Community News

ARREST OF HOMELESS MAN LEADS TO PROTEST AT WILLOW LAWN

Originally published in the Summer 2020 edition of the Virginia Defender, printed August 14. Reproduced here for accessibility and archival purposes. To find other stories in this issue or download the full PDF, see this post. For the full web catalog, see our Full Issues page.

Black Lives Matter activists hold a protest outside the Willow Lawn restaurant where a homeless man was arrested by 10 cops on July 22. Photo by Taimir Gore.

By Phil Wilayto

If you’re sitting at a table outside a restaurant, you’re expected to buy something. That’s understood.

But if you’re homeless and it’s a really hot day and the unused table is in the shade, you might think it wouldn’t be a big deal to rest there a bit.

But on July 22, at the Which Wich sandwich shop at the Willow Lawn shopping center in Henrico County, you’d be wrong.

That’s when around 10 police officers arrested Aaron Coleman, whom several people who say they know him have said is homeless and has been struggling with mental health issues.

Kallie O’Dell, 28, says she was getting a bite to eat at the sandwich 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.”

The day’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 Henrico County. The shopping center is in the western part of the county off Broad Street, just outside the Richmond city limits.

In response, a protest was held July 25 outside the sandwich shop to promote “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 had held a protest at the Marcus-David Peters Circle in Richmond.

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

According to a police report obtained by the Defender, Coleman was charged with trespassing, disorderly conduct and obstruction. According to social media accounts, a hearing date was set for November – and no bail. Later reports stated an attorney had been able to obtain a bail hearing for July 30.

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 Aug. 12, more than $7,000 had been raised.

Categories: Community News

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