Democrats approved Governor Ralph Northam’s proposal for an investigation into a 2020 investigation of the Virginia Parole Board. In Wednesday’s veto session, legislators passed a Northam budget amendment funding a $250,000 investigation into the 2020 Vincent Martin parole investigation. Although both Republicans have been calling for a new investigation, they said the proposal was too narrow and criticized the decision to allow the Attorney General any oversight.
“I don’t know what to call this so-called investigation, anything other than a whitewash,” House of Delegates Minority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) said in the online session. “We were told that we would have a full investigation into the parole board matter.”
Over in the Science Museum of Virginia, Senator Steve Newman (R-Bedford) called the investigation “The most limiting potential investigation you could possibly have.”
In 2020, the Office of the State Inspector General (OSIG) conducted an investigation into Martin’s parole case and found alleged wrongdoing committed by parole board officials, primarily in victim notification procedures. Eventually, a longer draft of the report was leaked, detailing further allegations, but Northam’s administration has discredited the longer draft, and OSIG warned in a press release that drafts can contain uncorroborated information. The administration also began calling for an independent investigation, leading to Northam’s budget proposal, which passed both the House of Delegates and the Senate along party lines.
Republicans focused on the attorney general’s oversight of who would perform the investigation into the OSIG investigation, and noted that the new investigation wouldn’t be into the parole board’s Vincent Martin case, or any of the other alleged cases of parole board misconduct. Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham) also warned that the investigation wouldn’t be subject to FOIA laws, and called for more transparency.
Newman proposed a special bipartisan committee that would have subpoena power and would investigate all the alleged parole board violations.
But Senator Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) said there wasn’t time for a part-time legislature to undertake that kind of investigation, and said that Republicans were moving the goalposts. He noted that Minority Leader Thomas Norment (R-James City) would be among those who could help select the investigators who would be picked from a list of law firms with relevant investigation specialties.
In the House session, Gilbert said, “Madame Speaker, you and I both know that something is very rotten at the parole board. We know this because we got a full packet of information from a whistleblower about what is going on at the parole board. This is a state agency that is tasked primarily with ensuring public safety through their actions, through their policies and procedures and through their following of the law.”
He added, “The only person to my knowledge who has yet been held in any way accountable for anything is the person who brought this corruption to light, the whistleblower herself. That is not only absurd, it flies in the face of decency, of good governance.”
Gilbert referred to the upcoming elections and said that if Republicans regain control of the House of Delegates, they would conduct a full investigation.
Delegate Don Scott, Jr. (D-Portsmouth) replied, “I’ve been listening over and over throughout our last session as well as today. And folks said they wanted an investigation. And that’s exactly what we all want. We want an investigation into how we all got here. And that’s what this investigation will provide. This amendment provides funding for an independent, third-party investigation.”
Scott added, “Now we know what the real issue is. It’s about politics, pure and simple, and it’s not about necessarily protecting the public. We know that the folks who speak on this issue, they are diametrically, in their soul they are opposed to parole, they are opposed to second chances.”