WAMU 88.5 : News

Filed Under:

Virginia Law Shields Police From Transparency

Play associated audio
Hailu Brook did not have a handgun, although the Arlington County Police Department press release issued the day of the shooting said he did.
Graphic by Lawrence Foong of Connection Newspapers
Hailu Brook did not have a handgun, although the Arlington County Police Department press release issued the day of the shooting said he did.

In December of 2008, the Fairfax Police Department chased 19-year-old Hailu Brook across the county line into Arlington and shot him dead. A press release from the Arlington County Police Department said he was holding a handgun, a fact that later turned out to be untrue.

"It was a weapon that appeared to be a handgun," says Arlington County Police Chief Douglas Scott.

Scott refused to release the official report of the shooting to the public. Instead, what's left is an incorrect press release, and a promise that the police have thoroughly investigated the case.

According to Scott, the object Brook was holding was an air pistol that resembled a real handgun. When asked whether the department should have worded the press release differently, Scott replied that their releases don't usually go into "that level of detail."

Across Virginia, there's almost no detail provided about crime that happens every day. From petty larceny to murder, state police officials routinely deny access to basic documents, such as incident reports. In the case of Hailu Brook, his father Brook Beshah can't even get a copy of the report clearing the Fairfax officers who killed his son.

"I wish they were more transparent," he says. "Transparency wouldn't kill anybody. It is only when we have transparency that we will find accountability."

Earlier this year, a state integrity investigation ranked and graded each of the 50 states on government accountability, transparency and corruption. Virginia got an F.

Lucy Dalglish, of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, says the police are abusing an exemption clause in the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.

"There is no question that under some circumstances that it is in the public interest to protect the identities of some victims and some witnesses," says Dalglish. "I just don't think it is necessary to protect the identities of all victims and all witnesses in all circumstances."

Several attempts have been made in Richmond to provide more sunlight on police documents, but powerful law enforcement associations have opposed those efforts.

--

Michael Pope is also a reporter with the Connection Newspapers who provides special coverage of Northern Virginia for WAMU 88.5. His story for the Connection can be found at ArlingtonConnection.com.  

NPR

He Died At 32, But A Young Artist Lives On In LA's Underground Museum

When Noah Davis founded the museum, he wanted to bring world-class art to a neighborhood he likened to a food desert, meaning no grocery stores or museums. Davis died a year ago Monday.
NPR

The Strange, Twisted Story Behind Seattle's Blackberries

Those tangled brambles are everywhere in the city, the legacy of an eccentric named Luther Burbank whose breeding experiments with crops can still be found on many American dinner plates.
WAMU 88.5

State Taxes, School Budgets And The Quality Of Public Education

Budget cutbacks have made it impossible for many states to finance their public schools. But some have bucked the trend by increasing taxes and earmarking those funds for education. Taxes, spending and the quality of public education.

NPR

A Robot That Harms: When Machines Make Life Or Death Decisions

An artist has designed a robot that purposefully defies Isaac Asimov's law that "a robot may not harm humanity" — to bring urgency to the discussion about self-driving and other smart technology.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.