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Watchdog agency redacts findings about Virginia Parole Board

Watchdog agency redacts findings about Virginia Parole Board

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Watchdog agency redacts findings about Virginia Parole Board

FILE - In this Jan. 3, 2020, file photo Virginia Secretary of Public Safety, Brian Moran, front, gestures as he introduces Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, right, along with Del. Cliff Hayes, D-Chesapeake, left, and State Sen. Ghazala Hashmi, D-Henrico, second from right, during a news conference announcing Northam's legislative criminal justice priorities in Richmond, Va. Virginia's government watchdog agency has investigated complaints about the state Parole Board and found "substantiated" allegations but is withholding further details about its work, citing an exemption in the state open records law. 

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia's government watchdog agency has investigated complaints about the state Parole Board and found “substantiated” allegations but is withholding further details about its work, citing an exemption in the state open records law.

The State Office of the Inspector General informed Gov. Ralph Northam's administration Tuesday about the findings of its administrative investigation into the board, according to a letter obtained by The Associated Press through an open records request.

The version of the six-page letter provided to AP was almost entirely redacted, although it said in a section labeled “conclusion” that at least some allegations “are substantiated.” It also said potential recommendations would be outlined in the future.

State officials announced in May that the inspector general's office was investigating the parole board's handling of the case of Vincent Martin, who was convicted in the 1979 killing of Richmond police officer Michael Connors. The decision to grant Martin parole sparked an uproar in the law enforcement community, and both Connors’ family and Richmond’s top prosecutor asked the board to rescind its decision.

In addition to Martin’s case, AP and other news outlets have reported on recent parole decisions across the state in which prosecutors and victims’ families have raised concerns about what they have said is a lack of timely or sufficient notification of the release of violent offenders. Top GOP lawmakers called for Northam to issue a moratorium on the release of certain inmates by the board, which the Democratic governor flatly rejected.

Connors' sister, Maureen Clements, has told the AP she filed a complaint with the inspector general's office about Martin's case over the way her family was treated and procedures she alleged were not followed. She has said she had multiple conversations with the office and was told it was investigating not only the board’s handling of the Martin case but several others.

The Office of the Inspector General's letter, which was addressed to Brian Moran, the state's secretary of public safety and homeland security, said its investigation was based on “several complaints made to the State Fraud, Waste and Abuse Hotline.”

Clements said Thursday that she has received no notification from the inspector general's office or parole board, so she could not even be sure the report sent to Moran dealt with her complaint.

“I find the political corruption in Virginia rampant and devastating. I suspect because my family is not in that state they feel no responsibility or sense of decency to keep us informed,” Clements, who lives in New York, wrote in a text message.

The inspector general's office told AP in an email that all Parole Board information provided for the investigation was exempt under Virginia's open records law. That law largely frees the board from complying with the same disclosures as other government agencies.

“The Virginia Parole Board maintains its FOIA exclusions and has not waived its FOIA protections,” State Inspector General Michael Westfall wrote in the email.

An assistant for Westfall said in response to questions from the AP that his office has provided the extent of what it is able to release and “we have nothing further to provide.”

Moran did not respond to a message seeking comment, nor did Northam's spokeswoman.

Republican lawmakers said Northam's administration should make an unredacted copy of the findings public.

House Republican Leader Del. Todd Gilbert sent a letter to Westfall requesting a full copy.

Martin's release was delayed at the last minute because of an inspector general investigation. He was then freed June 10, before the investigation had concluded.

The former parole board chair, Adrianne Bennett, released a lengthy statement defending the board’s decision to release Martin. In it, she wrote that Martin “has demonstrated himself over the decades to be a trusted leader, peacemaker, mediator and mentor in the correctional community” and has been infraction-free for more than 30 years. Martin has always maintained his innocence, wrote Bennett.

She wrote that his conviction was based “primarily upon the conflicting testimony of the three cooperating co-defendants,” who were also convicted but completed lighter sentences in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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