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Little Appetite In Virginia To Correct Failing Transparency

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Members of a subcommittee of the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council met in Richmond last week to consider the possibility of opening some criminal investigative records. The meeting was inconclusive.
Michael Pope
Members of a subcommittee of the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council met in Richmond last week to consider the possibility of opening some criminal investigative records. The meeting was inconclusive.

Virginia was given a failing grade this spring by the State Integrity Investigation, conducted by a coalition of groups to promote government accountability. Since that time, Virginia Press Association president Ginger Stanley has been in Richmond pushing for more access.

"The General Assembly has been very reluctant to ever see the access community's side of it," says Stanley.

That means keeping the broad exemption for police to shield complaints, memoranda, correspondence, case files, reports and witness statements in all cases, regardless of what the case is about, and regardless of whether a case is open or closed.

"Investigations never close, says Mike Doucette, Virginia's attorney in Lynchburg. "We always have an obligation to go forward, and if we learn of information that we may have prosecuted the wrong person, at that point in time, we have to reopen and continue that investigation."

The investigation for Brook Besha's son, who was shot and killed by Fairfax County officers in 2008, remains under seal.

"They need to be more forthcoming when it comes addressing the concern of people, you know," says Besha. "Especially him. I mean, my God. Here we are dealing with what? With shootings. With the loss of life."

Caitlin Ginley of the State Integrity Investigation says that opens the Commonwealth up to the risk of corruption.

"When you have an environment like that, it raises the potential for there to be illegal behavior, corrupt behavior, unethical behavior," says Ginley.

Advocates for public access say they'll press on in the fight. But, for now, there's little momentum in Richmond for more sunlight.

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This story is brought to you as part of a partnership between WAMU 88.5 News and the State Integrity InvestigationMichael 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.  

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