Mayor Stoney, Richmond police chief appeal ruling that allows $5M lawsuit to move forward

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and police Chief Gerald Smith have filed an appeal against a circuit court ruling allowing a $5 million wrongful termination lawsuit against them to continue.

Stoney and Smith are being sued by William “Jody” Blackwell, a former major within the city’s police department who was tapped by the mayor to be Richmond’s interim police chief in June 2020.

Blackwell, who took the interim post after Stoney asked the chief at the time to resign in the wake of clashes between protesters and officers during civil unrest, served as interim chief for just 11 days before returning to his role as major.

Seven months later, Blackwell was fired by Chief Smith for what he alleges in the lawsuit was “retaliation” for not complying with an order from Stoney to have officers stationed around the city’s Confederate monuments as contractors removed them.

Richmond Circuit Court Judge W. Reilly Marchant ruled that the city is protected from the lawsuit through sovereign immunity, but he left the door open for a potential case. As a result, Blackwell’s attorney filed an amended lawsuit in April against Stoney and Smith.

The city filed a demurrer — a motion to dismiss — arguing that Stoney and Smith were also protected from liability and that Blackwell’s lawsuit had failed to present claims showing either acted with “gross negligence, recklessness or willful misconduct” to be exempt from immunity or any link between his firing and refusal to follow Stoney’s request.

Judge Marchant denied the city’s demurrer and the pleas for immunity in early June, leading the attorneys representing Stoney and Smith to file a petition for review with the Virginia Court of Appeals on June 22.

On Tuesday, attorneys for Stoney and Smith filed a motion in Richmond Circuit Court to stay the ongoing proceedings while the appeal is pending.

“Because the Petition for Review, if granted, would be dispositive of the entire civil action, Defendants respectfully request that the Court stay proceedings of this matter pending the Court of Appeals’ disposition of the same,” the motion in Richmond Circuit Court reads.

Blackwell’s lawsuit asserts that following Stoney’s request would have left him and Richmond police officers open to criminal liability because it would have violated a law in place at the time prohibiting authorities from disturbing or interfering with any monuments or memorials.

That clause in the Virginia code was removed through legislation in April 2020, but the change didn’t go into effect until July 1, 2020, after Blackwell alleges Stoney made the order.

Blackwell, who is now with the Chesterfield Police Department, is seeking $5 million and has requested a jury trial. A spokesperson for the mayor’s office said Tuesday that the city does not comment on ongoing or pending litigation.

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