CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — Charlottesville’s police chief, who oversaw the department’s widely criticized response to a violent White nationalist rally this summer, abruptly retired Monday.
FILE – In a Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017 file photo, Charlottesville Police Chief Al S. Thomas Jr. exits the memorial service for Heather Heyer, at the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville, Va. Heyer was killed when a car rammed into a crowd of people protesting a white nationalist rally. Thomas Jr., who was criticized over the department’s response to the violent white nationalist rally this summer, announced his retirement Monday, Dec. 18, 2017, effective immediately. (Andrew Shurtleff/The Daily Progress via AP, Pool, File)
In a brief statement, the city did not give a reason for Chief Al Thomas’ departure, which was effective immediately.
“Nothing in my career has brought me more pride than serving as the police chief for the city of Charlottesville,” Thomas said in the statement. “I will be forever grateful for having had the opportunity to protect and serve a community I love so dearly.”
Thomas was the city’s first African-American police chief, The Daily Progress has reported.
Earlier this month, a former federal prosecutor rereleased a report that was sharply critical of Thomas’ “slow-footed response” as the violence began to escalate on Aug. 12, the day of the “Unite the Right” rally that drew hundreds of White nationalists from across the county.
A woman was killed when a car plowed into a crowd of people who were peacefully protesting the White nationalists.
The report also said Thomas deleted relevant text messages and made officers fearful of retaliation for speaking with investigators.
Kevin Martingayle, an attorney for Thomas, has said the chief disputes that he deleted text messages. Martingayle didn’t immediately return a message from The Associated Press seeking comment Monday.
City Manager Maurice Jones called Thomas “a man of integrity who has provided critical leadership for our department since his arrival.”
“We wish him all the best in his future endeavors,” he said.
Deputy Police Chief Gary Pleasants will guide the department until an interim chief is formally appointed within the next week, the city’s statement said.
A veteran of the Air Force, Thomas was appointed police chief in April 2016 and began his service the following month, according to the statement.
Before joining the Charlottesville Police Department, Thomas had served as the police chief in Lexington, Virginia, since 2010. Prior to that, he spent 20 years with the Lynchburg Police Department.
Thomas had not publicly discussed plans to step down or retire.