RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Richmond Commonwealth Attorney’s Office has moved not to pursue charges against two alleged mass shooting plot suspects, as the case is to be taken over by federal prosecutors with similar charges. The prosecutor representing the Commonwealth in court Wednesday also confirmed that the office had no evidence of a specific location in Richmond for the alleged plot.
Particulars from the court proceedings
In Richmond’s Manchester General District Court Wednesday morning, Aug. 3, Clinton Seal with the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office filed a nolle prosequi, formally abandoning the suit against 52-year-old Julio Cesar Alvarado-Dubon and 38-year-old Rolman Balacarcel Ac, originally of Baja Verapaz, Guatemala. Both men had been charged with possessing firearms as non-United States citizens.
Presiding Judge David Hicks questioned the claims made by Richmond Police Department (RPD) Chief Gerald Smith and Mayor Levar Stoney on July 6 that Dogwood Dell was the target of the alleged mass shooting plot. Hicks said these comments were contrary to what was communicated to him earlier that day.
“At that point in time, what was represented to the court [was] potential of an unspecified shooting at an unspecified location. I granted bond,” Hicks said.
Hicks also told the court that he had two sons at Dogwood Dell on the date of the alleged attempted mass shooting plot and considered a recusal due to the potential conflict of interest. Seal assured him that the Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office had no information regarding a specific location for the shooting plot, and Hicks opted not to recuse himself.
“The Commonwealth has no information that either of these individuals were involved in a potential shooting or planned shooting at Dogwood Dell on the Fourth of July here in the City of Richmond?” Hicks asked Seal.
“I think that there is evidence to support the potential for a shooting,” Seal responded.
Confusion after the hearing
Commonwealth’s Attorney Colette McEachin told 8News that her office’s evidence came from an anonymous tipster who never mentioned a specific time or place for the alleged mass shooting plot.
“My office asked the U. S. Attorney’s Office to ‘adopt the case’ so that federal resources could be directed at the case, given the seriousness of the allegations,” McEachin said. “The Commonwealth’s evidence was that a tipster communicated to the police that he knew someone who has said that he was going to shoot up a large event on the Fourth of July. No specific time was mentioned by the tipster. Neither Dogwood Dell, nor any other specific location, was ever mentioned by the tipster.”
Federal indictments obtained by 8News show neither criminal complaint filed by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia (EDVA) specifically referenced an alleged mass shooting plot.
While Balacarcel was originally charged with possession of a firearm as a non-United States citizen, his federal charges are strictly immigration-related and no firearm-related charges have been filed. In federal documents, a source told 8News that Balacarcel’s name, which is listed as Balcarcel-Bavagas, is an alias.
Alvarado-Dubon’s charge for possession of a firearm by a person illegally and unlawfully in the United States remains.
The response from Richmond authorities
RPD did not respond to 8News’ questions about what evidence led them to Dogwood Dell as the location for the alleged mass shooting plot. However, later in the day on Wednesday, Aug. 3, RPD released a statement expressing support for the investigative work done by Richmond Police Detectives.
“Following up on a tip from a concerned individual who heard a plot of a mass shooting planned for July 4th, the Richmond Police Department began an exhaustive investigation to determine its validity. Based on the initial information and subsequent investigation, investigators recovered firearms and several hundred rounds of ammunition from the suspect’s residence,” RPD Public Affairs Director Tracy Walker said. “As the case moves forward, we will learn more about what charges will be pursued federally.”
The release did not address the earlier claims made regarding Dogwood Dell as the target for the alleged mass shooting plot. However, Chief Gerald Smith and Mayor Levar Stoney held an impromptu press conference in Creighton Court at 3 p.m.
When asked how it was determined that Dogwood Dell was the target of the alleged mass shooting plot, Smith said, “[It comes] from the experienced knowledge that your police department has in dealing with situations every day; studying what happens in mass shootings…and just a high probability of that would be it.”
“We’ve taken all circumstances into account,” Smith said Wednesday afternoon. “Actually being able to see things that are in the case file and everything that’s taken place and how it works, the circumstances of what [was] going on on the Fourth of July. You’d be hard-pressed to come up with another location besides Dogwood Dell.”
Other sources respond with new details
8News spoke with Balacarcel’s attorney, Sam Simpson, outside the courthouse Wednesday. He noted that he also had questions about what led RPD to Dogwood Dell.
“I think it’s from the content of the tip that they got. They have not been real forthcoming about who the tipster is,” Simpson said. “They found a couple of firearms at the home of the other gentleman that sort of supported, in general, that there are firearms. But, beyond that, I really don’t know where they got the Dogwood Dell thing. I’m not sure where that came from.”
During court proceedings Wednesday morning, the attorneys present, as well as Judge Hicks, acknowledged that what was conveyed to them regarding the suspects during the initial bond hearing did not present the fuller picture of information that RPD shared that same day during its presser.
8News reached out to the EDVA regarding any potential additional charges for the suspects, given that federal documents no longer show a firearm-related offense for Balacarcel. However, a spokesperson said they could not comment on the matter.
A source also confirmed that detainers had been filed for the two suspects to take them into federal custody. The men were originally taken into custody on July 1 and 5, respectively. Alvarado-Dubon had been arrested at a residence in the 3100 block of Columbia Street in Richmond by RPD, while Balacarcel was taken into custody in Charlottesville and transported to the Charlottesville-Albemarle County Regional Jail.
Both men appeared in person in court in Manchester on Wednesday, accompanied by a translator. Simpson noted that, while the suspects could remain in custody in Central Virginia as this case moves forward at the federal level, they would likely be transferred to a regional jail outside the City.