At the governor’s demand, a state watchdog agency provided him with records related to the agency’s investigation of how the Virginia Parole Board handled the release of a man who killed a Richmond police officer in 1979.
Gov. Ralph Northam’s spokeswoman said Monday that the governor wants an outside investigation and will talk to lawmakers about next steps.
The Office of the State Inspector General provided Northam with the records on Friday night after the governor’s general counsel, Rita Davis, made several requests. In her third request, she told OSIG the state constitution required OSIG to turn over the records.
The records related to a new development last week in a controversy from 2020. Last year, the parole board opted to release Vincent Martin, who had been sentenced in 1980 to life in prison in the killing of officer Michael P. Connors.
After a complaint about how the parole board handled the case, OSIG launched an investigation.
The OSIG investigation found the board failed to give proper notification to Richmond’s top prosecutor before granting Martin parole, did not earnestly attempt to contact the victim’s family beforehand, and denied one of Martin’s alleged victims in a separate case a chance to address the board, among other issues. That was detailed in a six-page report.
But last week, WTVR-TV in Richmond reported on new records the TV station obtained: a 13-page report that appears to be a draft of the final report that had been released. Those new records contained other allegations of wrongdoing by the current and former chairwomen of the board.
The governor’s office said last week that it did not have the long report and had no role in editing or redacting it. Davis demanded OSIG turn over the report for the governor to review. In her Friday request, she wrote that the governor needed a copy of every report — draft or final — prepared by anyone in OSIG relating to the parole board investigation involving Martin’s release.
Northam spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky said Monday that the current and past board chairwomen deserve an opportunity to defend their reputations against allegations in the draft report.
“After reviewing initial claims, it is clear the public needs to better understand why and how the OSIG determined that these initial allegations were insufficient to include in their final report, and individuals named in this document deserve the opportunity to defend their reputations against these assertions,” she said in an email to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
The governor’s lawyer also asked Inspector General Michael Westfall to sign a sworn statement saying his office provided its parole board report to the governor for the first time on July 23 and had not presented any previous findings. Westfall submitted such a statement.
That backs up the assertion last week by the governor’s office that no one in the office had any involvement in redacting the report. (Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham, last week asked whether the governor’s office was involved.)
In a statement Monday, Westfall also addressed the question of why findings in the earlier, longer report were not in the final report: “Any preliminary allegations that were not included in a final report were not supported by a further review of law and facts necessary to be included in a final report.”
And he said OSIG found nothing last year that required it to make a report to a prosecutor.
Westfall wants to find out how the records from his office were made public and if any state employee leaked the early draft report. Last week, he asked Virginia State Police criminal investigators to look into that, and an investigation is underway. That led to a rebuke from Obenshain, who said OSIG should not be on the hunt for a whistleblower.
A Democratic senator, however, tweeted a warning Monday:
“Looks like the Inspector General’s Office has a leaking problem — if any office should show respect for the official process, it’s the IG,” Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, wrote on Twitter. “I also hope there are serious efforts to determine who leaked this report, why they did it, and that leaker better have a big insurance policy.”
Obenshain said Monday that the governor’s ability to demand records from OSIG illustrates that the agency isn’t the independent watchdog it should be, free of external pressure.
“The governor is exercising his constitutional authority to demand, essentially, open access to every piece of paper in the OSIG office because they are subordinate to the governor,” he said.
State Sens. John Bell, D-Loudoun, and Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, have called for a select committee of the General Assembly to investigate. When asked what the governor thinks of that idea, his spokeswoman said he does not want the executive branch to do the investigation and would talk to lawmakers.
In addition to the Martin case, OSIG investigated seven allegations last year against the parole board involving another case. In October, OSIG released seven heavily redacted reports related to that case, and substantiated six of the seven allegations.