GLOUCESTER COURTHOUSE, Va. (WAVY) — Leaders in Gloucester County, Virginia, say meetings can sometimes get a little heated, but not like this. Video shows the county attorney being choked by a resident at an Oct. 4 town hall meeting.
“This town hall meeting was for all the citizens that wanted to come out and voice their opinions, and that’s just not what happened,” Chris Hutson, chairman of the Gloucester County Board of Supervisors, said. “It just escalated.”
Deputies were called to the meeting at Page Middle School around 8:40 p.m.
Through a Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, Nexstar’s WAVY obtained cell phone video that shows Gloucester County resident Lawrence Cohen choking Gloucester County Attorney Edwin N. “Ted” Wilmot.
With one hand around Wilmot’s throat and the other still holding onto the microphone, you can hear Cohen say, “You’ve had enough. Let go of me. You are attacking me.” Another person intervenes and breaks it up.
It began when Cohen got his turn to speak at the meeting, asking for the finance director. He then began to ask several questions related to money.
“Ms. Steele, I’m trying to get a question out,” Cohen said.
“Mr. Cohen, Mr. Cohen, you need to stop bullying the staff, you may ask a question, one question, and that’s it,” Wilmot said to him.
Cohen continued to speak. A couple people approached him in attempt to take away the microphone. The county video obtained by WAVY shows that Wilmot then tried to get the microphone, that’s when the choking incident happened.
Cohen was charged with assault and battery.
“Citizens and social media and all kinds of other things that play into that have provided additional information outside what we have said,” said County Administrator Carol Steele. “And I think some of the information that has been out is not been accurate.”
Steele said these meetings are for residents to be able to ask questions about the projects, where their tax dollars are going, and get the correct information out there.
“I mean, it was completely unexpected,” Hutson said. “We had citizens there talking and asking questions and it just escalated out of control.”
Steele and Hutson say following the outburst, the board has had conversations about adding more security at meetings.
“It just felt like this is a town hall, but I think times have changed and we should have security at any of those meetings just as an extra precaution,” Steele said. “We still want to have town halls, we still want people to come out and whether they disagree or agree, we want people to voice their opinions. It just has to be done civilly.”
WAVY asked Cohen if he wanted to share his side of what happened that night, but he didn’t respond. Cohen’s next court appearance is set for Wednesday.