Months after Charlottesville violence, police chief announces immediate retirement

FILE - In a Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017 file photo, Charlottesville Police Chief Al S. Thomas Jr. exits the memorial service for Heather Heyer, at the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville, Va. Heyer was killed when a car rammed into a crowd of people protesting a white nationalist rally. Thomas Jr., who was criticized over the department’s response to the violent white nationalist rally this summer, announced his retirement Monday, Dec. 18, 2017, effective immediately. (Andrew Shurtleff/The Daily Progress via AP, Pool, File)

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WSET) -- Charlottesville Police Chief Alfred Thomas has announced his retirement after 27 years in law enforcement and months after the department’s widely criticized response to a violent white nationalist rally this summer.

Thomas is a veteran of the United States Air Force and was appointed police chief in April 2016.

"Nothing in my career has brought me more pride than serving as the Police Chief for the City of Charlottesville," said Thomas. "I will be forever grateful for having had the opportunity to protect and serve a community I love so dearly. It truly has been an unparalleled privilege to work alongside such a dedicated and professional team of public servants. I wish them and the citizens of Charlottesville the very best."

City Manager Maurice Jones will formally appoint an interim police chief within in the next week.

"Chief Thomas has served his country and three communities here in Virginia with distinction and honor," said City Manager Maurice Jones. "He is a man of integrity who has provided critical leadership for our department since his arrival. We wish him all the best in his future endeavors."

A report earlier this month was sharply critical of Thomas' "slow-footed response" as the violence began to escalate on Aug. 12, the day of the “Unite the Right” rally that drew hundreds of white nationalists from across the county.

A woman was killed that day when a car plowed into a crowd of people after the white nationalist rally.

The report also said Thomas deleted text messages and made officers fearful of retaliation for speaking with investigators.

An attorney for Thomas has said the chief disputes that he deleted text messages.

Deputy Chief Gary Pleasants will guide the department until the interim chief is appointed.

The City said it will begin its search for a new chief immediately.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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