Category Archives: Crime and corrections

Law and Disorder in Richmond

Protest in front of Kim Gray’s house Wednesday night

When several dozen protesters assembled in front of Richmond City Councilwoman Kimberly Gray’s house around 10:30 Wednesday night, she feared for her safety. She called the Richmond Police Department, as did some of her neighbors. Gray says the police never responded. The RPD says it did.

“I didn’t see any uniformed officers, my neighbors didn’t see any uniformed officers, my professional security force did not see any uniformed officers, no blue lights, no marked police cars arrived,” Gray told WRIC News.

As it happens, Gray is a candidate for mayor, running against incumbent Levar Stoney and several lesser-known candidates. As a city councilwoman, she has been one of Stoney’s most vocal critics. An African-American, she voted for removal of the Confederate statues on Monument Avenue but has disapproved of law-breaking by protesters. Continue reading

The Return of the “Cooch”

By Peter Galuszka

Early this past Wednesday morning, Mark Pettibone and Connor O’Shead were walking on their way home after a peaceful protest in Portland, Ore.

Suddenly an unmarked van pulled in front of them. Men wearing green uniforms, tactical gear and generic signs reading “POLICE” hustled them into the vehicle. They were not told why they were being detained. After 90 minutes, the badly shaken men were released without being charged.

The episode might sound like the activities of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his “little green men” who have shown up in places like Crimea and Eastern Ukraine to intimidate and detain people.

But this was Portland, a progressive city that has seen protests for weeks. President Donald Trump has urged federal authorities to move in on cities to restore his sense of order even though city officials in Portland do not want his help and are investigating what is going on.

And, guess who is playing a role in what could be a growing national trend of federal law enforcement performing “snatch and grabs” of innocent protestors?

That would be Kenneth Cuccinelli, the former hard right, state attorney general and failed gubernatorial candidate. He is now acting deputy secretary of the Trump’s Department of Homeland Security. Continue reading

Praise for DOC COVID-19 Response

Sussex II State Prison, housing units and interior fencing

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

The Department of Corrections has received praise for its response to inmates with COVID-19 from an unlikely source — an inmate who survived a serious bout with the disease. A story in today’s Richmond-Times Dispatch provides the details.

The inmate, who is serving two life terms, was housed in Sussex II State Prison, a high-security facility, when he came down with the disease. After he tested positive and began to have serious symptoms, he said, “I was only in the quarantine pod for maybe half a day. When I told them I couldn’t breathe, [the nurse] knew what to do. She went down, got me oxygen, they called in an ambulance and I was gone” to the intensive care unit at Southside Regional Medical Center in Petersburg. Continue reading

Richmond City Council Debates Police Defunding

by James A. Bacon

Richmond City Council has taken up discussion of the demand by social-justice protesters to “defund the police.” Richmond is not Minneapolis, or Portland, or Seattle, and the three-person finance committee charged with making funding recommendations for the full council has split the baby. Instead of full defunding, the committee supports asking the Richmond Police Department (RPD), in effect, to recommend how to partially de-fund itself.

If City Council approves the committee’s recommendations, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch, RPD will identify funding in its budget for mental health, substance abuse, and social service functions that could be reallocated to other departments, and submit a report by Oct. 1 on where the money would go.

The half-measure is unlikely to satisfy militant Black Lives Matter advocates, many of whom spoke at the virtual public hearing yesterday. “We demand that funds be reallocated from the Richmond city police department’s excessively large budget, and reinvested in our community,” said Princess Blanding, sister of Marcus-David Peters, a tragic figure who was killed when threatening police during a mental health crisis in May 2018. Militants occupying the Lee Circle on Monument Ave. have renamed it in Peters’ honor.

Neither will the committee’s half measure likely satisfy the city’s new police chief Gerald Smith, who said RPD would require more money, not less, to address the systemic changes called for during recent protests. It will be difficult to extract the funding for the specific areas in the resolution, he said, because they are “intertwined in other things.”

The debate occurs against the backdrop of continued demonstrations as well as the effective takeover by activists of the Lee Circle, where the Robert E. Lee statue still stands while legal challenges to its removal work through the courts. The site is placid during the day, occupied by two or three dozen people who are mostly chatting and milling around. When I visited recently around 6 p.m., there were a couple of tents where vendors were selling trinkets, and a couple of men were shooting hoops in a portable basketball net. Families with children were walking and riding bicycles through the streets of the Fan neighborhood a block or two away. Continue reading

And Now, a Word on Law Enforcement Reform From… Law Enforcement

Howard Hall

by James A. Bacon

Democrats have gotten plenty of attention for their ideas on how to reform Virginia’s system of law enforcement and criminal justice in the wake of the George Floyd killing and statue-toppling movement. But this article in the Roanoke Times is the first I’ve seen that lays out the thinking of… someone in law enforcement.

Days after the Floyd killing in Minneapolis, Governor Ralph Northam stated publicly that black people have been killed by police because “in America, the color of their skin means that they are treated differently.”

Roanoke County Police Chief Howard Hall felt the Governor was painting police officers as racist. When he had the chance at a gathering of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, he asked Northam twice, “Who in Virginia would want to be a police officer right now?” In Hall’s telling of the story, Northam remained silent.

Hall is critical of many of the proposals advanced by Democratic lawmakers, which he describes as “platitudes that sound nice about social justice and racial equity.” Continue reading

What Passes for Logic These Days….

by James A. Bacon

Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. said yesterday he supports changing the name of the city of Lynchburg because of its embarrassing association with the word “lynch.” He said the perceived racist connotations were an “embarrassment to Liberty University ever since we started,” reports Virginia Business magazine.

Falwell is not alone. Two weeks ago, Lynchburg resident Daisy Howard posted a petition on Change.org calling for a name change. The petition, addressed to Lynchburg City Council, has gathered more than 5,300 signatures. “I cringe having to say the name Lynchburg because ‘lynch’ is in the name,” said Howard in the petition. “The name of a city should not have such violent, racist and horrifying connotations.”

How insane is this?

Lynchburg was named after its Quaker John Lynch, who freed his slaves during his lifetime and supported the antislavery movement. One would think city residents would be proud to be associated with a guy like that. Continue reading

Civil War Statues… Slaveholder Statues… the Flag

This Washington Post story needs no commentary. It speaks for itself.

RICHMOND — Construction workers erecting a new office building for Virginia lawmakers unfurled an enormous American flag on the structure this week, just in time for the Fourth of July. But hours after the flag went up, state officials ordered it removed, calling the banner a “safety risk” and potential “target” for demonstrators.

Protesters have taken to the city’s streets — including the Capitol Square corner where the 15-story future General Assembly building is rising — to decry police brutality and racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody in late May. While largely peaceful, the marches have turned violent at times, with protesters tearing down tall metal fencing at that corner and injuring Capitol Police with bottles and other objects.

“Over the past month we’ve seen buildings and structures around Capitol Square vandalized and flags, dumpsters, a bus and other items set ablaze during demonstrations around the city,” Dena Potter, spokeswoman for the Department of General Services, said in an email Friday. “When we saw the flag, we were concerned that it could become a target so we told the contractor to remove it.”

OK, I changed my mind. Maybe this does need some commentary…. Continue reading

Blue Lives Don’t Matter

Newport News police officer Katherine M. “Katie” Thyne, 24, mother of two, and girl’s basketball coach, was killed in January during a traffic stop. In the incident, she was dragged about a block and pinned between the fleeing car and a tree.

by James A. Bacon

Last week Virginia Senate Democrats unveiled a 27-bill package of criminal justice “reforms” they will advance in the special session that Governor Ralph Northam has said he expects to call this August. Some have potential merit, such as a slew of proposals to hold law-enforcement officers accountable for unjustified use of force. But some seem to be scripted to ruin police morale.

The list released by the Senate Dems provides only a bare-bones description of what the initiatives entail. There is no way to know exactly what legislators have in mind until we see the bills. Even so, there’s reason enough to sound the sirens. Bacon’s Rebellion will take a closer look at the more alarming proposals as time permits. For now, I want to focus on one: “defelonizing” assaults on law enforcement officers.

Under current law, anyone convicted of assaulting a law enforcement officer is guilty of a Class 6 felony and subject to a mandatory minimum term of confinement of six months. The proposal would reduce assaults to misdemeanors. Continue reading

Senate Democrat Promises on Police Reform

By Steve Haner

What follows, without edits, is the full list of legislative proposals now endorsed by the Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus. With 21 members, if they all show up and vote aye on all of these, they pass in the upcoming special session. Bills would then have to also pass the House of Delegates and be signed by the Governor. This follows up an earlier post by Dick Hall-Sizemore.

  1.  Bringing Equity to Virginia Policing
    ● Prohibit No Knock Warrants (Breonna Taylor)
    ● Ban Sex With Individuals Arrested by Law Enforcement
    ● Prohibit Hiring of Officers Fired or Resigned During Use of Force Investigations
    ● Create a Decertification Procedure for Law Enforcement Officers
    ● Ban chokeholds and strangleholds (George Floyd)
    ● Require Attempts at De-escalation Prior to Use of Force
    ● Require Warnings Before Shots Fired
    ● Require Law Enforcement to Exhaust All Other Means Prior to Shooting
    ● Create Duty to Intervene by Fellow Law Enforcement Officers
    ● Prohibit Shooting at Moving Motor Vehicles
    ● Require Departments to Create a Use of Force Continuum
    ● Require Comprehensive Reporting by All Law Enforcement Agencies Including Use of Force Data
    ● Defelonize Assault on Law Enforcement Officer (Return to Misdemeanor Offense)
    ● Cancel HB599 Funding (Virginia supplemental funding for local police departments) After Local Police Have Disproportionate Use of Force Incidents In their Jurisdiction
  2. Expand Local Authority to Respond to Mental Health and Regulate Law Enforcement
    ● Create Local Authority for a Marcus Alert System – System to Report Acute Mental Health Crises
    ● Create Local Option for Citizen Review Board Empowered to Investigate, Fire and/or Discipline Officers
  3. Restore Courts’ and Prosecutors’ Flexibility to Effect Mercy
    ● Confirm Prosecutors’ Authority to Drop Charges
    ● Enhance Courts’ Ability to Expunge Charges for Dismissed Charges, Substance Convictions and Pardoned Offenses
  4. Reduce Racial Profiling Opportunities for Law Enforcement
    ● Prohibit Searches of Person or Vehicle Based on Odor of Marijuana Without Probable Cause for Other Offenses
    ● Prohibit Stops for Equipment Violations Not Covered by State Vehicle Inspection
    ● Secondary Offense For Dangling Objects, Extinguished Tag Light, Tinted Windows or Loud Exhaust
  5. Restore Equity to the Sentencing Process
    ● Jury Sentencing Only at Option of the Accused
    ● Eliminate Commonwealth’s Right to Demand Jury Trial When Jury Trials Suspended for State of Emergency
    ● Require Agencies to Determine Cost Savings for Introduced Criminal Justice Legislation
  6. Restore Equity to the Virginia Prison System
    ● Allow Earned Sentence Credit for Good Behavior During Prison
    ● Create Discretion for Compassionate Release for Terminally Ill or Permanently Disabled Prisoners

Continue reading

“Bring That Sucker Down Without Anyone Getting Hurt”

Confederate statue in North Carolina

By Peter Galuszka

In a striking sign of the times, Popular Mechanics magazine has published a how-to article regarding removing statues on your own.

The article is titled: “How to Topple a Statue Using Science: Bring that sucker down without anyone getting hurt” by James Stout.

The force need to bring down a controversial statue is not all that great, Stout writes. Most statues are bronze, with an alloy of 90% copper and 10 percent tin with a maximum thickness of 3/16 of an inch. Most people statues weigh 3,500 pounds. One that includes a horse is maybe 7,000 pounds.

For a pure muscle job, you’d need about 70 people and several high-endurance recovery straps. One should be placed across the head. Once in place, you’ll need to break the statue from its base. This can be done by two teams on either side of the statue working a back and forth motion.

As for safety, this isn’t that big a deal as long as you have done the proper geometry.

If you don’t have many protestors, you can do the job using a high temperature approach with home-made thermite. Propane torches are also good. Continue reading

Another Use and Abuse of Statistics…

Sources: Fairfax County Police Department, U.S. Census Bureau

by James A. Bacon

The Fairfax County Police Department publishes a statistical report every year on the police use of force in the county. There were 594 use-of-force incidents reported in 2019, up from 510 the previous year. The publication provides data with minimal commentary.

This is the headline from the Reston Now article summarizing the report: “Fairfax County Police Disproportionately Use Force on Black Individuals.” The headline was backed up by this paragraph:

Black residents were involved in roughly 31 percent of use-of-force incidents, even though they make up a little over 8 percent of the total population. Roughly 48 percent of all use-of-force incidents involved whites, who make up 67 percent of the total population.

By placing the data in the context of the national uproar over the George Floyd killing and calls for police reform, as the story did, Reston Now feeds the standard media Oppression Narrative. But the story left a lot out, which seems to be the usual operating procedure. Cherry pick the facts that support the media narrative, and omit anything that might call it into question. Continue reading

Stop the Problem Before It Starts

by Chris Braunlich

With the General Assembly taking up policing reform in this summer’s special session, there should be at least one bill stopping a problem before it begins.

Most big problems are created by a small number of people. The same is true of police officer transgressions. Most police officers are good police officers, but Derek Chauvin was a bad cop with 18 prior complaints in 19 years at the time he killed George Floyd. His partner, Tou Thao, has six complaints, including an open one at the point he was fired. The head of their police union, Lt. Bob Kroll, is the subject of at least 29 complaints.

Their continued presence was an insult to the more than 680,000 good law enforcement officers who are guardians of our safety, who took the job to serve the public and who put their lives on the line.

Yet, instead of eliminating a narrow source of major abuse, they were allowed to continue their abuse of Minneapolis citizenry. Why?

Increasingly, we can point to provisions commonly found in Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs) negotiated between governments and the police union as part of the contract process. The issue has never arisen in Virginia before, because collective bargaining was prohibited. But Governor Ralph Northam has signed into law legislation that could mean local governments and their police unions next year will negotiate the conditions of the disciplinary process against misbehavior by individual police officers. Continue reading

Northam Gets a Couple of Things Right

by James A. Bacon

I do have my issues with Wise King Ralph, but I have to give credit where credit is due. He has done two things right in the past few days. He has given the OK to move to Phase 3 of the COVID-19 lockdown on July 1, and he has refused to buckle under to violent protests in Richmond. Virginia’s capital city will not turn into Portland or Seattle East.

It was not a foregone conclusion that the Governor would accede to a further relaxation of the emergency restrictions promulgated to fight the spread of the COVID-19 virus. While Virginia metrics were all heading in the right direction, the national media were in full-blown hysteria mode over a rise in infection rates in other states that had moved to reopen their economies. Even local media, which reported on beach vacationers bringing the coronavirus with them back to the Roanoke region, were sounding the alarm. Indeed, Northam said explicitly that he was paying attention to what was happening in other states.

But in the end, Wise King Ralph did the right thing. Phase 3 represents a big step forward in getting back to normal. The measures it continues to maintain — restrictions on mass gatherings with the potential to turn into super-spreader events — are defensible.

Meanwhile, the Governor, while not exactly posing as Mr. Law and Order, defended city and state police officers who earlier yesterday used tear gas and rubber bullets to clear a sit-in outside of Richmond City Hall that was blocking traffic. As The Virginia Mercury put it, Northam expressed “befuddlement” at the ongoing protests against police brutality even though he had promised “future action on police reform and other important equity issues.” Continue reading

The Systemic Racism of Monument Avenue

By Peter Galuszka

Richmond’s grand Monument Avenue, a double lane, tree lined thoroughfare, has been the epicenter of the Black Lives Matter campaign that has focused on the statues of several Confederate figures one the road, including Robert E. Lee, J.E.B. Stuart, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and Jefferson Davis.

All are up for removal, but the same foot-dragging that has for years protected the statues that some consider racist is at work today. Protestors have torn down Davis and have defaced the rest. On Sunday night, they nearly ripped down the Stuart statue as two city council members urged that it be removed on an emergency basis.

Lee’s statue has been ordered down by Gov. Ralph Northam, but the effort has been tied up in lawsuits by several property owners. One claims either that the original deed that gave the state the site for Lee included language that it could not be removed. Other plaintiffs, most anonymous,  claim that removing the statues would hurt their property values and their special tax status.

If anything smacks of white privilege and entitlement, this is it. But for more perspective, this article in The Atlantic neatly sums up the history behind the statues and the Avenue, noting that the issue has everything to do with rewriting Richmond’s history and making a marketing play to sell expensive and exclusive real estate decades after the Confederacy was suppressed. Continue reading

Stoney Proposes Overhaul of Richmond Policing

Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

by James A. Bacon

The Richmond Police Department received more than 80,000 calls for service in the first five months of 2020, writes Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney an a Richmond Times-Dispatch op-ed. Police respond to every type of crisis, from homelessness to mental health to substance abuse.

“We need officers to respond to violent and criminal acts,” Stoney says. “We cannot expect our police officers to serve as social workers, psychologists, child trauma experts and mental health workers, responding to every noncriminal call for service because America hasn’t properly prioritized other service providers. It does not make our country, or our city safer.”

Now it’s time to “reimagine” public safety, he says. Accordingly, he has created a Task Force on Reimagining Public Safety to come up with actionable steps within 90 days. Measures might include reallocating police funding to allow social workers to respond to non-violent calls, creating a Civilian Review Board to hold officers accountable for misconduct, and using evidence-based policies and practices.

I’m not convinced that the Richmond Police Department is broken. There have been few instances of police brutality, and the RPD has one of the highest murder-clearance rates in the country — a sign that police have a reservoir of trust and good will in the community. Further, I don’t know if these reforms are being driven by the residents of Richmond’s more crime-afflicted neighborhoods or by leftist activists and intellectuals. Still, some ideas may be worth pursuing, even if they come from the Left — at least if executed carefully without wrecking the morale of the police. Continue reading