Maura Mazurowski

Richmond police address concerns over rising crime

Lieutenant John McRoy, First Precinct Section 111, tells the audience at the final forum of the month about the actions his precinct are taking to ensure Richmond stays safe.  Photo by Becca Schwartz.

By Maura Mazurowski, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Already this year, Richmond has seen three double homicides:

  • On Feb. 16, Deborah Walker, 55, and her daughter Shaquenda Walker, 24, were shot and killed in their home on Coalter Street.
  • On March 29, a triple shooting in Mosby Court left Mikkaisha Smoot, 16, and Taliek Brown, 15, dead after both were taken off life support at VCU Medical Center.
  • And on April 10, Kejuan Goode, 18, and Terrell Thomas, 20, were shot and killed in South Richmond.

“This seems to be once again a senseless act, but something that’s not random,” Mayor Levar Stoney said at the crime scene at the Walker home. “It seems very isolated, like some of the acts that happened in the past.”

So far in 2017, the city has had 20 homicides, according to the Richmond Police Department’s tally. (That may be an undercount. A list kept by WTVR shows 23 murders to date.) During the corresponding period of 2016, there were 23 homicides. That is a worrisome trend, because 2016 was the deadliest year in Richmond in a decade: The city ended the year with 60 murders.

Crime overall is up this year, according to the Richmond Police Department’s Crime Incident Information Center. Through April 30, Richmond police received reports of more than 11,000 violent crimes and property crimes. That’s 1,000 more than during the corresponding period of last year.

Most reported violent crimes are gun-related, said Richmond Police Chief Alfred Durham.

“We’re seeing a lot of gun violence in the city,” Durham said. “A lot of our young folks are illegally possessing firearms.”

Gun violence was a key topic at recent forums held throughout the city by the Richmond Police Department. Such town halls have become an annual tradition for the department since Durham became chief in 2015. But this year’s forums had a specific focus: What is causing an increase in crime in Richmond – and what can the community do to help?

More than 100 people attended the first forum at the Southside Plaza Community Center on April 18 to express frustration with the spike in crime. At that point, Richmond had seen 1,432 violent crimes so far in 2017 – 39 more than during the same period last year, according to the department’s Crime Incident Information Center.

Despite the numbers, Durham assured the crowd that crime is “not out of control.” However, this was a tough bit to sell to Karen Norwood, whose 30-year-old daughter Noony was shot and killed on Hull Street on Nov. 6 and died nine hours later at a nearby hospital. Noony was an African-American transgender woman — the 21st trans person reported to be killed in America last year, according to the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT civil rights advocacy group.

Norwood said she has been in touch with police, but no new developments have come to light despite surveillance cameras near the crime scene. “There’s cameras out there, but the images on the camera – they can’t see it because it’s too dark for them to see it,” she said.

Durham stood by his word at the final town hall of the season on April 27. He said crime across the city is not out of control; rather, certain neighborhoods have seen a “significant increase” in crime – especially in East Richmond, public housing communities and several communities in Southside.

“We know where the crime is,” Durham said.

He proceeded to go through a detailed presentation including crime statistics, the proliferation of firearms in the city, department staffing levels and how the community can help.

The first slide cited statistics that the department sends the FBI for its Uniform Crime Report, which is divided into two categories: violent crime and property crimes. Violent crimes include murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. Property crimes, which are more common, range from shoplifting to burglary, larceny theft, motor vehicle theft and arson.

“We have been concentrating our efforts on these areas because we know where the violent crime is committed,” Durham said. “Crime is not out of control. But we do have violent crime in this city, and we have a small population of folks committing those criminal acts.”

He emphasized the need for “transparency” between community members and the police department in improving public safety.

“We can’t do our job if we don’t know your expectations of your police department,” Durham said. “We are having some challenges this year, but the most important keys on how we’re going to resolve those issues are sitting right in this room.”

Durham said crime can be difficult to manage because the department is understaffed. It is authorized to have 750 sworn officers but has only 688, including cadet recruits who don’t graduate from the academy until this summer.

The Second Precinct in South Richmond is short 13 officers alone.

“How do we make up for that?” Durham said. “Through minimal staffing overtime. When we’re making them work, they get burned out.”

Crime rates are increasing outside of Richmond as well. According to the Major Cities Chiefs Association, which collected data from 61 metropolitan police agencies, U.S. cities saw 6,407 homicides in 2016 – an 11 percent increase from the year before. Dallas, Las Vegas and Phoenix – as well as Louisville, Kentucky; Memphis, Tennessee; and San Jose, California – all saw rises in killings in 2016.

Smaller cities that typically have low murder rates saw a jump as well, including Arlington, Texas, which had four homicides in 2015 but 18 in 2016, and Salt Lake City, which had six in 2015 compared with 14 last year.

Richmond had 43 homicides in 2015. The city’s murder rate that year was 19.5 per 100,000 population. Last year, with 60 homicides, Richmond’s murder rate was 27 per 100,000. That’s an increase of more than 38 percent.

The FBI has not yet released 2016 crime statistics for all of the nation’s cities and states. However, even before the 2016 spike in homicides, Richmond compared poorly to other cities.

Of the 290 U.S. cities with at least 100,000 people, Richmond ranked 20th in the murder rate in 2015 and had the highest murder rate of all large cities in Virginia. Norfolk, which has a slightly larger population than Richmond, had 28 murders in 2015.

Meantime, the chief is asking the community to partner with him and his department, reminding residents that his officers do all they can to keep the city safe. But at the end of the day, “we all play a role.”

“Police are the only people in society paid to do public safety, but public safety is a shared responsibility,” Durham said. “What more can we do?”

Some community members are already doing their part. Carolyn Johnson, president of the McGuire Civic Association, said she has been dubbed president of the “Snitch Club” in her neighborhood. She encourages others to take photos if they witness crime and call the police directly – not 911 – when reporting wrongdoers.

“This is my block, and I’m taking it back,” she said at the first forum on April 18.

Charles Wes, another town hall attendee, said he would like to form a coalition of people who want to get youths involved in activities like recreation leagues and community events to keep them off the streets. His suggestion was met by loud applause; Nicole Fields suggested that the forum attendees come up with activities themselves.

Such community involvement is what the police need, the mayor said.

“We have an awesome department … And although they are great, they are not superheroes,” Stoney said. “They will tell you they are only better with better neighbors and citizens. They’re great because of you all.”

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GOP rejects governor’s bid to expand Medicaid

By Maura Mazurowski, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe blasted Republican legislators Wednesday after they rejected his budget amendment to expand Medicaid in Virginia.

“Virginia Republicans block #Medicaid expansion once again,” McAuliffe tweeted after the General Assembly reconvened to consider legislation that the governor vetoed or wanted amended.

“400k Virginians remain w/o healthcare. We’re losing $6.6mil every day,” McAuliffe wrote after the GOP-controlled House of Delegates rebuffed his Medicaid proposal.

McAuliffe and other Democrats reiterated their call for Medicaid expansion after the U.S. House of Representatives last month failed to reach an agreement on repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.

That federal law, also known as Obamacare, encouraged states to expand Medicaid, the health coverage program for low-income Americans.

The proposed amendment would have given McAuliffe the authority in October to direct the Department of Medical Assistance Services to expand Medicaid if the Affordable Care Act is still in place. State officials say the expansion would cover about 400,000 low-income Virginians.

Every year since he was elected in 2013, McAuliffe has advocated expanding Medicaid. And every year, Republican lawmakers have voted against the idea.

“We rejected expansion in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and again in 2017 because it was the wrong policy for the commonwealth,” the GOP House leadership said in a statement Wednesday. “The lack of action in Washington has not changed that and in fact, the uncertainty of federal health policy underscores the need to be cautious over the long term.”

Under the Affordable Care Act, states can expand Medicaid to cover people making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $16,640 for an individual. About half of the 31 states that accepted Medicaid expansion have Republican governors. Earlier in the session, Del. Jimmie Massie, R-Henrico, outlined the Republicans’ position on the issue.

“Our Republican caucus believes in minimal government, in government doing only what it must,” Massie said.

He said Medicaid is the largest entitlement program in the state and costs are rising.

“As such, we cannot prudently responsibly expand such an entitlement program at this time,” Massie said. “We must reform it and look for the Virginia way. And that is exactly what we’re doing in this house.”

Delegate Massie has since announced his resignation from the Virginia House of Delegates.

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, a practicing pediatric neurologist, pushed for McAuliffe’s proposed amendment just before the veto session began Wednesday.

“We need to do the right thing here in Virginia. We need to go upstairs, both in the House and the Senate, and pass the governor’s amendment to move forward with Medicaid expansion,” Northam said.

Liberal organizations like Progress Virginia were angered by the GOP’s decision on the matter.

“Health care is a basic human right. It is beyond outrageous that House Republicans have prioritized petty partisan politics over real human lives by refusing to expand Medicaid,” Anna Scholl, executive director of Progress Virginia, said in a press release. “These politicians should look in the eyes of individuals they’ve denied health care access and explain their vote.”

The issue is likely to remain contentious as McAuliffe finishes his term and Virginia elects a new governor in November. Northam is competing with former U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello for the Democratic nomination. Three candidates are seeking the Republican nomination: Ed Gillespie, former chairman of the Republican National Committee; state Sen. Frank Wagner of Virginia Beach; and Corey Stewart, who chairs the Prince William Board of County Supervisors.

“I will continue to fight for access to quality and affordable healthcare for all Virginians along with the Governor and our administration,” Northam said in a statement.

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McAuliffe OKs $1.6 million for wrongfully imprisoned man

By Maura Mazurowski, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – With a stroke of his pen, Gov. Terry McAuliffe has cleared Keith Allen Harward to receive nearly $1.6 million from the commonwealth of Virginia for the 33 years he spent in prison for crimes he didn’t commit.

McAuliffe last week signed House Bill 1650approving the compensation package for Harward.

“On April 7, 2016, the Supreme Court of Virginia granted Mr. Harward’s Writ of Actual Innocence, formally exonerating him of all the crimes for which he had been convicted,” the legislation stated.

Harward, now 60, was convicted of a 1982 rape and murder in Newport News. According to trial summaries, the rape victim was awakened around 2 a.m. by a loud thumping sound as her husband was being beaten by a man.

The woman was thrown out of bed and repeatedly sexually assaulted as her husband lay dying. Her assailant held a diaper over her head and threatened to harm her children if she did not cooperate.

In 1986, Harward was tried and convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life when two forensic odontologists testified that Harward’s teeth matched those of the bites on the woman.

He was released from prison on April 8, 2016 after DNA testing proved he was not the killer. Harward had always maintained his innocence.

The bill, sponsored by Del. Rip Sullivan, D-Arlington, notes that because of his wrongful conviction, Harward “suffers from numerous painful physical injuries, systemic health conditions, and severe mental anguish and emotional distress and has lost countless opportunities, including the opportunity to marry and have children” and that he “is an impoverished man, with no job skills or career prospects and no savings or accumulated pension benefits, and does not qualify for social security benefits.”

The legislation passed by the General Assembly and signed by McAuliffe will take effect July 1. To receive the money, Harward must sign documents releasing the state of any present or future claims.

Then, within 60 days, Harward will receive a check for $309,688. By Sept. 30, the state treasurer will buy a $1,238,751 annuity for Harward. He also will be provided up to $10,000 for tuition for career and technical training from the Virginia Community College System.

During his ordeal in prison, Harward received legal support from the Innocence Project.

He is at least the 25th person to have been wrongfully convicted or indicted based at least in part on bite mark evidence, according to the project.

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ACLU urges McAuliffe to veto anti-immigration bills

By Rodrigo Arriaza and Maura Mazurowski, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Officials with the American Civil Liberties Union called on Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Wednesday to veto Republican-backed legislation banning local governments in Virginia from designating themselves as sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants. They also said they plan to fight federal and state policies that they believe violate immigrants’ rights.

At a news conference, representatives of the ACLU of Virginia and other civil rights organizations criticized anti-immigrant measures passed by the General Assembly. They also condemned the recent spike in deportation raids on immigrant communities in Virginia by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as well as President Donald Trump’s recent executive order banning immigrants from seven mostly Muslim countries.

“We’re here this morning to talk about actions to be taken at the state level that must be understood in this larger context,” said Claire Gastañaga, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia.

Gastañaga began the news conference by discussing bills that her group has asked McAuliffe to veto. They include HB 2000, which the Republican-controlled Senate passed on a party-line vote Wednesday afternoon.

The bill, sponsored by Del. Charles R. Poindexter, R-Franklin County, would ban any local government in the state from declaring itself as a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants, meaning that local officials promise not to cooperate with ICE in detaining and deporting undocumented immigrants.

Senate Democrats have also spoken out against the bill, saying it undermines trust-building efforts between communities and local police.

“Whether it is intentional or not, this is a messaging bill sending a message to immigrants, whether they are here legally or not, that they are not welcome,” said Sen. Jennifer McClellen, D-Richmond. “American citizens are being swept up in ICE raids along with undocumented immigrants. We are better than this as a commonwealth.”

Republicans have supported legislation to crack down on sanctuary cities.

Ed Gillespie, who is seeking the GOP nomination for governor, issued a statement in support of Poindexter’s bill. He called the ban on sanctuary cities a common-sense approach to immigration policy.

“Local governments should not be able to ignore federal immigration laws,” Gillespie said. “As governor, I would support and sign Delegate Poindexter’s HB 2000 because it is a reasonable measure to keep Virginians safe and enforce the law.”

The ACLU also urged McAuliffe to veto:

·         HB 2002, also sponsored by Poindexter. It would require refugee resettlement agencies in Virginia to file annual reports containing personal details about the refugees, including their age, gender, country of origin and where they were resettled.

·         HB 1468, which would allow local sheriffs and jail officials to hold undocumented immigrants for ICE for an additional 48 hours after they are set to be released. Sponsored by Del. Robert G. Marshall, R-Manassas, the measure was passed by the General Assembly after a mostly party-line vote in the House of Delegates.

“Supporters of bills such as these that target immigrants point to instances in other parts of the country in which undocumented immigrants were released from custody by local law enforcement and went on to commit crimes in the community,” Gastañaga wrote in a letter to McAuliffe.

Gastañaga’s letter also asked the governor to agree not to sign a 278(g) agreement, which would volunteer state police in apprehending and deporting undocumented immigrants. She said the state’s immigration laws already mandate jails and prisons to check the immigration status of everyone taken into custody.

Two days ago, McAuliffe responded to Gastañaga’s letter and agreed that the use of 287(g) agreements would negatively impact public safety and health.

“I have seen no evidence that entering into 278(g) agreements will enhance Virginia’s public safety,” McAuliffe wrote. “I will not endorse the use of these agreements in the absence of any evidence that they will make our communities safer.”

Several speakers from human rights organizations were present at the news conference, including Tram Nguyen, co-executive director of New Virginia Majority. According to Nguyen, the three bills that the ACLU wants McAuliffe to veto are merely “message bills” that will encourage immigrant families to “move further into the shadows.”

“They have no clear definition of a sanctuary city, and there are no sanctuary cities in the commonwealth,” Nguyen said. “These bills just incite fear and a sense of unwelcomeness in the immigrant communities.”

Michelle LaRue, Virginia director of CASA, an advocacy organization for low-income immigrant communities, also spoke. LaRue, herself a refugee from Guatemala after escaping the country’s civil war, said the legislation would make undocumented immigrants more afraid than they already are to report crimes, either as victims or as witnesses.

“These bills are affecting safety at large,” LaRue said. “Parents are having their kids, even kindergarteners, walk to the bus stops themselves in fear of not going outside, or having the children run errands for them … Many times, it’s in neighborhoods where it’s not safe to do so.”

McAuliffe has promised to veto any Republican-backed anti-sanctuary legislation. The governor’s spokesman, Brian Coy, told The Associated Press earlier this month that McAuliffe would veto any measure forcing localities to enforce federal immigration laws. Coy said the governor views the bills as “attempts to divide and demonize people.”

“Throughout my administration, I have advocated to make Virginia a more welcoming and diverse home for all of its residents,” McAuliffe wrote in his letter to Gastañaga. “My administration has advanced this goal without jeopardizing the safety of our citizens.”

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All bills targeting student debt fail this session

By Maura Mazurowski, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Six out of 10 Virginia college students graduate with debt, owing an average of about $28,000 each. More than 1 million Virginia residents owe a combined $30 billion in college loans, state officials say.

Against that backdrop, college students and recent graduates had high hopes that the General Assembly would pass bills to help students refinance loans or increase oversight of lenders. But as the legislative session enters its final days, those hopes have been dashed.

Last week, SB 1053, which sought to establish a “Borrowers’ Bill of Rights,” died in a legislative committee. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax, would have instituted a licensing process for student loan servicing companies and fined them if they misrepresented the terms of a loan to borrowers.

The legislation passed the Senate 36-4 before it crossed over for consideration in the House. It was killed on a party-line vote in the House Commerce and Labor Committee. Democrats and Virginia21, a college student advocacy group, were disappointed by the bill’s death.

“Education is the key to building a New Virginia economy, but too often crushing student debt prevents our young people from having a fair shot at the American dream,” said Del. Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria. “This bill would have protected young people from predatory lenders seeking to take advantage of their ambition and aspirations.”

According to a 2016 poll conducted by the Progress Virginia Education Fund, about three-fourths of Virginians support establishing a Borrowers’ Bill of Rights, and 60 percent believe state lawmakers should take steps to alleviate student debt.

“The House of Delegates has yet again failed student loan borrowers,” said Anna Scholl, executive director of Progress Virginia, a liberal advocacy group. “With over 1 million Virginia borrowers and a quickly escalating student debt crisis, it’s outrageous the House of Delegates has rejected yet another bipartisan measure to protect borrowers from predatory practices.”

College debt has emerged as a prominent political issue in recent years. During the 2016 Democratic presidential primary, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders suggested making tuition free at public colleges and universities and cutting interest rates on student loans.

“This is not a radical idea,” Sanders said during the campaign. “In fact, it’s what many of our colleges and universities used to do.”

He noted that the University of California offered free tuition at its schools until the 1980s. In 1965, average tuition at a four-year public university was about $243, and many colleges, including the City University of New York, did not charge tuition.

Sanders isn’t the only politician with such a plan in mind. On Friday, former U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello – who is challenging Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam for the Democratic nomination for governor – called for two years of free community college or career and technical training for Virginians.

On the campaign trail last fall, President Donald Trump also proposed tackling the student debt crisis. As the Republican presidential nominee, Trump suggested allowing borrowers to cap their monthly student loan payments at a certain percentage of their income.

“Students should not be asked to pay more on the debt than they can afford,” Trump said at a rally in Ohio in October. “And the debt should not be an albatross around their necks for the rest of their lives.”

Many Virginia lawmakers feel the same way. They filed a total of nine student loan bills for consideration this legislative session.

For example, Del. Marcus Simon, D-Falls Church, filed legislation to establish the Virginia Student Loan Refinancing Authority, which would have helped students refinance their debt with lower interest rates. Simon also carried a bill like Howell’s to require companies that service student loans to get a license from the State Corporation Commission. In addition, Simon sought to create a student loan ombudsman to help borrowers.

All nine bills failed.

Simon said he will continue to pursue the issue after the General Assembly’s session ends on Saturday.

“Student loan debt is hampering our economy and holding our young people back,” Simon said. “Long after they’ve attained degrees and secured good-paying jobs, workers are still seeing huge chunks of their paychecks being eaten by student loans. That’s money that could have been spent on both large and small purchases that would have bolstered local communities as well as our economy at-large.”

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Is it gerrymandering – or Democratic clustering?

By Maura Mazurowski and Mary Lee Clark, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – David Toscano, the minority leader in the Virginia House, did the math and didn’t like the results.

“All five statewide offices are held by Democrats, and the presidency has been won by Democrats in Virginia for the last three cycles,” he said. “Yet 66 percent of the House of Delegates are Republicans.”

The Democrats do better in the Virginia Senate, where they are outnumbered just 21-19 by Republicans. Almost as lopsided as the state House of Delegates is Virginia’s delegation in the U.S. House of Representative: It has seven Republicans and four Democrats.

Toscano and other Democrats blame that imbalance on gerrymandering – the drawing of political districts to favor the party in power.

“We face a real uphill struggle, and it shows in the legislation that is getting defeated as well as the legislation that they are getting passed,” Toscano said.

Last week, for example, the General Assembly marked “crossover day” – the deadline for bills to pass their chamber of origin or be declared dead for the legislative session. Of bills sponsored by Republican delegates, 59 percent have won House approval and are still alive, according to a Capital News Service analysis of data from the Legislative Information Service. Of bills sponsored by Democratic delegates, just 25 percent survived crossover.

However, many legislators dispute the notion that unfair redistricting practices have disadvantaged Democrats and ensured Republican legislative dominance.

“It has nothing to do with gerrymandering. Nothing could be further from the truth,” said Jeff Ryer, communications director for the Virginia Senate Republican Caucus. He said the Republican majority in the General Assembly simply reflects where people live: Republicans tend to live in rural areas while Democrats tend to cluster in more densely populated areas, such as Tidewater and Northern Virginia.

Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover, agrees. In an op-edthis month in the Richmond-Times Dispatch, he discussed what Democrats see as evidence of manipulated districts: “A state in which Republicans have lost seven statewide races in a row has a majority Republican congressional delegation and legislature.”

McDougle wrote, “That is not the result of gerrymandering, but an easy to understand consequence of Democrat voters living in communities surrounded by other Democrat voters.” In other words, he explained, “Democrat voters often reside in clusters, living in localities that vote overwhelmingly for Democrat candidates.”

Last fall’s presidential election was a case in point, McDougle said. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton won only 40 of Virginia’s 133 localities. But by winning the most populous localities, often by “staggeringly large” margins, Clinton captured the statewide vote over Republican Donald Trump.

However, Bill Oglesby, an assistant professor in VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture, says gerrymandering explains why Democrats have so little power in the General Assembly.

“Even a conservative editorial page like the Richmond-Times Dispatch has said in a state that votes blue statewide on a consistent basis, there’s no justification for having two-thirds of the House be Republican,” said Oglesby, who recently directed and produced a PBS documentary titled “GerryRIGGED: Turning Democracy on Its Head.”

John Aughenbaugh, a political science professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, said both Democrats and Republicans have used gerrymandering, depending on which party is in the majority when political lines are redrawn every 10 years.

“In Virginia, like a majority of the states in the country, the state legislature controls the redistricting process after every census is taken,” Aughenbaugh said. “It puts a heavy premium on which political party is actually in control of the General Assembly after the census results come out.”

When the Democrats controlled the General Assembly, they drew the lines to benefit their party, Aughenbaugh said. He said no one is innocent, but it is a problem that must be fixed.

“Most political scientists would like to see greater competitive races, whether we are talking about state legislative seats or House of Representatives,” Aughenbaugh said. “We would like to see greater competition.”

The lack of competition is evident in statistics compiled by the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project. When the 100 seats in the Virginia House of Delegates were up for election two years ago, 61 of the races were uncontested – with just one name on the ballot.

Despite being in the minority in the House and Senate, Democratic legislators have an ace up their sleeve. They can play it when Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoes legislation, as he has done to 71 Republican-supported bills since taking office in 2014.

Republicans need a two-thirds majority in both chambers – 67 votes in the House and 27 in the Senate – to override a veto. They’ve never been able to muster that. As a result, not one of McAuliffe’s vetoes has been overturned.

But Democrats’ ultimate goal is to change the way political districts are drawn.

At the start of the legislative session, legislators – including some Republicans – introduced 13 bills and proposed constitutional amendments intended to take the politics out of redistricting. All of the proposals originating in the House died in the House Privileges and Elections Committee.

But three redistricting proposals won approval in the Senate and have been sent to the House for consideration:

  • SJ 290 is a proposed constitutional amendment that states, “No electoral district shall be drawn for the purpose of favoring or disfavoring any political party, incumbent legislator or member of Congress, or other individual or entity.” It is sponsored by Sens. Jill Vogel, R-Winchester, and Janet Howell, D-Reston.
  • SJ 231, another constitutional amendment, would create an independent commission to redraw legislative and congressional districts after each census. It is sponsored by a group of Republicans and Democrats.
  • SB 846, sponsored by Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, would require Virginia to use an independent commission if a court declares a legislative or congressional district unlawful or unconstitutional.

All of those measures have been assigned to the House Privileges and Elections Committee, the House graveyard for its own bills that would have changed redistricting.

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After wrongful imprisonment, man will get $1.6 million

By Maura Mazurowski, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Keith Allen Harward, who served 33 years in prison for crimes he didn’t commit, will receive nearly $1.6 million from the commonwealth of Virginia under a bill approved Monday by the House of Delegates.

Harward was convicted of a 1982 rape and murder in Newport News. He was released from prison last year after DNA testing proved he was innocent. The House unanimously passed HB 1650 to provide relief to Harward, now 60.

The bill notes that because of his wrongful conviction, Harward “suffers from numerous painful physical injuries, systemic health conditions, and severe mental anguish and emotional distress and has lost countless opportunities, including the opportunity to marry and have children” and that he “is an impoverished man, with no job skills or career prospects and no savings or accumulated pension benefits, and does not qualify for social security benefits.”

Under the legislation, Harward will receive an initial lump sum of $309,688, and then he will get $1,238,751 to purchase an annuity. In exchange, Harward must release the state from any “present or future claims.”

The legislation, sponsored by Del. Rip Sullivan, D-Arlington, also provides Harward up to $10,000 for tuition for career and technical training from the Virginia Community College System.

Last week, the Senate unanimously passed a companion bill, SB 1479, which the same provisions. The House and Senate still must pass each other’s bills before the legislation can be sent to Gov. Terry McAuliffe for his signature.

Harward was convicted of a rape and murder that occurred on Sept. 14, 1982. According to trial summaries, the rape victim was awakened around 2 a.m., by a loud thumping sound as her husband was being beaten by a man.

The woman was thrown out of bed and repeatedly sexually assaulted as her husband lay dying. Her assailant held a diaper over her head and threatened to harm her children if she did not cooperate.

The assailant also bit the woman’s legs. The attack came to be called the “bite-mark case” in light of testimony that Harward’s teeth matched the marks. In 1986, Harward was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Harward had always maintained his innocence.

In late 2015 and early 2016, DNA testing by the Virginia Department of Forensic Science failed to find Harward’s genetic profile in sperm left by the assailant. Instead, the testing implicated Jerry Crotty, a shipmate of Harward’s on the USS Carl Vinson at the time of the attack.

Crotty died in prison in Ohio in 2006. He was being held for attempted burglary, abduction and other charges. Attorney General Mark Herring said the new evidence showed that Harward was not guilty of the crimes that had kept him in prison, and the Virginia Supreme Court agreed.

On April 8, 2016, Harward was released from prison as a free man.

In 1983, Harward was initially convicted of capital murder, robbery, sodomy and rape. In 1985, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that, under state law, he could not be tried for capital murder in the commission of a rape because the murder victim was not the rape victim. Harward was tried again in 1986, convicted of first-degree murder and again sentenced to life.

The rape victim told police that the man was wearing a sailor’s uniform. A dentist reviewed the dental records of Marines stationed to the USS Carl Vinson at the time and initially excluded Harward.

However, he became a suspect six months later when his then-girlfriend, Gladys Bates, reported to police that Harward had bitten her in an altercation. Harward later admitted biting her on the hand and shoulder during the dispute.

Police had the 1982 rape victim attend court when Harward was there for the unrelated case involving Bates to see if she could identify him. The victim could not identify Harward as her attacker then or later during his trial.

According to HB 1560, a shipyard security guard was the only individual to identify Harward at trial. Two forensic odontologists testified that Harward’s teeth matched those of the bites on the woman.

The Virginia Court of Appeals dismissed Harward’s appeal in 1988, “finding the circumstantial evidence sufficient.”

Harward is at least the 25th person to have been wrongfully convicted or indicted based at least in part on bite mark evidence, according to the Innocence Project.

“Despite the fact that for decades courts have permitted forensic dentists to testify in criminal trials, there is a complete lack of scientific support for claims that a suspect can be identified from an injury on a victim’s skin,” the Innocent Project’s websitestates.

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Senator is ‘shocked’ to think money buys influence

By Maura Mazurowski, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Everybody at the state Capitol saw this coming: the death of a bill to prohibit Dominion, the single largest corporate donor in Virginia politics, from giving campaign contributions to legislators, the governor and other public officials.

Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, filed SB 1593 on Jan. 25 because, he said, state lawmakers shouldn’t take money from public utilities that are regulated by the General Assembly and other state agencies.

“Monopolies like Dominion or Appalachian Power have an undue influence on the political process,” Petersen said.

Because he introduced his bill after the filing deadline, Petersen needed the unanimous consent of the Senate to proceed. After two senators objected to the legislation, Petersen officially withdrew the proposal Tuesday. He plans to reintroduce the bill next year, according to Alex Parker, Petersen’s political director.

SB 1593 sought to forbid any candidate for the General Assembly or statewide office from accepting donations from “public service corporations” – such as power and telephone companies regulated by the State Corporation Commission.

In a speech on the Senate floor Monday, Petersen said those corporations use political donations to influence legislative decisions.

“I happen to believe that public policy should be decided on the merits and not based on donations,” he said.

But the bill stood little chance from the start. Attempts to alter Virginia’s campaign finance system, which allows unlimited donations from people and corporations as long as politicians publicly disclose the contributions, have been unsuccessful.

The closest the state has come to ethics reform was in 2015 when the General Assembly passed legislation to put a $100 limit on gifts and travel from lobbyists or those with business before the state.

Petersen filed SB 1593 after losing a fight over another bill (SB 1095) to increase regulation of electric utilities in Virginia.

Until 2015, the State Corporation Commission conducted biennial rate reviews of power companies. If the SCC found that a company was making excessive profits, it could order the utility to lower its rates.

But in 2015, the General Assembly passed legislation to suspend the rate reviews for Dominion and Appalachian Power for five years because the companies said they were facing uncertain costs of complying with the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which ordered states to cut carbon emissions.

Because of a lawsuit, the Clean Power Plan was never implemented, and the Trump administration intends to dismantle it.

SB 1095 sought to roll back the 2015 legislation and let the State Corporation Commission resume conducting rate reviews of Dominion and Appalachian Power.

“I think rate review will show that utilities have made a financial windfall off the legislation we passed in 2015,” Petersen said.

His rate review bill died on Jan. 16 on a 12-2 vote in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee.

The bill’s defeat prompted Petersen to file his measure to prohibit legislators from taking campaign donations from regulated monopolies – and to deliver a “personal privilege” speech on the Senate floor.

“Now I know, and in one of those ‘gambling at Rick’s’ moments, I decided, or some people mentioned to me, that maybe donations made within this body or any body, does have some impact on public policy,” Petersen told his colleagues.

“Now I know, I’m shocked myself to hear that, but I thought it was worth putting forward legislation that would limit, if not prohibit, donations made by public service corporations, which are the very same monopolies that were subject to the jurisdiction of the State Corporation Commission in setting their prices, that would limit and prohibit those donations, to not only members of this body, but also to the third floor, and public officials that sit in judgment of those bodies.”

The “third floor” was a reference to the governor’s office.

Dominion has given more than $1.3 millionto Virginia political campaigns since 2015 and about $14.4 millionsince the late 1990s, according to the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project.

Supporters of the 2015 legislation suspending the rate reviews say it was a good deal for consumers. Under that law, Dominion agreed to freeze its base rates, which make up over half of customers’ electric bills, for five years.

Dominion officials have criticized Petersen’s proposal to ban the company from making political donations, saying it would violate free speech rights. They also have criticized Petersen’s stand on other energy-related issues.

“Not only has Sen. Petersen introduced legislation to roll back advancements in solar energy and payment assistance for low-income families, but now he’s against the First Amendment,” said Dominion spokesman David Botkins.

“Our 16,200 employees – 9,000 of whom work in Virginia – are proud of the role we play in helping the commonwealth grow and improve. We believe our democracy works best when all participate, not when government chooses who can speak and who cannot.”

According to VPAP data, the 12 members of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee who voted to kill the bill to resume reviewing Dominion’s rates received a total of more than $729,000 in donations from the company.

The two committee members who voted against killing the bill also received contributions from Dominion, totaling about $30,000.

Petersen himself has accepted $22,519in campaign donations from Dominion since 2001, according to VPAP.

“If Dominion makes a written demand – in writing – I’ll write a check and give back the money,” Petersen said.

Dominion donations to the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee

Here are the 12 senators who voted to kill SB 1095, which sought to resume reviewing Dominion's electric rates.



Total donations from Dominion


Sen. Ben Chafin, R-Russell County



Sen. John Cosgrove, R-Chesapeake



Sen. Rosalyn R. Dance, D-Petersburg



Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth



Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover



Sen. Thomas Norment, R-Williamsburg



Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg



Sen. Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax



Sen. William Stanley, R-Franklin County



Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Westmoreland



Sen. Glen Sturtevant, R-Midlothian



Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach







The two senators who voted against killing the bill are:



Total donations from Dominion


Sen. Richard Black, R-Loudoun



Sen. Stephen Newman, R-Bedford




Rally calls for state help for brain injuries

By Maura Mazurowski, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – “Forty-two ... I think I’m 42,” Mike Drury of Leesburg, Virginia, said with a smile. A car accident in 2011 left Drury with a traumatic brain injury that affects his cognitive abilities.

But that didn’t stop him from traveling to the state Capitol for the 14th annual Brain Injury Awareness Day. After meeting with legislators, dozens of survivors, advocates and caretakers of people with brain injuries held a rally Wednesday to call for improvements in services for disabled Virginians.

Because of a budget deficit, in October the state cut $375,000 in funds for brain injury services, the rally’s organizers said.

“There are still so many unserved areas that don’t have any brain injury services at all in Virginia,” said Krystal Thompson, executive director of Brain Injury Services of Southwest Virginia. “We need a lot more funding to reach the scope of the problem.”

Several lawmakers have introduced budget amendments to help people with brain injuries:

  • Sen. Janet Howell of Fairfax County and Del. Brenda Pogge of James City County have proposed restoring the $375,000 that was cut last year.
  • Sen. John Edwards of Roanoke and Del. Nick Rush of Montgomery County want to provide an additional $1 million to expand and support brain injury services in Virginia.
  • Pogge and Sen. David Marsden of Fairfax County have called for improvements in collecting and analyzing data about Virginians with brain injuries and the services they need.

“There’s a lot of data of brain injury that’s sort of scattered all over the place,” said Anne McDonnell, executive director of the Brain Injury Association of Virginia. “We’d like it to be consolidated in one place so we can make some plans for the coming wave of individuals that are going to need care.”

Nearly 168,000 Virginians are disabled as a result of a traumatic brain injury, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With more funding, McDonnell hopes to provide care for more people with such injuries.

“It’s a rare privilege to watch a brain come back online,” McDonnell said.

Among the people at the rally was 15-year-old Maya Simbulan. In 2009, she was getting ready for a school play when she fell down a flight of stairs at home and suffered a traumatic brain injury.

Simbulan, a sophomore at Lake Braddock High School in Fairfax County, said she owes her recovery to Brain Injury Services, a nonprofit organization based in the Springfield. The group helps residents of Northern Virginia find rehabilitation resources, manage the effects of their injuries and connect with people with similar problems.

“Sky’s the limit. We want Maya to get every opportunity everyone else gets, and that’s what we’re here to do,” said Simbulan’s case manager, Brooke Annessa.

Annessa has been with Brain Injury Services since 2009. In 2011, she adopted her daughter, Addie, who had suffered anoxic brain damage, which is caused by a lack of oxygen. Wednesday was Addie’s fifth birthday.

“So I’m either the best mom ever, or the worst mom ever,” Annessa joked.

Addie doesn’t talk yet. Shortly after her injury, Annessa brought Addie to Brain Injury Services. There, the girl was handed an iPad with Proloquo2Go, a symbol-based “augmented alternative communication” app to help her express herself.

Within the first day of using the iPad, Addie was speaking through the app. A month later, she was constructing sentences.

“That little bit of hope, that little bit of proof, is what got me more services at school for her. I was able to show she is smart, she is understanding – she just can’t explain that to you,” Annessa said.


Instead of cooking up laws, legislators enjoy stew

By Maura Mazurowski, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – “Today is the day!” exclaimed Del. Chris Jones of Suffolk as he made his way into the tent set up outside the General Assembly Building. Behind him, a long line of state legislators exiting their offices repeatedly asked the same question:

“Is the stew ready yet?”

Wednesday was Brunswick Stew Day at the state Capitol, celebrating the signature dish of Brunswick County, a quaint locale along Virginia’s southern border. The stew was free to the public but mostly served state legislators. However, if you wanted your share, you had to get there early: The 80-gallon cast-iron pot was empty in just two hours.

The annual event features the first-place winner from the Taste of Brunswick Festival, held every October in Brunswick County. The winning stew crew cooks its recipe for the General Assembly on the fourth Wednesday in January during the legislative session, an honor enshrined in a resolution passed by lawmakers 15 years ago.

Twenty-four teams competed for the Taste of Brunswick crown last October. Bill Steed and his son Chad came out on top as the stew masters for Brunswick Stew Day 2017. This was their third time competing in the festival.

“Third time’s the charm,” Bill’s wife, Deborah Steed, said proudly.

Steed and his team – which included his daughter-in-law Beverly Steed, his brother Chuck Maitland and his nephew Zach Maitland – arrived at the Capitol just before midnight to start cooking by 2 a.m. The stirring didn’t stop until the pot was empty.

“You cannot let it sit at all,” warned Brunswick County Administrator Charlette Woolridge. “It’s always being stirred.”

Born and raised in Brunswick County, Bill Steed has been cooking stew since childhood. While he outlined the recipe’s basic ingredients – chicken, vegetables and a butter base – no one would disclose the “secret ingredient.”

“It’s a Brunswick County secret that makes our stew an absolute art,” Woolridge said.

Woolridge, a Richmond native, has been coming to the Capitol for Brunswick Stew Day since being selected as county administrator 10 years ago.

“This is a day to showcase Brunswick County and our diverse people,” Woolridge said. “It’s also an opportunity for us to share something that’s near and dear to us with the legislators by providing them with stew – and they love it.”

Virginia’s love for Brunswick stew dates back to the 1820s. Dr. Creed Haskins, a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, and a group of friends were on a hunting trip in Brunswick County. Their chef, Jimmy Matthews, slow-cooked everything he could find for the hungry hunters: squirrel, bread crumbs, onions, butter, seasonings and more. The stew has since become a staple at Southern gatherings.

But the Steeds were doing more than serving legislators delicious stew this brilliantly blue morning: They were carrying on a family tradition. According to Deborah Steed, the Steed family members are distant relatives of Dr. Haskins.

For about 30 years, Brunswick County officials have been coming to Richmond each legislative session to dish out their stew to lawmakers. The General Assembly officially established Brunswick Stew Day on the Capitol grounds in 2002 by passing House Joint Resolution 2.

Legislators have been lining up for a bowlful ever since.

“I love seeing people come through the line and say, ‘Thank you, this is so good,’” Wooldridge said. “Brunswick stew makes people feel happy. I just enjoy serving and giving back to the people.”

Disclosure: In the interest of journalistic integrity, it should be noted that the reporter tasted the Brunswick stew for herself and can agree that it is indeed a work of art.

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Anti-Trump Protesters Take to Richmond Streets


By Amelia Heymann and Maura Mazurowski, Photos by Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – More than 100 demonstrators marched through Richmond on Friday evening to protest the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States.

DISRUPTJ20RVA, a social movement group, organized the event.

“Join local activists as we demonstrate that we won’t tolerate the white supremacist agenda of the incoming administration,” organizers wrote in a description on a Facebook event page. “The Trump presidency will exacerbate city and statewide struggles by undoing the hard work of countless community members.”

Unlike some other anti-Trump protests, Friday’s demonstrators in Richmond were peaceful. There were no violent interactions, destruction of property, attempts to block highway traffic or arrests. (However, as a CNS reporter was recording a video of the demonstrators, one of them grabbed the journalist’s phone and threw it off a bridge. The reporter managed to retrieve it thanks to the help of two other protesters.)

DISRUPTJ20RVA held a brief rally at Abner Clay Park in Jackson Ward. At about 6:45 p.m., the protesters made their way to Broad Street led by a sign reading “Resistance starts here.”

Participants spilled down Broad Street, turned north onto Lombardy Street and circled the roundabout at Admiral Street and Brook Road. Protesters chanted “Black Lives Matter”, “F*ck Pence”, “Whose streets? Our streets!” and other slogans.

According to DISRUPT20RVA activists, the march in Richmond was one of many across the country protesting Trump and his incoming administration’s policies.

Dozens of officers from the Richmond Police Department followed the protesters on bikes. Koury Wilson, the department’s public information officer, said safety was their “utmost concern” among demonstrators and residents alike. Also present at the protest were legal observers from the Virginia branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.

“We’re here to observe from the sidelines,” said Charlie Schmidt, the public policy associate of ACLU-VA. “Tonight we’re most interested in interactions between police officials and citizens.”

Earlier Friday afternoon, DISRUPTJ20 held a teach-in and discussion at Gallery 5. The group discussed tactics on dealing with police confrontation in preparation for the protest. Demonstrators were advised to exercise their right to remain silent, ask officers if they were being detained and call a legal help hotline if arrested.

Some of the demonstrators apparently were parents. So DISRUPTJ20 provided child care services at Art 180 for protesters until 10 p.m.

Mallory O’Shea, the media coordinator for DISRUPTJ20, refused to give a formal statement to Capital News Service about the event or the organization behind it.

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Virginia Wine Sales Increase by 6%

By Maura Mazurowski, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Pour yourself a drink and raise a toast to the record 6.6 million bottles of Virginia wine sold last year – an increase of more than 6 percent from 2015.

Officials said Thursday that a new economic impact study shows the state’s flourishing wine industry contributes more than $1.37 billion annually to Virginia’s economy. This is an increase of 82 percent from the last economic impact study in 2010.

“This new study shows that this growth is being driven by small wineries, which demonstrates that the increased rural economic development is truly beneficial to local communities,” Gov. Terry McAuliffe said in a press release.

The Virginia Wine Board commissioned Frank, Rimmerman + Co., an accounting and consulting firm that specializes in wine industry studies, to conduct the 2015 Economic Impact Study of Wine and Wine Grapes on the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The study showed that the number of Virginia wineries jumped 35 percent – from 193 to 261 – between 2010 and 2015. (The number of wineries has since risen to more than 285.)

During the five-year period studied, full-time jobs at wineries and vineyards increased 73 percent, from 4,753 to 8,218, and wages from jobs at wineries and vineyards soared by 87 percent, from $156 million to $291 million.

Tourism to Virginia wineries also grew, from 1.6 million visitors in 2010 to 2.25 million visitors in 2015, the report said.

The number of acres devoted to growing grapes in Virginia increased from 2,700 in 2010 to 3,300 in 2015. The taxes on grape-bearing lands paid to state and local governments jumped from $43 million to $94 million.

“Unlike many industries, once vineyards and wineries are established, they are effectively rooted and tied to their communities,” said Basil Gooden, Virginia’s secretary of agriculture and forestry.“A Virginia vineyard cannot simply be relocated to another region or outsourced to another country.”

Nationwide, the state ranks fifth in the number of wineries and as a wine grape producer, Virginia officials said.


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