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Challenger Calls Richmond Prosecutor’s Office ‘Black Box’

Car sits at block intersection with protesters in background
Two Richmond Police Department officers watch from a car as protesters march by during last summer's Black Lives Matter demonstrations. (Photo: Coleman Jennings/VPM News)

Candidates for Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney presented their platforms during a digital forum Tuesday, hosted by the University of Richmond School of Law.

Tom Barbour, a criminal defense attorney, is moving to unseat Commonwealth's Attorney Colette McEachin in a June primary. He calls himself a progressive reformer who wants to focus on adopting a community-driven, social-services model. 

Barbour, who is white, criticized McEachin’s office for its lack of transparency and racial diversity among prosecutors. He said there’s no publicly transparent system in place for holding Richmond prosecutors accountable. 

“And there's no published or public transparent guidance for prosecutors to follow about how they use their discretion about how they're making decisions in cases,” Barbour said. “And the result is that the office is a black box of decision-making.”

Barbour said this includes when and how police officers are charged for misconduct. During protests last summer, there were numerous complaints and lawsuits filed over law enforcement’s treatment of news media and protesters in Richmond, including one by VPM reporter Roberto Roldan.

“We're not getting a commonwealth’s attorney's office with a plan for 1st Amendment assemblies or really a demonstrated ability to hold its police officers accountable,” Barbour said. 

McEachin secured two indictments against officers for criminal misconduct. Hundreds of protesters were arrested for offenses ranging from assault to trespassing. 

McEachin maintained that her office is transparent and she is accessible to the public. She noted previously that Richmond Police Department publishes their General Orders on Use of Force on the city’s website.

“You can find out anything about our programs on my website, which I put in the chat box, in the city of Richmond's website, which I revised and for our Commonwealth’s Attorney page,” McEachin said. “My number is public, obviously, and I've spoken with members of Black Lives Matter, multiple groups.” 

McEachin announced a new policy of publicly releasing the names of officers indicted for their abuse of authority or excessive use of force while on duty in July.

On his first day in office, Barbour said he’ll publish public criteria for how the office decides to charge police officers for excessive force. 

McEachin said she’ll focus on three R’s: reform, restore and rehabilitate. That includes opposing the use of cash bail, increasing the focus on alternative mental health, behavioral and drug courts and making it easier to expunge criminal records in the city.  

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.