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Leaked Draft of Parole Board Investigation Raises Questions

Man seated
In this Monday, Feb. 22, 2021 file photo, Virginia State Sen. Bryce Reeves (R-Spotslvania) listens during debate on the death penalty bill at the Senate session at the Science Museum of Virginia in Richmond, Va., Virginia lawmakers demanded answers Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021, from Gov. Ralph Northam's administration and the state's government watchdog agency following a news report that raised new questions about the state parole board's handling of the case of a man convicted of killing a Richmond police officer. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

An extended version of the Inspector General’s report on the Virginia parole board’s handling of the release of Vincent Martin was released to news outlets and some lawmakers. The release has led to renewed calls from Republican lawmakers for investigation and firings of board members and state leadership.

Sens Bryce Reeves (R-Spotsylvania) and John Bell (D-Loudoun) sent a letter to the Senate Judicial Committee chair asking him to appoint a select committee to investigate the allegations. Such a committee would be able to subpoena witnesses for evidence and testimony.

The official report, released last summer, was only six pages long and initially heavily redacted. The full text eventually came out, and detailed IG Michael Westfall’s conclusion that the chair had violated Virginia law by not properly notifying victims of the decision to release Martin.

The draft copy leaked to press this week is over twice as long, at 13 pages. It was originally reported by CBS 6.

Reports say the draft details allegations against former board chair Adrianne Bennett and current chair Tonya Chapman that were left out of the official report. Bennett left her post for a judgeship in April. Chapman has called for an investigation into the IG’s office to determine who leaked the draft report.

The new document, as a draft, is actually more of an old document. It’s still unknown who released it, and why it’s existence has apparently not been well known until this point. It’s also unclear why the newly released allegations weren’t shared in the official report released last summer.

OSIG would not share the 13-page draft with VPM, citing FOIA restrictions. Government transparency advocates dispute that claim.

In a press conference on the state’s COVID-19 response yesterday, Gov. Ralph Northam and Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran said they’d need to review the draft before making any comments on it, or deciding whether to take action on the matter.

The leaked draft has drawn comments from Republican and Democratic legislators, with many calling for the resignation of current parole board chair Tonya Chapman.

Del. Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) shared CBS 6’s reporting on the House floor, repeating some of the alleged unlawful activity included in it.

Del. Don Scott (D-Portsmouth) responded, arguing that the allegations against Chapman were unproven and largely left out of the official report. He also said some Republicans might be motivated by opposition to the work of the parole board.

“Because they are opposed to that, this is an opportunity to put aside a political agenda to now attack those people that have to make these tough choices,” Scott said.

Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) spoke on the Senate floor on Wednesday. He said the report showed “specific, factual findings of misconduct, lies, abuse of power, violations of state law, and actually violations of the constitutional duties of the chairman and perhaps members of the parole board.”

Republicans like Obenshain have also publicly asked when Northam and Moran may have been aware of the 13-page draft, and have called for an investigation.

The Governor’s office has also requested the extended draft. A spokesperson said midday Thursday they had still not received a copy.

Lawmakers have introduced bills in response to controversy surrounding the original report, including one by Scott that was brought to him by the Governor’s office that clarifies requirements surrounding the board’s monthly and release reporting requirements.

Obenshain also has bills covering those requirements. He says his proposals are more strict.

The measures will receive final deliberation from lawmakers this week.

Patrick Larsen is VPM News' environment and energy reporter, and fill-in host.
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