Longo memo raises new fury

A memo sent by the Charlottesville Police chief to reassure City leaders about an accident that injured a wheelchair-bound pedestrian reveals that his department, which controversially issued a jaywalking ticket to the victim, ignored two witnesses. And that leaves one of them "outraged."

On November 5, Ben Gathright watched in horror as an Albemarle police officer drove his cruiser into artist Gerry Mitchell at the corner of West Main and Fourth streets. The wheelchair-bound Mitchell, a long-time AIDS victim, subsequently experienced renal failure and is suffering from arm injuries incurred in the incident.

Hours after the accident, a Charlottesville police officer arrived in the University of Virginia Hospital emergency room and served Mitchell with a jaywalking ticket, which some have branded a brother-in-blue defensive move to stave off litigation.

A little over a month later, on December 12, Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo sent a memo to City Council defending his department's decisions and alleging that there were "no witnesses" to the accident. Indeed, police never took a formal statement from Gathright– but not because he didn't offer.

Gathright describes "repeated" efforts to offer police his statement about the event. While he says he doesn't know if he spoke with the lead investigator at the scene, Charlottesville police officer Steve Grissom, he brands as "absolutely not true" the idea that police might have been unaware of his presence.

"When I was on the scene that day," Gathright says, "I made myself readily available."

After Albemarle County officer Gregory C. Davis hit Mitchell, it was Gathright who rushed out of his own idling car to Mitchell's side. He and Davis lifted Mitchell from the street back into his wheelchair. Once Mitchell was on the side of the road, Gathright wrote his contact information on the back of a business card and handed it to Mitchell.

Officer Davis, Gathright claims, then "matter of factly" took the card out of Mitchell's hand and returned to his cruiser, so Gathright wrote his information down for Mitchell a second time.

Gathright says he not only remained at the scene, but at one point walked with an officer to nearby Main Street Market to purchase a bottle of water for Mitchell, who was badly shaken and crying. That unidentified officer, Gathright says, asked him a few questions about what he'd seen, but never attempted to take a formal statement. Gathright says he lingered at the scene so long that eventually the police asked him what he was still doing there.

"I thought, being the only impartial witness, I should stay,'" Gathright says. Two days after the accident, when he still hadn't been contacted by police, Gathright called the Charlottesville police station and once again identified himself. He says he spoke to both a dispatch sergeant and an officer who said he had been the one supervising the scene, but still no officer took a statement.

Until today, the day after Chief Longo gave a Hook interview.

Longo's memo to Council was written December 12, six days after the Hook's cover story on the accident was published. The article included Gathright's detailed account of the incident as well as that of a second witness, Haywood Johnson, who'd been aboard city bus #7 stopped at the light at West Main and Fourth streets when Mitchell was hit. Johnson says he has not heard from police.

Although the December 6 Hook cover story contained both men's names, and Gathright had repeatedly offered his number to the police, the chief was pleased to be given the phone numbers of the two witnesses.

"If witnesses have something different, it could very well affect my analysis," says Longo, who explained that he got all the information included in his memo from his officers.

On the morning after the Hook's December 19 interview with Longo, Gathright reports, he received his first official contact from Charlottesville officer Steve Grissom, who told Gathright that he'd been told by his superiors to make the call.

Gathright also received a phone call yesterday from Detective Tim Seitz, the internal affairs investigator with Albemarle County police. Gathright says he is sending Grissom an account of the accident he wrote the day it happened, and that he will meet in person with Seitz after Christmas.

Gathright isn't the only one bothered by inconsistencies in Longo's memo.

Pedestrian activist Kevin Cox objects to the memo's description of the impact between cruiser and wheelchair. Longo wrote that Mitchell "left the chair and fell to the pavement."

The Hook's requests for a copy of a dash-cam video that captured the incident has been denied by both the city and the county pending resolution of the case.

During the public comment period of the City Council meeting on Monday, December 17, Cox, Mitchell, and several others expressed outrage about the accident and subsequent events. In response, Mayor David Brown suggested that media coverage may have been unfair because police policy prohibits the department from defending itself publicly.

That prompted Councilor Kevin Lynch to mention Longo's three-page memo, which he said had not satisfied his questions about the incident.

Longo's regime is already reeling from another crosswalk incident in which one of his officers pushed a female pedestrian to the pavement after her fiancé berated the officer's driving. The officer arrested the couple, but after a five-hour trial in November, the couple was found not guilty of charges of obstruction and drunk in public, even though Charlottesville District Court Judge Bob Downer implied he believed the officer's account.

Longo says the relentless media coverage– plus another incident in which City police ticketed a wheelchair-bound pedestrian struck by a vehicle– have made it difficult for him to do his job, and he says citizens need to "trust" that he will do the right thing.

Before taking the top police post in Charlottesville seven years ago, Longo worked in internal affairs at the Baltimore police department. His past, he says, proves his willingness to investigate his own officers.

"I take that extremely seriously," he says, mentioning difficult decisions he has made during his tenure as Charlottesville chief. In 2005, he requested that State Police and the Attorney General's office investigate two officers who were subsequently fired and imprisoned for corruption.

"Whether it's an officer or a citizen, the process doesn't change," Longo says. "In the meantime, what's happened is that there's a suspicion– in large part fueled by the media telling this story over and over again– that the public's concerns are falling on deaf ears. They're not."

In his memo, Longo says he is looking into the possibility of having a citizen oversight committee to help increase the public's confidence. In the interview, he says he's open to suggestions to make the department "more transparent."

While Mitchell is scheduled to go to court January 3 to defend himself against the charge of crossing against a pedestrian signal (even though the traffic light was green), Longo's memo hints that the controversial charge against the dying artist may be dropped. But not because police are willing to admit they were wrong.

Instead, Longo wrote, the code section Mitchell is charged with violating uses the words "Walk" and "Don't Walk" while the crosswalk where Mitchell was hit uses symbols of a red hand and white walking figure. That, writes Longo, means the law regarding failure to obey a signal cannot be applied.

Even if the charges against Mitchell are dropped, pedestrian activist Cox doesn't intend to let the issue disappear. In addition to asking city councilors to investigate how police made the decision to ticket Mitchell, he has sent emails to Albemarle County administrators demanding they be accountable for Mitchell's injuries and expenses whether he chooses to file a civil suit or not.

"Do the humane and charitable thing," Cox writes in an email to County Executive Bob Tucker. Tucker responds that if Davis is found liable, the county's insurance plan will pay, but that the county is not permitted to use public funds to compensate anyone absent a legal process.

Mitchell, whose bones are brittle from the drugs he takes to control AIDS, is still struggling with pain from a shoulder injury he says he sustained when he was lifted from the street. His rotator cuff is torn, and he has several fractures, he says. His medical bills are mounting, and he wonders whether he'll ever get one thing he's been hoping for since the accident: an apology.

–With reporting by Courteney Stuart



The victim should sue. Especially since the cop should have called an ambulance. I can't imagine anything dumber than moving a person who has been struck by a car--especially a person in a wheelchair.

Cletus, the vast majority of the local population has no clue whatsoever that such things could take place right in their back yard. It's TV and movie stuff to them. They will never believe it does take place until it happens to them or one of their family members. And even when obstuction of justice, questions of evidence, corruption and perjury are exposed, there's usually nobody that will listen and issue criminal warrants. There's cops on both the city and county police departments that should be behind bars. Bad cops are investigated, charged and jailed ONLY when it makes a department look good. Like in the Saunders & Fitzgerald sex scandals a year or two ago. This was a feather in Longo's cap. If an investigation and prosecution will make the department or their reputation look bad, they allegations are denied and are swept under the rug. Occasionally, an investigation, prosecution and imprisonment will slip through the cracks and have to be exposed. But only because another state agency or a federal agency is working the case. Like the captain in the Albemarle Police Department who was arrested for soliciting juveniles on the Internet for sex. Albemarle had already swept several things under the rug that should have been warning signs to Chief Miller. Massachusetts detectives finally ended up exposing this bad cop to the area residents.

Mrs. Fonebone, you obviously are not aware of the quality of police officers being hired nowadays. The witness can claim ignorance in grabbing Mr. Mitchell and trying to help him up. The cop at one time couldn't, but they sure can nowadays too. :)

Seems like a certain police chief may have worn out his welcome.

The suspicion is that the Charlottesville and Albemarle Police departments do whatever the hell they want to. Because they usually do.

So long, Chief Longo. Thanks for playing!

BS detector, do the phrases "obstruction of justice" and "conspiracy to manufacture evidence" mean anything to you?

Chief Longo needs to go up against his men in blue and demand that they start living up to the level of respect they DESIRE instead of lowering themselves further down to the one they have earned.

If you work as a doctor, lawyer, Carpenter, plumber or police officer you have an obligation to protect the reputaion of your employer and if that means standing up to your coworkers for the common good then you need to do it. Turn to your screw up officers and tell them to get their crap together because you are tired of covering for them.

The ONLY way however that that can work is if the BOSS will side with you when the crap hits the fan.

Patially Interested, some cop might live beside you on Pantops, but it isn't Longo. He bought a new home about a year or two ago and lives in the City of Charlottesville. Before that, his previous home was also in the City of Charlottesville. It's actually public record if you visit the City of Charlottesville tax assessment web page. As a matter of fact, I have a big problem with where Longo lives. The street is extremely narrow and the occupants seem to have way too many cars in each household. So they park on top of the sidewalks, and pedestrians have to walk out in the traveled portion of the roadway. The city can't even tell you whether the street has been incorporated yet or not. Which of course has everything to do with parking enforcement. One fellow at the city said once we see the trash trucks traveling through the court, it's been incorporated. He suggested the residents then file complaints with the City Manager about the illegal parking. Isn't that one hell of an answer? I'll bet the guy who gave me that answer is probably making a minimum of about $75,000 to $100,000 annually.

Says it all: ¢Ã¢â??¬Ã?â??So Longo!¢Ã¢â??¬

Okay guys, I'm putting on my flameproof suit to say that I actually like Tim Longo and think he's doing a good job-- sucky and insulting memo notwithstanding. *ducks* He's not a part of the bad ol' boys network and truly believes in community policing. There have been a lot of positive changes in the CPD since his arrival. Longo is generally accessible to the average person (never known anyone personally who couldn't get a hold of him when they needed to, anyway). I've seen people be really critical of him, but he remains cordial to them and seems genuinely interested in their opinions. I feel free to tell him his memo sucked, and why I feel that way, and am confident that I won't be mysteriously run over as a result.

All of that said, I stand 100% against what Mike Flaherty did and think he needs a serious ass-kicking. That goes double for the officers involved in the Mitchell case, and the case of the woman who was run over near UVA.

But there are nuances to every situation. Mike Flaherty is a smart college-educated guy from Boston who is totally passionate about educating citizens about the signs of gang activity. But the Austin/Silva case causes me to believe that he has an anger management problem and is probably unsuited to being a cop... or any other position that entails having that level of power over other human beings. This saddens me because I've seen that he has some really good qualities and is a very intelligent guy. I'm not excusing him at all in saying this-- just saying that he has another side. But that offers no comfort to the victims.

Most people that know me say I'm a kind and ethical person, but I would make a TERRIBLE cop. Perps in my custody might show up at the station with dents in their heads. Child molesters probably wouldn't even make it to the station at all. It takes something special to be a really good police officer. Imagine being able to maintain your cool and be impartial, even when you have custody of a really horrific criminal like someone that murdered a kid. Or how incredibly depressing it must be to arrest drunk drivers over and over again when you've seen the dead bodies and had to go give the families the bad news. I can't imagine how tiresome it must be to hear the same excuses repeated by speeders, or to have them get furious with me and make it personal, even though they were caught fair and square. Whatever that is, I ain't got it.

Sick Of and Free Speech, I've read and enjoyed your posts. I agree with much of what you've said. Some of the things I hate most in this world are bullies and people who won't admit they screwed up, and cover-up instead. But I also think there are shades of gray, and that most cops are actually decent people. Like you, I was really surprised that Grissom was involved-- there's a perfect example of a decent person exercising bad judgment and then being publicly vilified for it.

I'm more convinced than ever that a citizen's oversight committee is the way to go. And I need to see more from Longo because I know he's can do better.

quote: "Longo says the relentless media coverage¢Ã¢â??‰â?¬Å? plus another incident in which City police ticketed a wheelchair-bound pedestrian struck by a vehicle¢Ã¢â??‰â?¬Å? have made it difficult for him to do his job, and he says citizens need to ¢Ã¢â??¬Ã?â??trust¢Ã¢â??¬ that he will do the right thing."

The citizens I speak with no longer trust Longo. Period!

What little trust was left evaporatd during the Flaherty BS!

Can't he get this through his head yet?

I tried several years ago to tell him some of his men were totally out of control and acting stuipd. He didn't want to listen.

Please go to http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/justice-for-gerry-mitchell.html
to see the petition from Friends of Gerry Mitchell.

Longo's compassion for Gerry really shows in his mis-spelling of his name. Tard.

I saw an able-bodied woman (or a woman with no visibile disabilities) jaywalk in front of the downtown police station this afternoon while I was in my car. Somehow she didn't get a ticket. Hmm.

If the police think it unfair that there policy prohibits them from commenting on cases while they are being investigated then they can change there policy. No one is stopping them...

The other thing they can do is to get to the bottom of this crap on day one. If you look at what has happened there are only 5 people Longo needed to talk to, The albemarle officer, Gerry Mitchell, The two witnesses and the C-ville cop who was on the scene. He could ascertain what happened in a day or two and then FIRE THE COPS WHO THINK THAT IT IS OK TO IGNORE WITNESSES AND GIVE A TICKET TO A MAN IN A HOSPITAL.

This ain't rocket science. If it were State Farm, or Allstate, they would have interviewd everybody within three days and either settled or denied the claim within a week.

Longo needs to grow a pair.

Perhaps Cville Eye might even chime in on this without lambasting a fellow patriot. Who knows?

Wow, I read the memorandum and it is about the most ridiculous collection of verbiage I have ever allowed my visual acuity to interpret.

A citizen was callously mowed down in a crosswalk and the officer was not charged. I see no verbiage from the criminal police force about apologies and making amends.

Just butt covering stuff!

But what else would anyone suspect from the local police force.

Mr. Mitchell, please sue them!!! I will donate to your legal fund! Even volunteer for jury duty!!!

Oh, and we don't expect any comments from the police department while they are in the process of covering their butts.

I will renew my efforts to get CNN to cover this atrocity.

Longo has worn out his welcome ONLY when City Council says he has. Comments in a blog have no impact. Call up City Council and raise hell with them. I don't think we would have any of these problems right now if the well qualified major up in Norther Virginia had been hired back when the city decided to give "good ole boy Rittenhouse" the job instead.

By the way, if HOOK staff is reading, I heard on the city police frequency that a 89-year-old woman was hit in a crosswalk last night. Up around the 10th Street area N.W. area (??). Might be worth looking into.

"I saw an able-bodied woman (or a woman with no visibile disabilities) jaywalk in front of the downtown police station this afternoon while I was in my car. Somehow she didn't get a ticket. Hmm."

Were any cops watching her? If not I'm willing to bet that may be one reason why she didn't get a ticket.

Music Lover, the cops had to be watching.

Otherwise they would have run over her in the crosswalk. :)

Chief Longo is a very friendly, affable guy. I suspect that his personality probably influenced the decison to hire him. He's quick with a smile or a greeting. He also has always been responsive to my emails, calls and requests for information. Things could be much worse.

When our neighborhood had some serious problems with drunken, rowdy neighbors he was very helpful. He wrote letters to the owners of the properties and warned them that they had some responsibility for the disruptive, criminal behavior originating in their properties and that they could suffer some consequences if these problems weren't solved. He had various officers contact us directly and he worked with the Commonwealth's Attorney to get the problems resolved. Even so it was a frustrating process that didn't really get resolved until we got the thugs mad by calling the police regularly and one of them aassaulted an innocent neighbor. Thjis resulted in charges and an eviction. During this time there were frequent violent drunken fights. One of the residents had multiple felony convictions and a suspended drivers license. He would beat his girlfriend, terrorize the young kid in the house and stay drunk all the time. I'd see him sitting in front of his home drinking early in the morning. Then he'd get in his car and drive with impunity. I called the police 4 or 5 times as soon as he got in the car and they never could catch him.

Chief Longo has always impressed me as someone who is very concerned about his image and understands how his job performance reflects on his image. Being approachable, cooperative and friendly are important and I value these qualities. What really matters the most though, is how the officers on the street do their job. Some of them do it very well but there is a real problem with inconsistent job performance and it's ultimately Chief Longo's responsiblity.

I've thoroughly enjoyed learning more about our local Officer Longo this morning while sipping my extra-rich fresh-brewed coffee. However, I keep asking myself the question: How can an intelligent adult learn of an accident on West Main and believe there were no witnesses?

Is Longo a victim of sitting in the ivory tower, over reliant and too believing of his officer's statements, or perhaps not fit for a leadership position? How can a witness bend-over-backwards to make a statement and that knowledge, somehow, does not bubble up to the Police Chief?

I smell something a bit odd! And I doubt internal affairs smells anything at all!

Free Speech, you are correct. It appears as if Longo's chain of command is just about as much use to him as a broken cell phone is. Or the chain of command intentionally withheld things from Longo as they tried to surreptitiously bail the county police driver out of the hot seat. They might have gotten by with it all if The Hook hadn't published Mitchell's story.

As an illegal alien, I stay mobile. So does Chief Longo. He lives in an apartment near me on Pan Tops. He and I have no "roots" in C'ville.