Cops, Courts & Prisons

SATURDAY PROTEST CALLED IN RESPONSE TO INCIDENT AT WILLOW LAWN

By Phil Wilayto for The Virginia Defender

Originally published July 24, 2020 to the Virginia Defender Facebook page.

RICHMOND, VA, July 24 — A protest has been called for 3:30 p.m. Saturday, July 25, at the Willow Lawn shopping center to draw attention to an incident that happened at a sandwich shop there this past Wednesday.

“We’ll be raising concerns about the Marcus Alert and the Civilian Review Board, and get more people on board with pushing that,” said the Rev. Donte McCutchen, pastor of Love Cathedral Community Church and a co-founder of Clergy Action RVA, which recently held a protest at the Marcus-David Peters Circle in Richmond.

One of the speakers at the protest will be Princess Blanding of Justice & Reformation, whose brother, Marcus-David Peters, was fatally shot by a Richmond police officer in May 2018 while experiencing a mental health crisis. Her family has since played the leading role in demanding a Richmond civilian review board with subpoena powers, and a new system – the Marcus Alert – to address similar crises faced by her brother with trained mental health professionals rather than police officers.

While describing the protest as a “communal effort,” Rev. McCutchen said the idea was first raised by a young woman who witnessed the incident at the Which Wich sandwich shop.

Kallie O’Dell, 28, says she was getting a bite to eat at the shop when a police officer came in and spoke with one of the employees.

“Then the officer went back outside and spoke with a Black man who was sitting at one of the outside tables,” she said. “The man was on his phone, not bothering anyone. I didn’t hear what was being said, but I’m guessing the officer was telling him he was trespassing and had to leave.”

Wednesday’s high temperature was 96 degrees. The area where the man was sitting was in the shade.

O’Dell says she went outside, where someone had started videoing what was happening.

“Then there were two officers asking him to leave,” she said. “Two elderly women and a man were also talking to him, asking if he had anywhere to go, but he said he didn’t want to talk with anyone, that he just wanted to be left alone.

“Then two more officers came up and told the man he was under arrest for trespassing,” O’Dell said. “They put him in handcuffs behind his back, and also ankle cuffs, and said if he resisted arrest, that would be another charge. He kept saying he wasn’t trespassing, that he wasn’t bothering anyone.”

Soon more officers arrived – a total of 10, according to reports on social media, along with a Henrico County police van.

“They picked him up to put him in the van,” O’Dell said. “At first he almost fell out. Then two ambulances arrived. He kept asking why he was being arrested, saying he wasn’t doing anything. Then they strapped him down on a stretcher and put him in an ambulance and waited for about 15 minutes before leaving.”

O’Dell said all the officers were from Henrcio County. The shopping center is in the western part of the county off Broad Street, just outside the Richmond city limits.

Since Wednesday, social media has been alive with reports and comments on the arrest. Apparently the man’s name is Aaron Coleman, and several people who say they know him have described him as homeless and struggling with mental health issues.

He reportedly was charged with trespassing, with a hearing date set for November – and no bail. Later social media reports stated an attorney had been able to obtain a bail hearing for July 30.

When this reporter called the Which Wich shop and asked to speak with the owner, he was told the owner wasn’t there and was referred to a man who identified himself only as Brian, who said, “I’m not going to give you my last name.”

Brian referred the reporter to someone named Hala at the corporate media office, who declined to comment saying, “I encourage you to read the police report and then call me back.”

As of 9:00 this evening, two calls placed at 4:30 p.m. today to the Henrico County Police Department asking for more information had not been returned.

Rev. McCutchen said that after he heard about Coleman’s arrest, he and some friends went to the Which Wich shop and handed out food to homeless people in the area. He said the owner came out and apologized for the incident, said he would be training his employees how to handle similar issues in the future and then donated sandwiches to the food distribution effort.

A fundraising effort to support Aaron Coleman has been set up at: https://www.gofundme.com/f/dzgck-help-for-aaron. As of this evening, more than $7,000 had been raised.

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