Northam Says He Supports Investigation Into Parole Board Report
A spokesperson for Gov. Ralph Northam said he welcomes an outside investigation into allegations involving the Virginia Parole Board. It remains unclear what form the investigation would take or whether the proposal has enough support among Democratic lawmakers.
“The Governor welcomes further outside investigation,” said Alena Yarmosky, a spokesperson for Northam. “We feel strongly that the investigation should not come from the executive branch. We will discuss next steps with legislators.”
The allegations against the current and former parole board chairs include attempts to falsify documents, alter meeting minutes and forgo impartiality in the release of Vincent Martin, who was convicted for the 1979 killing of a Richmond police officer. The findings appeared in a draft of a report authored by Virginia Inspector General Michael Westfall obtained last week by media outlets and Republican lawmakers.
The allegations were ultimately cut from the final report released last summer, leading to accusations from Republican lawmakers of a coverup.
Sen. Bryce Reeves (R-Spotsylvania) and Sen. John Bell (D-Loudoun) sent a letter last week to Sen. John Edwards, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, requesting he set up a special committee to investigate what happened.
Several sections of Virginia law grant legislative commissions power to investigate agencies and call witnesses under oath. But it’s unclear what actions the legislature would have to take to authorize an investigation; the topic has rarely come before the body in its modern incarnation. Edwards has argued he’s currently unable to act on his own.
“Some kind of authorization is required for further action to be taken,” said Luke Priddy, Edwards’ chief of staff.
Lawmakers could also choose to send the issue to the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission. That body has experience doing broad reviews of state agencies that involve interviewing staff; it released a mixed assessment of the Office of the Inspector General in 2018.
“Our role is to provide an answer to any researchable question that the General Assembly directs to the JLARC staff regarding the operation or performance of any entity in state government,” said JLARC director Hal Greer in an email.
The governor’s attorney, Rita Davis, sent three letters to Westfall last week asking him to turn over a copy of the draft report. Westfall initially rebuffed those efforts until Davis invoked Article V, Section 8 of the Constitution of Virginia, a passage that gives the governor broad latitude to request documents and other files.
Westfall’s office did not respond to emailed questions, including why the allegations in the draft report were not included in the final copy. But Yarmosky suggested that it was likely they had not been substantiated.
“If the Inspector General ‘reasonably believes’ that a law has been violated, the Virginia Code requires him to turn this evidence over to a prosecutor,” she wrote in an email. “The Inspector General has not conveyed any evidence (as far as we know), clearly suggesting that he does not reasonably believe laws were broken.”
As the debate unfolds over the draft report, the Virginia State Police are investigating how it became public.
Shruti Shah, director of the Coalition for Integrity, argued that an investigation into the draft report was in the public’s interest. She urged the Office of the Inspector General to post all of its findings publicly; the office redacted most of the final report when it responded to media requests for the document last year.
“If there was transparency, this issue probably would not happen,” Shah said. “The tendency towards secrecy is very, very alarming.”