Cops, Courts & Prisons


Originally published to The Virginia Defender Facebook page on the date given. Reproduced here for archival purposes.

By Phil Wilayto

The charge of felony assault on a police officer was dropped today in the case of Alecia Nelson, a Black woman who on March 7 was injured while being arrested by a white Richmond police officer after being falsely accused of shoplifting at the Family Dollar store on Westover Hills Boulevard on Richmond’s South Side. Today’s hearing in Richmond General District Court was to set a date for a trial, which now will not take place.

As of this writing, it is not known if the officer, Graham Lang, a 21-year veteran of the Richmond force has been disciplined for his actions in the incident.

At today’s hearing, the prosecutor asked that the assault charge, which carries a mandatory six months sentence, be withdrawn. But that would have left the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office with the option of bringing the charge back at a later time.

Nelson’s attorney, David Whaley, a Richmond attorney who took the case at no cost, argued that the charge should be completely dropped, since the possibility of having it brought back would make it hard for Nelson either to be reinstated at her old job or find a new one.

Since her arrest, Nelson has been on unpaid administrative leave from her position as a teacher’s assistant at Westover Elementary School. She had stopped at the nearby Family Dollar to buy snacks for her daughter’s third-grade class at the school. Although she was arrested for assault, she was never charged with shoplifting.

Alecia Nelson and her father, Christopher Nelson, outside the John Marshall Courts Building after her June 3 hearing at which the assault on a police officer was dropped. Photo by the Virginia Defender.

Nelson was accompanied at today’s hearing by her father, Christopher Nelson, and two members of the Virginia Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality who also attended the previous hearing. Other members had attended a protest held March 12 outside the Family Dollar.

“I’d like to ask the police officer one thing,” her father said after the hearing, “and that’s how would he feel if this happened to his daughter?”

“I’m just relieved that this is over,” Ms. Nelson told the Defender. “I just hope and pray that this doesn’t happen to anyone else.”

After her ordeal on March 7, Nelson filed a complaint with the Internal Affairs office of the Richmond Police Department. Today she said she has yet to hear anything about her complaint.

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