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Column – Entire state parole board should resign

Last week I told you how the parole board was under investigation by the Office of the State Inspector General (OSIG). The investigation was set in motion due to the release of Vincent Martin, who was convicted in 1979 of killing Richmond Police Officer Michael Connors.

The Republican leadership has been working for the better part of a week to get the unredacted document from the OSIG. That was finally released late last Wednesday.

Throughout the parole process, we heard concerns and complaints from both prosecutors and family members of Patrolman Connors that the Virginia Parole Board (VPB) was not following the law or established policies. Specifically, the release of Martin was being fast-tracked, and testimony from the family, the prosecutors, and the public was being ignored.

The OSIG report found all of that to be true. More disturbingly, the OSIG report found this to be a pattern of behavior from both the current and former chairwomen of the Virginia Parole Board. The report shows that the parole board — under former Chairwoman Adrianne Bennett and current Chairwoman Tonya Chapman — disregarded the law and established procedures in an effort to tilt the scales of justice in favor of their desired outcome.

Former Chairwoman Bennett made it clear to employees of the parole board that she saw victim input as an impediment to a project she had been pursuing for years — the release of Martin. From the report, “OSIG determined that VPB did not allow the victim’s family or other interested parties to meet with VPB in accordance with VPB policy and procedures.”

She and the rest of the board repeatedly ignored and attempted to short circuit victim input.

For example, Chairwoman Bennett and the rest of the parole board did not show up for a scheduled conference call with the victim’s family. In another instance, the family asked Chairwoman Bennett if they could speak to each member on an individual basis, but she denied this based on the COVID-19 pandemic.

When a former inmate — a co-defendant who had already been paroled — reached out to the board with concerns about Martin’s release, current Vice Chair Linda Bryant advised the current chair not to contact the co-defendant, in violation of established policy. However, the board allowed other former and current inmates to provide input in favor of the release of Martin.

“Ignited by the officer’s family, the Richmond police chief along with other law enforcement organizations have joined in a disappointing chorus of opposition to the parole board’s decision. While this tactic has worked with parole boards in other states, this board does not respond to this type of pressure campaign,” Bryant said in a written statement.

Unfortunately, in Virginia this situation does not appear to be exceptional. Over a 30-day period, this board released 95 violent felons, including 35 convicted murderers. There have been many news reports from across Virginia about the same erroneous practices being employed in many of those other cases. This board is clearly unable to perform its duties in a dispassionate manner. Rather than balance the rights of victims and the potential release of inmates, this board has its thumb on the scale in favor of murderers.

Gov. Ralph Northam’s spokesperson said the review was procedural and had nothing to do with the merits of the decision to release Martin.

I believe the entire board should resign. Failing that, they should be fired by Gov. Northam. In addition, Republican leadership has called for the governor to immediately rescind the parole of Vincent Martin and return him to prison.

Any other outcome further illustrates this governor — and Virginia Democrats as a whole — continuing to put the comfort of killers above the rights of their victims.

SPECIAL SESSION

Gov. Northam has called the Special Session for the budget and “criminal justice reform.” We will convene on Aug. 18 at the Seigel Center at VCU.

Reopening our schools will be one of the most pressing challenges facing Virginia this fall, yet neither the majority party nor Gov. Northam made any mention of schools in the special session announcement.

Instead, Democrats have said they will focus on the budget and criminal justice reform. To date, we have seen no concrete ideas, bills, or any other information that would point us toward proposals that can be discussed in detail. What we have heard are the same suggestions we have been hearing for weeks, such as defunding our law enforcement agencies, defelonizing assault on law enforcement officers, and elimination of mandatory minimum sentences for violent crimes.

Rest assured, I will be in Richmond next week continuing to defend our law enforcement officers and fighting to keep violent offenders off the streets.

DEL. TOMMY WRIGHT can be reached via email at DelTWright@house.virginia.gov or (804) 698-1061.