Richmond released body cam after charges were dropped against Oliver Holley in use of force arrest

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0:00 - Shannon Onorati
7:40 - Samuel Yoon
At the last minute, charges were dropped against a Black man who had been accused of assaulting an officer of the Richmond Police Department — a case with allegations that made even the prosecutor feel “uncomfortable.”

On Tuesday morning, minutes before a scheduled jury trial, the commonwealth moved to withdraw charges against Oliver Holley. Last summer, Holley was accused of assaulting RPD Officer Sharon Onorati.

But body camera footage unearthed in the trial cast doubt over the charge, which is a felony that carries a six-month mandatory minimum sentence in Virginia.

The footage shows Officer Samuel Yoon approaching Holley in Maggie Walker Memorial Plaza on Broad Street. Yoon asks him to step onto the sidewalk, then reaches for Holley, who is holding his phone. Holley backs away until Yoon wrestles him into a fern bush.

Yoon submitted a sworn statement that Holley assaulted Onorati.

RPD Body camera footage from Officer Samuel Yoon. Provided by Oliver Holley.

The video shows Onorati joining the confrontation later, in an attempt to help Yoon restrain Holley. But the footage never shows Onorati being assaulted.

Before a judge, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jessica Wildeus said the case had “evidentiary issues.”

Wildeus said she shared her concerns about the charges with Holley’s lawyer, Ashley Shapiro.

“I spoke with Ms. Shapiro candidly and said I was uncomfortable even moving forward with disorderly conduct charges,” Wildeus said before the court.

Shapiro said that Officer Yoon is well known in the Fourth Precinct. Two other cases with similar charges also had similar last-minute dismissals, said Shapiro, an attorney with the Richmond Public Defender’s Office. One of the charges was as recent as last December.

In other cases, Shapiro said her clients have taken pleas out of fear of jail time and felony convictions. Last Friday, the commonwealth made such a gesture, offering a reduced disorderly conduct charge.

Holley declined the plea deal.

“My biggest concern is that this particular officer uses this charge to force people to plea,” said Shapiro after the dismissal. “This case shows that the legislature has failed, and the police department has failed. Thankfully, the commonwealth came through today.”

The two officers were not made available for comment by RPD, despite multiple requests.

Yoon and Onorati are officers stationed on patrol in Richmond’s 4th Precinct, RPD said.

Last week, The Richmond Times-Dispatch requested disciplinary records for the two officers, asking whether the department had substantiated any internal affairs complaints in the case of Holley’s arrest.

RPD General Counsel Sharon Carr refused to share those records, citing a discretionary exemption in Virginia’s FOIA that protects personnel records.

Carr shared that both officers are still on patrol in the same precinct, and that the two suffered “some bruising and scratches” during Holley’s arrest.

Holley, on the other hand, spent two nights in the Richmond City Jail and seven months preparing for his trial.

Shapiro lambasted Commonwealth prosecutors for dragging out Holley’s case despite “evidence that there was no crime committed.”

The body camera footage was shown to prosecutors at a pre-trial hearing in August. At that time, Wildeus was not yet the attorney on the case.

Wildeus said their office came to the decision to dismiss late Monday night, on the eve of the trial.

The Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office did not respond to a request for comment. RPD also did not respond to requests for comment.

“As of yesterday, the commonwealth had planned to go forward with a trial as well,” Wildeus said.

Holley said he was grateful, and appreciated the power that body camera footage played in the dismissal of his case.

“It may have saved my life,” said Holley, who is 54-years-old. “It was compelling evidence.”

Holley said he hopes Yoon and Onorati would be disciplined.

“I’m looking forward to the police department finding ways and methods to make this never happen again,” Holley said.

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