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Unsanctioned protest held

A peaceful protest took place on the Prince Edward County Courthouse lawn Tuesday afternoon, June 2, to show solidarity with Farmville’s African American community following the May 25 death of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police.

Megan Garrett, organizer of Tuesday’s protest, said on social media that she contacted the Town of Farmville about the protest Monday morning, June 1. She stated Prince Edward County Administrator Wade Bartlett contacted her two hours before the protest Tuesday to notify her those participating in the event would be violating the governor’s orders and that the protest would be considered an unsanctioned use of the courthouse lawn.

In her post, Garrett stated she would still be attending the protest. She was joined by approximately 80 people.

The county issued a press release Wednesday, June 3, offering explanation regarding the comments attributed to Bartlett.

“Multiple protests have occurred by separate community groups in the last few days,” the release said. “None of these groups contacted the county to schedule use of the courthouse lawn.”

The release noted that Tuesday, Bartlett learned of two planned assemblies for later that day on the courthouse lawn. He was then informed that both Longwood University and the Town of Farmville had denied these groups use of their properties but that the organizers were advised to use the courthouse lawn.

“Bartlett consulted the county attorney, who recommended that both of these groups be denied use of the courthouse lawn if the assemblies would exceed 10 people, which would violate two executive orders by Gov. (Ralph) Northam,” officials stated in the release, alluding to measures taken to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The release highlighted how Prince Edward County is a political subdivision of the commonwealth and is therefore bound to uphold the governor’s executive orders and the laws of Virginia.

Bartlett reached out to the respective leaders of the groups planning assemblies, sharing his concerns about violating the governor’s executive orders, the release stated.

“Bartlett did not deny anyone permission to use the courthouse lawn for a protest,” the release said. “He did, however, state that county administration could not sanction events that may violate the governor’s executive orders. When questioned by one of the organizers as to whether they would be arrested for violating the governor’s executive orders, Bartlett deferred to the Farmville Police Department and the Prince Edward County Sheriff’s Office, as he does not have authority over law enforcement.”

Bartlett said one group organizer chose to cancel their event. The organizer of the protest chose to continue with the event as planned, although unsanctioned.

Multiple deputies from the sheriff’s office were on hand off to the side at the Tuesday protest, but Deputy J.K. Thorpe made it clear they were not there to remove anyone from the lawn.

“We’re just making sure that there’s no physical or violent actions out there,” he said. “This is a peaceful demonstration, OK? We’re just making sure that they’re safe and that other people are safe.”

Monday afternoon, June 1, approximately 30 law enforcement officials from across the area gathered on the courthouse lawn to read a letter to the public saying they were shocked at the unnecessary death of Floyd.

The county had not shared any press release regarding whether or not this event was sanctioned by the locality, and Bartlett explained why.

“County administration was not asked permission for use of the courthouse lawn for the assembly of the law enforcement agencies nor were we aware of the event until immediately before it happened,” he said. “Administration was unaware that the event would have numbers in attendance that would violate the governor’s executive orders.”

Bartlett offered some insight into the preferred way anyone organizing future events on county grounds can go about making their arrangements.

“The county has allowed lenient use of the courthouse lawn but has expected and appreciated notification in advance when a group plans to organize an event in order to ensure that there are not conflicted uses and that public safety officials can be notified,” he said. “Current public health circumstances require the county to take a more involved approach in the utilization of the courthouse lawn. The county is not making a statement about the enforcement of unsanctioned events from county grounds, as that is not the purview of county administration.”