Conspiracy theory? Petitioner wants videos of fatal crash released

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William Evans wants a court to order the release of videos of James Fields’ Dodge Challenger plowing into counterprotesters on Fourth Street on August 12. Photo by Eze Amos William Evans wants a court to order the release of videos of James Fields’ Dodge Challenger plowing into counterprotesters on Fourth Street on August 12. Photo by Eze Amos

In a widely viewed YouTube video, a Fairfax man says he’s able to disprove information disseminated by the Charlottesville Police Department about the fatal car attack on August 12.

Now William Evans is on a mission to find two videos shown publicly in a December 14 court hearing that could help him understand what happened that day, and he claims the city has unlawfully refused to show them to him.

James Alex Fields is charged with driving a silver Dodge Challenger into a crowd of counterprotesters at the Unite the Right rally, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring more than a dozen others. His car rear-ended a second sedan, which then smashed into a minivan, according to a press release published by the city and on the CPD’s Facebook page on August 13.

“The minivan had slowed for a crowd of people crossing through the intersection,” the press release says. But Evans says otherwise. And he has made several YouTube videos about the events that transpired that day.

William Evans

In one called “NEW VIDEO from Charlottesville: the Grassy Knoll Film,” a nod to the conspiracy-theory-prone assassination of John F. Kennedy, Evans shows video evidence from an undisclosed source that the maroon van was stopped at the scene of the crash about five minutes before the fatal attack.

“You tell me whether that van slowed for a crowd of pedestrians or whether that van parked there deliberately,” he says in the video, while positioned in front of two bookcases overflowing with literature and wearing a light blue polo shirt. “The answer is obvious. The Charlottesville Police Department has an obligation to clarify this mistake and to investigate that maroon van, to investigate why it was parked there and to investigate the people in it.”

But Evans never explicitly states his own theory.

For this and other questions he’s raised on his YouTube channel, SonofNewo, Evans has filed a motion seeking a court order under the Freedom of Information Act that the city of Charlottesville and Commonwealth’s Attorney Joe Platania unseal the videos shown in an open courtroom at Fields’ December 14 preliminary hearing, and make them available to the public.

“The precedent is pretty clear across the entire country, both in the Supreme Court and in federal courts and in the state courts that statutes like this, when you show something like this to a portion of the public in a public setting, at that point you don’t have the right as a government entity to withhold it from anybody else who asks for it,” says Evans.

However, Alan Gernhardt at the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council says the videos could fall under FOIA’s criminal investigative files exemption, especially if they were shown at a preliminary hearing. “They’re not actually introduced into the court file,” he says. “It’s a discretionary release showing it for the preliminary hearing but not actually releasing it to the public.”

Evans says the accounts of the videos that he’s read from Unite the Right organizer Jason Kessler and reporters from the New York Times and the Washington Post, who were present at the December hearing, are contradictory.

Platania declined to comment on the record about why he and Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Nina Antony motioned to withdraw the two videos from Fields’ case file.

“I have been served with the petitions and expect the Charlottesville Circuit Court to set the matter for a hearing that I plan to be present for,” he says.

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