UPDATED: A rally to “defund the police” before Tuesday’s Prince William Board of County Supervisors meeting ended with the arrests of four protesters after an altercation outside the county's McCoart building, according to acting Police Chief Jarad Phelps.
At 12:45 p.m., Tuesday, July 14, about 15 people gathered in front of the James J. McCoart building carrying signs in support of defunding, or diverting, money from the Prince William County police department. The group stood at the entrance of the building chanting and giving speeches. The protest remained peaceful until a man walking toward the building approached one of the protesters who was leading a chant and screamed at her.
“I hope you and your family get shot,” he said.
A scuffle then ensued as protesters surrounded the man, shouting at him. It is unclear who pushed whom first. One woman was knocked to the ground. A police officer quickly pulled the man inside the building.
Many more police officers quickly arrived on the scene and began talking to the individuals involved in the fight. Prince William County Police Lt. Ruben Castilla told protesters that they would be arrested if they blocked the entrance to the county building.
Shortly after, a young man was handcuffed and detained by police. Several minutes after, a woman was handcuffed and detained by police. And shortly after that, a young woman was handcuffed and detained by police. All three were taken inside the building.
Things grew more chaotic as police declined to tell the protesters why they were being arrested. Castilla said he would not say what the three protesters were being detained for and directed all inquiries to the police department’s public information officer.
During a presentation to the supervisors later Tuesday night, Phelps said four people were arrested during the protest on assault and battery and disorderly conduct charges. Phelps also said the incident remains under investigation.
"All the evidence is being reviewed regarding this" incident, Phelps said. "Just because we made arrests doesn't mean the investigation is over."
Castilla told the Prince William Times that the three protesters had “probably” been taken to the Prince William-Manassas Adult Detention Center. The man who was involved in the conflict was escorted by police to his car later in the meeting.
Many of the protesters remained at the county building to speak during public comment time. Some protesters said they were in contact with those who had been detained. One woman said all three had been charged with assault and battery stemming from the fight but had already been released from jail.
One of the arrestees, Tasia Dodson, 31, returned to the McCoart building after she was released and confirmed that she had been arrested for assault and battery and had been released on a personal recognizance bond.
Dodson said police officers told her that she was being arrested for striking the man with a water bottle, a claim that she denied.
Dodson described the events leading up to the fight. She said that while one of her friends was speaking with the megaphone, a man “approached her … with no mask, no nothing. And told her ‘I hope you and your family get shot.’ That’s when a lot of us got emotional and wanted to protect her and were trying to get him away from us.”
Dodson said she was “very scared” when she was being arrested. Dodson said that she was given no warning that she was being detained and was grabbed from behind by a police officer before being handcuffed. She said she wasn’t told why she was detained until she was brought inside the building to be questioned by police.
“I was very confused, very scared. I was very worried because they wouldn’t tell me nothing,” Dodson said.
This report has been updated with comments from acting Prince William County Police Chief Jarad Phelps. Reach Daniel Berti at email@example.com