AG: Ex-parole board chair violated law; too late for charges

Jan 25, 2023, 12:12 AM | Updated: 4:44 pm
Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares, center, speaks about the investigation of the Virginia Par...

Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares, center, speaks about the investigation of the Virginia Parole Board with Chief Deputy Attorney General of Virginia Chuck Slemp, left, and Theophani K. Stamos, special counsel to the Virginia attorney general, right, at the Office of the Attorney General in Richmond, Va., Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023. (Daniel Sangjib Min/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)

(Daniel Sangjib Min/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)

              Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares speaks about the investigation of the Virginia Parole Board at the Office of the Attorney General in Richmond, Va., Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023. (Daniel Sangjib Min/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)
            
              Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares, center, speaks about the investigation of the Virginia Parole Board with Chief Deputy Attorney General of Virginia Chuck Slemp, left, and Theophani K. Stamos, special counsel to the Virginia attorney general, right, at the Office of the Attorney General in Richmond, Va., Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023. (Daniel Sangjib Min/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)
            
              Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares, center, speaks about the investigation of the Virginia Parole Board with Chief Deputy Attorney General of Virginia Chuck Slemp, left, and Theophani K. Stamos, special counsel to the Virginia attorney general, right, at the Office of the Attorney General in Richmond, Va., Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023. (Daniel Sangjib Min/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A former Virginia Parole Board chair violated state policy and law in her handling of cases at the start of the coronavirus pandemic and could have faced criminal charges if not for the statute of limitations, the state’s attorney general said Wednesday.

Republican Attorney General Jason Miyares laid out his allegations against Adrianne Bennett as he outlined the findings of a yearlong investigation by his office into the practices of the board. The probe focused especially on the board’s activities in March and April of 2020, when it granted release to a higher-than-normal number of inmates in what Miyares called a “parole-granting frenzy” carried out with “disregard” for victims.

“What happened here was a clear abuse of power. What happened here was the epitome of putting criminals first, and victims last,” Miyares said.

Attorney Diane Toscano said in an emailed statement that the report “grossly targeted” Bennett, who left the parole board in 2020 and is now a judge in Virginia Beach.

The report cherry-picked a time period for scrutiny that took place during a “once-in-a-lifetime pandemic,” Toscano said, also noting that in all parole cases, Bennett was one vote of the five-member board.

“Judge Bennett is a dedicated public servant who has served with distinction on the bench, on the parole board, and as a respected attorney in the Virginia Beach legal community for decades. No attempt to vilify her changes that,” the statement said.

The long-running controversy over the board — the membership of which has since been entirely overhauled — began with complaints from prosecutors and victims’ families about how parole decisions and notifications were handled at the start of the pandemic during the tenure of former Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam. The matter escalated into a bitter dispute that has so far split mostly along partisan lines.

Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin campaigned on a pledge to reform the board, and in one of his first acts after being sworn in last January, he authorized the investigation by Miyares.

“The Attorney General’s investigation revealed a staggering amount of wrongdoing from the Parole Board and Chairwoman Bennett,” Youngkin said in a statement Wednesday. “The clear violations led to attacks on victims, the release of 130 violent criminals and the undermining of trust in our judicial system.”

In a 69-page report, Miyares’ office said the parole board in March and April of 2020 acted with “systematic disregard for the statutory right of victims and prosecutors to receive notice” as it started releasing more inmates.

It violated a requirement that it “endeavor diligently” to contact victims before making discretionary parole decisions 83 times, and it violated prosecutor-notification requirements 66 times, the report said.

Those findings are in line with reporting by The Associated Press and other news outlets at the time. Family members of victims reporting being astonished and horrified to learn of parole grants after they had occurred. State officials said then that a push to accelerate the review of eligible inmates was made because of the threat of the coronavirus.

Bennett also “unilaterally discharged 137 violent offenders from parole supervision in her final days with the Board — most of whom were convicted of capital or first-degree murder,” according to the report.

In doing so, “Chair Bennett falsified three entries in her list of discharged offenders by claiming that a Parole Board employee or parole officer had ‘requested’ the offender’s discharge,” the report said.

Such a charge, a class one misdemeanor, has a one-year statute of limitations, Miyares said.

There is also probable cause to believe that Bennett violated eight court orders finding that two inmates were ineligible for discretionary parole, the report said. Those offenses also cannot be prosecuted because the applicable statute of limitations has lapsed, it said.

Bennett has not granted previous AP requests for comment. Miyares said she agreed to an interview for the report but declined to answer questions about some matters. Miyares also alleged that her parole board emails “were all deleted.”

Miyares said the General Assembly should decide whether to pursue articles of impeachment against Bennett.

Spokespeople for the leadership of the GOP-controlled House of Delegates and Democrat-led Senate said their members had only begun to review the report Wednesday afternoon.

Republican Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment called on Bennett to “immediately” resign “to avoid legislative action.”

The report alleges that Bennett presided over a board with a “culture” of ignoring the law, policies and procedures.

One board employee interviewed for the investigation, Crystal Noakes, told Miyares’ office that Bennett would “make up” policies and that Bennett’s policy regarding rape victims was that “if it was a rape victim, don’t traumatize the victim by contacting, by contacting them,” the report said.

The report further alleges Bennett wrongfully implemented a change to Virginia’s “three strikes” policy that’s meant to keep violent repeat offenders locked up. That led to the release of at least five inmates who went on to commit new violent felonies, it said.

Brian Moran, who under Northam served as the secretary of public safety and homeland security and who was interviewed for the report, did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Miyares’ report also offered a series of policy and legislative recommendations, including a suggestion that the size and transparency of the board be expanded.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - Signage outside PayPal headquarters in San Jose, Calif., is pictured on March 10, 2015. PayP...
Associated Press

PayPal to cut 2,000 jobs in latest tech company cost-cutting

PayPal said Tuesday it will trim about 7% of its total workforce, or about 2,000 full-time workers
11 hours ago
Associated Press

DeSantis injects politics into $114B Florida budget proposal

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida will have enough money and reserves to withstand a national economic downturn while still being able to provide tax breaks, Gov. Ron DeSantis said while releasing his proposed budget Wednesday. The proposal also included permanently getting rid of a sales tax on gas stoves that have become a political rallying […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Passengers disarm gunman who killed DC employee, shot others

WASHINGTON (AP) — An armed man shot three people, killing one, in a Wednesday morning rampage in the nation’s capital that started on a city bus and ended in a Metro tunnel after passengers attacked and disarmed him. Authorities were still piecing together the chaotic series of events that left two people with gunshot wounds […]
1 day ago
FILE - Michael Cohen, former President Donald Trump's longtime personal lawyer, arrives at Federal ...
Associated Press

Cohen says DA took phones for renewed Trump hush-money probe

NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump’s long-estranged former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, says Manhattan prosecutors recently took his cellphones to preserve evidence related to a hush-money payment he made to porn actress Stormy Daniels in the waning weeks of the 2016 presidential campaign. The payment to Daniels, which Cohen says was intended to buy […]
1 day ago
FILE - Nathan Chasing Horse attends the South Dakota premiere of the HBO film "Bury My Heart at Wou...
Associated Press

‘Dances With Wolves’ actor to be charged with sex assault

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A former “Dances With Wolves” actor accused of leading a cult could be facing multiple felonies and life in prison after police said he sexually assaulted young Indigenous girls and took multiple wives during a period spanning two decades, court records show. As of Wednesday, Nathan Lee Chasing His Horse, who […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Ex-ABC journalist charged with child pornography offense

A well-known former investigative journalist for ABC News has been arrested on a charge of “transporting” images depicting the sexual abuse of children, the Department of Justice said on Wednesday. James Gordon Meek, 53, of Arlington, Virginia, was arrested Tuesday, months after his home was searched by federal authorities. Authorities found images of children engaged […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.
SHIBA WA...

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
AG: Ex-parole board chair violated law; too late for charges