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Parole Board chair sues Richmond TV station, journalist

March 29, 2021 GMT

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The chair of the Virginia Parole Board has filed a defamation lawsuit against a Richmond TV station and one of its reporters over some of the station’s coverage of an ongoing controversy involving the board.

Court records show board chair Tonya Chapman filed the $7 million lawsuit Friday against WTVR-TV and Jon Burkett.

It alleges two stories Burkett published in February about an investigation of the board by the state’s government watchdog agency included several defamatory statements. As a result, the lawsuit says, “Chapman has suffered injury and harm to both her good personal reputation and her good business reputation, as well as great humiliation.”

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The stories that prompted the lawsuit dealt with a 13-page draft report produced by the Office of the State Inspector General, which has been investigating the parole board. The specific report dealt with the board’s decision to release inmate Vincent Martin, who had served 40 years in a police officer’s killing.

WTVR was the first news organization to report on the document, which contained substantial differences from the final report made public last year, including a critical finding about Chapman. Republican lawmakers have raised concerns about the differences in the two documents.

Chapman, who was not a part of the decision to grant Martin parole, says in her lawsuit that that nothing in the first story explained that the 13-page document was a draft. She also says the sections of the draft report that dealt with her were not included in the final report “because they were not true.”

Burkett referred a request for comment to the station’s news director, Sheryl Barnhouse, who said the station does not comment on legal matters.

The lawsuit, first reported by Courthouse News Service, seeks $5 million in compensatory damages and $2 million in punitive damages, plus other expenses.