The Scottsville Town Council met last night for their first meeting of the year with a work session and the topic of public safety came up in a several ways. First, town Police Chief Jeff Vohlwinkel updated the Council on compliance with a presidential executive order issued last summer in the wake of the protests that rocked the nation after George Floyd was killed on May 25 after being held to the ground for nine and a half minutes by a police officer’s knee.
“So it’s a presidential executive order related to community policing and safety that requires us to show that we have a use of force policy that complies with the federal and state laws as it relates to use of excessive force and that we have a duty to intervene within the policy as well as barring choke holds,” Vohlwinel said.
Vohlwinkel said the police department’s accreditation would be in jeopardy and it could not receive federal funds without having made the policy change. He also told Council he has been in touch with federal and local authorities regarding the distribution of racist fliers in and around Scottsville.
“I’ve been in touch with the FBI and the Commonwealth’s Attorney and our adjoining agencies to converse with them as to what they have seen or heard related to this matter and I’ve reached out the Virginia Fusion Center as it related to receiving intelligence from them,” Vohlwinkel said.
The Virginia Fusion Center is a counterterrorism agency.
Later in the meeting, the Council discussed a draft of a proposed Mayoral Declaration of the Ideals of the Scottsville Community. Councilor Laura Mellusi read it in the absence of Mayor Ron Smith. (read the statement on the town’s Facebook page)
“We are Scottsville’s community and local government,” Mellusi read. “ We are a small town like thousands of others in our United States but we all have responsibilities to action when our country is threatened.”
The statement went on to say the community does not condone “political violence and intimidation, bigotry and political corruption.”
Councilor Ed Payne said he supported the statement but took issue with the phrase.
“The one word that troubles me is the term political violence,” Payne said. “Now that’s timely because there has been recent political violence but as we all lived through 2020, we saw there were other forms of violence that may in some opinion have been political or may not have. Social, maybe. If this is to go out to the public I would like to see the word political struck from this because violence is violence.”
Councilor Dan Gritsko agreed with Payne and said he appreciated what Mayor Smith was trying to do especially in light of the racist propaganda distributed over the weekend.
“I applaud his effort to be proactive to remind our citizens and to remind those around us who might want to stir up trouble that we don’t want there and we are trying to create a community that is inclusive, that honors people of enormously different backgrounds,” Gritsko said.
Jim Bowling serves as the attorney for the Town of Scottsville. After the discussion on the Mayoral declaration, he updated Council on the weekend’s incident.
“I can stress enough that I’d be surprised if this was done totally by outsiders and I think you’re going to fine some regional or local people involved and it’s important that the town’s citizens take on the responsibility to help their other citizens in trying to find whoever is responsible for this,” Bowling said.
Council discussed a potential reward for more information, but Councilor Dan Gritsko said he was concerned about overreaction.
“I’m not overly worried about who did it, we’ll find out who did it one way or the other,” Gritsko said. “We should be thick-skinned enough as a people to be able to deal with somebody’s poor reasoning or poor thinking in the light of freedom of speech as a country.”
Gritzko said he regularly takes students to the National Holocaust Museum in D.C. and the truth is that the Nazis murdered millions of people. But Bowling pointed out that the fliers were intended to intimidate.
‘The point here though is that this is criminal behavior and its domestic terrorism and anything else is to kick it under the table,” Bowling said.
Will it happen again? Mellusi told anyone watching to notify the authorities if they are intimidated.
“If you received information you’re not comfortable with, or if you’re feeling threatened in anyway, to please contact our chief of police and to share that information with him,” Mellusi said. “If you don’t live in the town but you’re in the county of Albemarle, county of Buckingham, county of Nelson, county of Fluvanna to reach out to those police.”
This post was originally published as part of the January 12, 2021 edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement.