Draft reports suggest new problems at Virginia Parole Board
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — An ongoing investigation by Virginia’s state government watchdog agency has turned up more problems at the Virginia Parole Board, according to draft report summaries obtained by The Associated Press.
The Office of the State Inspector General has been investigating the parole board for nearly a year, since prosecutors and victims’ families across the state began raising concerns about the handling of cases last spring.
Previous reports, which state officials sought to keepfrom the public but were either released by GOP lawmakers or obtained by news outlets, have painted a picture of a board that for years or possibly decades did not properly notify victims when inmates were being reviewed for parole. The inspector general’s office has found repeated violations of the board’s own policies, and in some cases, state law.
The disclosures have led to calls for a legislative investigation, though so far no action has been taken. The positions taken on the controversy have largely fallen along partisan lines in a busy election year for Virginia.
The AP obtained two additional draft reports, dated in December and January, about investigations that have not previously been publicly disclosed.
A spokeswoman for Gov. Ralph Northam, Alena Yarmosky said the findings of the latest investigations have not been presented to the governor’s office. A spokeswoman for the inspector general’s office, Kate Hourin, declined to answer questions about the status of the investigations or why final conclusions have not yet been presented.
Hourin noted the reports “have not been finalized or circulated externally” by the inspector general’s office “and therefore, the allegations that may be contained in any drafts have not yet been verified.”
One report deals with the case of Hugh J. Brown, who confessed to fatally shooting Gwendolyn “Angel” Thomas, his pregnant girlfriend, and setting her body on fire in 1992. He pleaded guilty to murder and other charges, and was sentenced to life in prison.
A person close to Thomas had been registered through a free automated notification system to get updates in his case but notifications were intentionally turned off and that person never had the chance to provide comment before Brown was released in May, according to the draft report.
The second draft report obtained by the AP found that the parole board’s former chair, Adrianne Bennett, violated the board’s policies and procedures when she unilaterally decided to release over 100 people from parole supervision early.
The report says the discharges happened in early to mid-April. At the time, the state was pushing to accelerate the review of parole-eligible inmates because of the coronavirus pandemic and related concerns for the health of inmates living in crowded, communal settings.
Northam’s administration has previously objected to some of the inspector general’s findings and sought to correct others through legislation that was recently passed. Some Republican lawmakers say the legislative action doesn’t go nearly far enough.
Bennett, who is now a judge, has never responded to AP requests for comment and could not be reached Friday. A person who answered the phone at the courthouse said, “I’ve been advised there is no comment from the court,” and then hung up.
The current parole board chair, Tonya Chapman, did not respond to a request for comment.
Other reports recently obtained by the AP suggest the victim notification problem was long-running.
One deals with the case of Patrick Schooley Jr., who had served over 41 years for the kidnapping and murder of a 78-year-old woman. Schooley first became eligible for parole in February 1997 and received his first parole review shortly before then, according to the report.
Records showed the parole board “did not perform any due diligence to notify the victims of this review or any subsequent reviews” until April 2019, the report said.