by Kerry Dougherty
Last spring we ran an accidental series of stories about the Virginia Parole Board, which was busy releasing some of the commonwealth’s most depraved criminals.
At first we learned of one murderer being released from prison. A few days later we heard about another and another until we had six. Before we knew it, we had a series.
There were also allegations that the board wasn’t following procedures. Prosecutors told us they were not being given adequate notification before criminals were released. Victims’ families said they weren’t contacted at all.
Unacceptable. All of it.
Most Virginians became aware of the Richmond freeing frenzy when they heard in May about the impending release of Vincent Martin, a Richmond cop killer. The outcry from law enforcement caused a delay but Martin was released in June.
By Dick Hall-Sizemore
One of the pieces of the criminal justice reform package that caused some consternation on this blog has been killed in a House committee. SB 5032 (Surovell, D-Fairfax) would have amended the statute that makes assault of a public safety employee, including a law-enforcement officer, a felony, with a mandatory minimum sentence of six months. (Assault generally is a misdemeanor.)
As the bill emerged from the Senate, it included the following provisions:
- The felony charge was retained;
- The mandatory minimum sentence was eliminated;
- If the degree of culpability were slight, e.g. offender was mentally ill, or if there were no bodily injury, a jury or judge could find the offender guilty of misdemeanor assault, rather than felony assault. (Such a reduction in the charge would be discretionary on the part of the jury or judge.), and
- The incident would have to be investigated by another law-enforcement officer not involved and any arrest approved by the Commonwealth’s attorney.
Senate of Virginia, in session in Science Museum Photo credit: Virginian Pilot
By Dick Hall-Sizemore
Although there is not an official “cross-over” deadline for legislation in the special session, each house of the General Assembly seems to have largely completed consideration of its own bills. Thus, this is a good time to review their progress on enacting the Democrats’ agenda on criminal justice reform and revising the budget.
Criminal justice system reform
I have prepared a table (available here) listing all the major bills and the actions of each house. As is usually the case in legislative sessions, there were multiple bills introduced on some subjects. The usual procedure is to pass only one bill and “incorporate other bills into it, giving credit to the incorporated bills in the header. Accordingly, when there were multiple bills on an issue, I have listed only the bill that was selected to go forward.
In order to be somewhat consistent, I have used the same format that I used previously in summarizing the announced criminal justice reform agendas. I have also included several issues that surfaced during the session that were not on that agenda.
Some summary take-aways: Continue reading
by Kerry Dougherty
Since Virginia’s lawmakers are determined to waste our money and their time on a special session in Richmond where they’re ramming through laws that should wait until they officially meet again in January, here’s one more to put on their list:
How about making it a felony — with mandatory prison time — to demonstrate, protest or in any way interfere with the entrance to a hospital emergency room? I’ve combed the Code of Virginia and can’t find a statute to cover this.
You might remember that back on June 28th something went down outside the Atlantis Apartments in Virginia Beach. There were conflicting accounts. All of them disturbing.
According to The Virginian-Pilot, a man was badly injured in a motorcycle accident there. When rescue workers arrived, they were hassled by some in the crowd who had gathered around the injured man. In a later Pilot story, the fire chief walked back the account a bit, saying that the crowd was merely “emotional” when someone kicked and pushed fire fighters.
By Peter Galuszka
In a remarkable display of incompetence, the Trump Administration this summer transferred dozens of undocumented aliens being held in detention centers in Arizona and Florida to a private prison in Farmville just so special federal tactical officers could beef up crowd control in Washington, D.C.
Consequently, some 300 inmates at the Farmville Detention Center operated by the privately held Richmond-based Immigration Centers of America contracted the COVID 19 virus and one died.
The action, reported this morning by The Washington Post, prompted U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine to call for stricter oversight of the Farmville facility that operates under a contract with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to hold undocumented aliens while their cases are being reviewed or while they await deportation.
Jennifer Boysko, a Democratic state senator, called for changes in state law to allow greater regulation of private prisons.
According to the Post, the Trump Administration wanted more protection from generally peaceful protests that were being held near the White House that called attention to police slayings of African Americans while in custody. Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser declined to call for federal help. Continue reading
by Kerry Dougherty
It was easy to miss. Buried near the bottom of page 2 in Monday’s Virginian-Pilot was a five-paragraph story headlined, “Officials: Va Beach police fatally shoot man during domestic dispute.”
Pay attention, because the volatile situation at the heart of this news report is repeated night after night in big cities and small towns all across America, while the rest of us sleep peacefully in our beds.
According to the report, police were summoned to a “violent domestic situation” on Sunday morning at 4:30 a.m. in the 300 block of Garrison Place. Once there they encountered a man with “bladed weapons” — I’m guessing these were knives or machetes, although I suppose they could have been swords. Naturally, the man refused to drop the sharp objects when ordered to, hastening his death.
The guy then grabbed a woman — again, I’m guessing this was his wife or girlfriend, probably the person who had called the police — dragged her into another room and barricaded the door. The woman was screaming for help so the police officers broke down the door, found the victim badly injured and they shot the man.
The woman is in the hospital.
We’ve all seen videos of police officers behaving badly — the exception, not the rule — and those rogue officers need to be removed from service and punished. But the explosive situation in this Virginia Beach home is far more commonplace: A woman was being menaced by a violent lover or husband and she called the police to save her life. Continue reading
By DJ Rippert
Risky business, reccless behavior. Federal prosecutors recently charged members of a Northern Virginia drug gang, the Reccless Tigers, with a variety of felonies. A US News & World Report article claims multiple members of the gang have been charged with “murder in a sweeping new indictment that blames the northern Virginia street gang with two deaths, multiple fire bombings and a sophisticated bi-coastal drug operation that supplied marijuana-laced vape pens to kids throughout the region’s school systems.” This is not the gang’s first brush with the law. Nearly 20 members of the gang and associates of the gang already pleaded guilty to federal charges stemming from drug related activities.
New kids in town. Government sources say that the Reccless Tigers were formed in 2011 in the Centreville area of Fairfax County. The gang mounted a fairly sophisticated operation. Drug dealers would be induced to go into debt to the Reccless Tigers for the purchase of marijuana to be sold in Northern Virgina. When the dealers struggled to pay back the debt they would be forced to work at a marijuana farm in Hayfork, California which had ties to the gang. In essence, the gang operated a vertically integrated farm-to-vape-pen business. The farm was raided in July 2019.
The cost of cooperation. As the USN&WR article states, “Brandon White was given a choice, prosecutors say: If he opted not to testify against a member of the Reccless Tigers street gang who had assaulted him, a gang member would pay him $8,000 for his injuries. But if he testified, he’d be killed. White testified. Less than three months later, he was dead, his body left in the Virginia woods.”
The profit of illegality. It’s hard to imagine how the Reccless Tigers would have been able to fund their criminal enterprise if Virginia was one of the eleven states which have legalized the recreational sale and use of marijuana. In Virginia, the penalty for possessing small amounts of marijuana was decriminalized effective July 1. However, there are still severe criminal penalties for the manufacture, transport and distribution of marijuana. Criminals willing to bear the risks of providing the marijuana are able to profit handsomely. And, as with almost all criminal enterprises, turf, territory and violence accompany the crimes. The cost of Virginia’s intransigence on legalizing marijuana is more than lost taxes and lost legitimate jobs. It also includes lost lives.
Sen. Jennifer Boysko (D), Fairfax
By Dick Hall-Sizemore
Increasing earned sentence credits for offenders in state prisons seems to have a good chance of passing in the General Assembly session. SB 5034 (Boysko, Fairfax) has been reported by the Committee on Rehabilitation and Social Services and re-referred to the Finance Committee. The House Democratic Caucus’s agenda for the special session includes this issue.
So far, the discussions surrounding this issue have missed the fact that this bill, along with the reinstatement of parole that will come up in the 2021 regular session, will seriously undermine two major elements of the Commonwealth’s criminal justice system. Continue reading
Tear gas deployed against Richmond protesters earlier this summer. Photo credit: Commonwealth Times
by James A. Bacon
A House of Delegates subcommittee has passed a bill, the Best Equipment for Law Enforcement Act, that would ban law enforcement use of tear gas, rubber bullets and beanbag rounds. In a party-line vote, Democrats supported the bill and Republicans opposed it, reports the Virginia Mercury.
“It’s currently legal for police in Virginia to use chemical weapons against civilians that we don’t even allow our troops to use in warzones,” said Del. Dan Helmer, D-Fairfax, who sponsored the legislation. Rubber bullets and beanbag rounds, he said, “are known to pose significant risk of death and permanent disability.”
The wording of the HB 5049 bans the “use of kinetic energy munitions,” which include rubber batons, bean bag rounds, foam baton rounds, and plastic, wax, wood or rubber-coated projectiles. In a clause banning the use of tear gas, phosphene and other gases, the bill deletes a sentence exempting the use of tear gas by police officers. The bill also restricts the acquisition of surplus military equipment by law enforcement agencies.
Bacon’s bottom line: The principle argument against tear gas, rubber bullets and other nonlethal means of crowd control is that they can hurt people and cause injury.
Yeah, that’s right. Inflicting pain is the whole point. If a particular crowd control method doesn’t cause discomfort or pain, it won’t work! Continue reading
by Kerry Dougherty
I was alone in the newsroom on that August day in 1985. It was lunchtime and the editor’s phone was ringing incessantly.
“Dougherty. Virginian-Pilot, Ledger-Star,” I said, reciting the five-word greeting I always used because I thought it made me sound like a hard-nosed reporter.
“Hello,” began a polite woman on the other end of the phone. “My name is Pauline Monaco. I was wondering if the newspaper would consider writing another story about my daughter, Barbara Jean. She disappeared in Virginia Beach seven years ago. Your newspaper wrote a lot about her at the time.”
I’d arrived at The Pilot just the summer before that fateful call. I’d never heard of this Monaco girl. I promised her mom I’d dig out the files and get back to her.
Within a few hours of poring over yellowed clips and staring at the face of a cute teenager I had a new goal: I wanted to find out who killed this 18-year-old from Connecticut. Continue reading
By Peter Galuszka
On Saturday, May 25, 1968, the Medical College of Virginia, now part of Virginia Commonwealth University, made medical history. A surgeon recruited from Stanford University a couple of years before successfully transplanted the heart from one middle-aged man to another.
MCV officials in Richmond officials were ecstatic. Organ transplants were a hot, fairly new surgical procedure. Once stuck in the junior varsity leagues of medical training and research, MCV was basking in glory from media coverage.
There was one peculiarity that no one seemed to notice. The name of the heart donor was missing. As it turned out, the donor was Bruce Tucker, a Richmond Tucker happened to be African-American.
Tucker had suffered a serious brain injury from a fall the day before. He was taken to MCV. Hospital officials made a perfunctory search for his relatives. Tucker’s brother was desperately looking for him and his business card was in Bruce’s pocket. No one found it.
So, after Bruce was pronounced dead, his heart was removed and placed in the chest of Richard G. Klett, a white business executive from Orange. This shocking story is well documented in a highly readable book by Richmond author and journalist Chip Jones that has been just published by an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Tucker’s brother finally located hospital officials who started talking about an autopsy and that he needed to find a funeral director. Continue reading
by Hans Bader
Virginia’s legislature has a good chance of releasing many prison inmates guilty of involuntary manslaughter. In its special session this August, legislators plan to pass Senate Bill 5034, which would shorten many inmates’ sentences by increasing the number of credits they receive for good behavior while in prison. The bill would not apply to people who commit rape or murder, but it would benefit inmates who committed many other serious offenses: involuntary manslaughter and other crimes such as drunk driving, home invasions, and assaults that injured people but were not intended to kill or maim. It would apply even to inmates whose crimes are part of a long pattern of criminal activity. So, career criminals could be released — like the habitual drunk driver who kills someone after driving drunk many times, or the career thief who steals millions of dollars.
Right now prison inmates in Virginia who avoid major misbehavior receive good-behavior credits. The credits give them a 4.5 day reduction in their sentence for every 30 days in which they behave. For the majority of Virginia inmates, Senate Bill 5034 would increase that reduction. For many, that reduction would eventually rise to “one day for each one day served” — nearly seven times the current rate. (In the first year of such good behavior, they would receive up to 13 days reduction in their sentence for every 30 days served, triple the current reduction; in the second year of such good behavior, they would receive up to 16 days off for every 30 days served; in the third year, up to 20 days off; in the fourth year, up to 25 days off; and in the fifth and any consecutive year thereafter, they would get up to a full day off their sentence for each day served.) Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
The overwhelming majority of Virginia policemen and deputies are good people doing a creditable job under often-trying circumstances. But not all. Every profession has its bad apples. And in Virginia, state law makes it impossible to strip officers of their certification unless they have been convicted of a felony or certain misdemeanors. Even then, some manage to stay on the job.
The Virginian-Pilot provides a list of convicted criminals who still have police certifications. including:
- A former Hampton detective who pleaded guilty in federal court to providing a local drug dealer with information while working as a narcotics detective.
- A former Henrico County sheriff’s deputy who pleaded guilty to having a sexual relationship with an inmate.
- A former school resource officer in Bedford County who was initially charged with abducting a teenage girl and taking her to Kentucky. He pleaded guilty to five counts of indecent liberties with a minor.
- A Dinwiddie sheriff’s deputy who was found guilty of assault and battery after he pulled over his ex-fiancé and forced her to the ground and pepper sprayed her.
by Hans Bader
With the public distracted by the pandemic, Virginia’s liberal legislature is likely to pass laws that would release many prisoners. A special legislative session begins on August 18, to address criminal-justice and COVID-19 issues. The Democratic Caucus has agreed to expand good-time credits for prisoners, effectively shortening their sentences. Parole would be reinstated in Virginia, if legislation proposed by state Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, has his way. Virginia largely abolished parole in 1995, but Edwards, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, would not only reinstate it, but apply parole retroactively to people already convicted of crimes. Legislation proposed by Sen.John Bell, D-Chantilly, would expand geriatric parole for inmates who have committed any type of crime, except those who have committed Class 1 (capital) murder.
Cumulatively, these bills would result in shorter average sentences for inmates. Shorter sentences can lead to an increased crime rate, while longer sentences tend to reduce the crime rate. The National Bureau of Economic Research has a web page titled “Sentence Enhancements Reduce Crime.” It discusses how California’s Proposition 8 reduced crime by keeping “repeat offenders” off of the streets. According to the study it cites, “Because convicted criminals were serving longer sentences, years after the law’s change they were still locked up, rather than out on the streets committing crime.” Murderers sometimes commit murder again after being released from prison, even those released from prison at an advanced age. Continue reading
By Steve Haner
The coming Special Session of the General Assembly will be narrowly focused but filled with controversy, based on the legislative wish list just released by House of Delegates Democrats. Only two bills listed fall outside of the major categories of “COVID-19 Relief” or “Criminal Justice and Police Reform.”
Under the heading “COVID Relief,” the Democrats wish to reopen their drive for employee paid leave and. as predicted. want to designate COVID-19 as a workplace disease.
The Senate Democrats have their own list, released in June and reiterated in a more recent news release. The release claims that one of the bills is ready for public viewing, but provides no link and the bill mentioned is not yet available through Legislative Information Services. Neither caucus has yet revealed any thoughts on how to amend the state budget, a task where Governor Ralph Northam naturally takes the lead.
Here is the list from the House Democratic Caucus, with some thoughts following:
- Requiring businesses to grant paid sick leave for Virginia workers.
- Prohibiting garnishments of stimulus relief checks. (Office of Attorney General bill)
- Establishing a presumption of workers’ compensation for first responders, teachers, and other high-risk essential workers.
- Providing immunity from civil claims related to COVID-19 for complying with health guidance.
- Combating price gouging for Personal Protective Equipment. (Office of Attorney General bill)
- Protecting Virginians from eviction during a public health emergency.
- Creating a Commonwealth Marketplace for PPE Acquisition.
- Mandating transparency requirements for congregate-care facilities during a public health emergency.