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Virginia Police Agencies Work Under Shroud Of Secrecy

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Police agencies in Virginia are not required to release closed case files to the public.
Michael Pope
Police agencies in Virginia are not required to release closed case files to the public.

In Virginia, Fairfax County police officials have spent the last year refusing to release the name of the Fairfax cop who shot and killed an unarmed man on Richmond Highway. The Washington Post has reported the officer's identity is David Scott Ziants.

The police behavior is part of a larger trend.

Police agencies in Virginia have the ability to keep their actions secret. It's all completely legal under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, which allows police to withhold basic details of a case -- regardless of whether the case is open or closed -- even to the victim's family.

"Something is going to happen somewhere where law enforcement will be seen as overplaying their hand, and it will create an uproar, and then there will be political will to change it in spite of law enforcement objections," says Jeffrey Dion, director of the National Center for Victims of Crime.

So far that hasn't happened. Fairfax cops continue to withhold the dashboard video footage and incident reports in the Masters shooting.

"I think throughout Northern Virginia, and the entire commonwealth, I feel there is no transparency. And it is most unusual because this does not exist in the other states," says Nicholas Beltrante, the head of Citizens Coalition for Police Accountability.

Efforts to change the law have been unsuccessful.

Michael Pope also reports for Northern Virginia's Connection Newspapers.

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