect them to do the right thing and discipline and/or arrest bad cops? Here is just one example of how internal investigations can be merely theatrical and how cops believe they are above the law.

See bottom of article for videos from today.
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One thing that is very concerning to me is that over the weekend doing research on the Petersburg Police Department, I found out that as of this March of 2014, the officer in question, Vance Richards and a colleague of his from the Petersburg Sheriff’s Department, Herbert E. Liverman has actually filed a lawsuit against his own chief of police, John Dixon along with the “City Of Petersburg”.
Apparently it’s “civil rights” related, as the cause of actions states Title 42, Section 83 with deals with Deprivation of Rights. First of all, anyone see the irony here? Additionally, can we genuinely expect someone who is being sued, in this case, the Chief of Police, to properly administer disciplinary action against an officer who is suing him!? I believe there may be a slight conflict of interest there.

The Chief of Police, Dixon apparently has a habit of not responding to the media’s questions. When his own son, John Dixon IV was arrested in Henrico County last year, he didn’t have much to say about it and the question remains, did he receive ANY disciplinary action within his own department at Petersburg Police? From people I spoke with today at the protest, apparently he is still working with the department, however, I have not been able to confirm that.

[Correction: Thanks to readers, I realized I made a mistake when misreading the court documentation online. I originally thought and published John Dixon IV was found not guilty for DUI. He was actually found Guilty sentenced to 6 months in jail of which 5 months and 25 days were suspended, and had his license withheld for a year. I’m thankful for those of you who noticed that in the screen shot I previously uploaded. Thank you very much to the readers
who pointed this out – NC]

Should we really expect anything less from a “Justice System” that’s monopolized? A system where for the average person, it’s supposed to be a fair trial, however, the judge, the prosecutor and the cop are all on the same team, they all get paid by the same people (the public!) and they see each other nearly every day and are buddy-buddy with each other. A PRIME example of what I am talking about, ironically enough, yet again comes from the Petersburg Police Department.

Richmond’s WRIC8 investigative journalist, A.J Lagoe uncovered some very disturbing information in his investigation in 2012. A quote from the article states, “A memo issued to Petersburg officers by 1st Sgt. Carl Moore asks officers not to speak to local defense attorneys in an effort to help “win” cases. The problem is that in criminal cases, police officers are supposed to act as independent witnesses who provide facts and testimony to both the prosecution and the defense.”

Going on to further state, Here’s the problem: What these memos do is tell Petersburg officers their job is to get a conviction, when in fact the legal system is based on the premise that officers are independent witnesses, and are supposed to relate the facts in court without bias. 


Now, every time a Petersburg officer testifies in court, the question can be: Are they just trying to get a conviction at all costs? ” And as you can expect, “8News tried to contact Petersburg Police Chief John Dixon about the issue. We were told ‘Chief Dixon does not care to comment.'”


I wish there wasn’t a need for Police Accountability Organizations like Cop BlockCop WatchPhotography is Not a Crime, and the many others that our out there. But there is a demand for organizations, decentralized or not like this. The demand is so high, that here in Virginia local Virginia Cop Block chapters are popping up. Earlier this year “Cop Block Charlottesville” got on the map and in addition to that by midweek of this week, there will be a Virginia Beach (area), a Petersburg and a Hopewell/ Colonial Heights groups all launching their own respective Facebook Pages to better communicate, organize, activate and mobilize.
Lastly, just a “service announcement” for anyone who hasn’t heard about recent court rulings.
It was ruled in 2005 that “Police Do Not Have a Constitutional Duty to Protect Someone.
It was ruled by 1st Circuit Court in 2011, that 1st Amendment clearly establishes right to film Police.
In 2013 The U.S Department of Justice weighed in favor of the right to record.
Local Press:
Videos from today’s event: