The investigation into the Virginia Parole Board will be investigated, if legislators approve a proposal from Governor Ralph Northam. On Wednesday, Northam finalized his amendments to a budget passed by the Virginia General Assembly, including money for an investigation.
The announcement comes after both Northam staff and legislators have said some sort of new investigation is needed. Northam’s budget amendment clarifies details of his proposal.
“The appropriation in this item includes up to $250,000 from the general fund in the first year to conduct an independent, third-party investigation of the Office of the State Inspector General’s [OSIG] policies, process, and procedures employed during its investigation of the Virginia Parole Board’s [VPB] handling of the Vincent Martin matter,” the amendment states in part.
“The Office of the Attorney General, in consultation with the Office of the Governor, the Speaker of the House of Delegates, and the President pro tempore of the Senate, is directed to secure an investigator to conduct the investigation,” the amendment continues.
Legislators must approve the budget amendment. Northam’s legislative amendments will be considered on Veto Day, April 7. But some Republican legislators blasted the investigation proposal.
“I was expecting something more substantive but this exceeds even my lowest expectations. This hollow shell of an investigation is nothing more than an effort to secure a partisan whitewash of a scandal,” Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham) said in a statement to The Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Senator Steve Newman (R-Lynchburg) said in a statement, “This amendment from the Governor is the furthest thing from a true independent investigation of the Parole Board and it does not pass the smell test for the people of Virginia. In fact, this is really asking for the fox to investigate the hen house.”
Newman criticized having the attorney general’s office oversee the investigation.
“For months we’ve been asking for a true independent investigation of the Governor’s Administration and Attorney General’s Office, as it relates to the handling of the Virginia Parole Board’s actions over the past year,” he said. “And now we find the Governor is proposing that he and the Attorney General, in consultation with the top two Democrats in the General Assembly, select the investigator. This couldn’t be further from a true independent investigation.”
Last year’s OSIG investigation alleged that the VPB and then-Chair Adrienne Bennett violated relevant state law and policies surrounding victim notification while considering Martin’s case. A longer draft version of the report was later leaked to the media, leading to calls from legislators for a new investigation.
Senators Bryce Reeves (R-Spotsylvania) and John Bell (D-Loudoun) sent a letter to Senate Judicial Committee Chair John Edwards (D-Roanoke) requesting a special committee be created to further investigate the allegations.
The draft report included more details about the case and included allegations against current Chair Tonya Chapman, as first reported by WTVR. On Monday, Chapman sued WTVR for $7 million, first reported by Courthouse News. Her lawsuit states that claims that Chapman had committed criminal offenses and is unfit to continue in her role are defamatory.
In a March 4 press release quoted in the lawsuit, OSIG warned that draft reports could contain claims that are unsupported by facts.
“I caution anyone purporting to have a draft document to not interpret it as being anywhere close to a final report,” Inspector General Michael Westfall said in the release.
An investigator who helped write the report sought whistle-blower status, then sued OSIG, and withdrew the lawsuit after she was fired. But when the lawsuit was announced, Northam’s Chief of Staff Clark Mercer criticized the OSIG report and said Northam stands by the original decision to parole Martin.
Mercer said, “We stand by our assertion that [the report] was biased, it was not objective, and we need to get an independent group to come in and take a look at it.”
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