Transparency News, 3/30/21


 March 30, 2021
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state & local news stories
"We haven’t shared that information with anyone,” said Jody Saunders, a spokeswoman for Jaunt. “We didn’t feel like that was particularly germane.”
The chair of the Virginia Parole Board has filed a defamation lawsuit against a Richmond TV station and one of its reporters over some of the station’s coverage of an ongoing controversy involving the board. Court records show board chair Tonya Chapman, who led Portsmouth’s police department from 2016 to 2019 and was Virginia’s first black female chief of city police, filed the $7 million lawsuit Friday against WTVR-TV and Jon Burkett. It alleges two stories Burkett published in February about an investigation of the board by the state’s government watchdog agency included several defamatory statements. As a result, the lawsuit says, “Chapman has suffered injury and harm to both her good personal reputation and her good business reputation, as well as great humiliation.”
The Virginian-Pilot

Pharrell Williams identified the man shot and killed by Virginia Beach police Friday night at the Oceanfront as his cousin. The officer who shot Lynch has not been publicly identified. Police said the officer’s body camera was not on at the time of the shooting. “It is critical my family and the other victims’ families get the transparency, honesty and justice they deserve,” Williams wrote.
The Virginian-Pilot
The Virginia Beach City Auditor’s Office will continue to take a hard look at police body-worn camera activation as part of an ongoing audit of the program, which began several months before a man was fatally shot by an officer at the Oceanfront. That shooting was not captured on tape because the officer’s body-worn camera was not activated. Police Department Chief Paul Neudigate did confirm that the officer who shot Lynch was wearing a body-worn camera at the time of the shooting, but it was not activated for “unknown reasons.” The proper activation of body-worn cameras by working VBPD officers is one element of an ongoing audit that began in November. Virginia Beach City Auditor Lyndon Remias said the audit was planned and that his team is examining current police body-worn camera processes, training, activation, and policy to ensure the program is effective and in compliance with national standards. The audit is strictly focused on the body-worn camera program, and is separate from both the VBPD’s and Commonwealth’s Attorney’s investigations into Lynch’s death.

Despite being government owned, and almost entirely taxpayer funded, Jaunt Inc. says it will not release the “numerous expenses for goods, services and travel” that lead to the resignation of its former CEO. Jaunt’s board of directors asked former CEO Brad Sheffield to resign in December after a federal audit discovered some of his purchases went “beyond … reasonable business expenses.” How much did he spend? What did he buy? “We haven’t shared that information with anyone,” said Jody Saunders, a spokeswoman for Jaunt. “We didn’t feel like that was particularly germane.” According to FOIA, an agency is public if it is “supported wholly or principally by public funds.” Ninety-three percent of Jaunt’s budget comes from tax dollars, according to data it submitted to the city of Charlottesville when applying for funding in 2019. It also pays no taxes and, according to its website, it is a “publicly held corporation owned by [the] local governments” in the areas it serves. And yet, Jaunt has operated for years like a private corporation.
Charlottesville Tomorrow

The Rappahannock County Circuit Court has dismissed the case of Ron Frazier v. Board of Supervisors of Rappahannock County “because no petition for appeal has been filed and the time allowed by law in which to do so has expired.” In August 2019, Jackson District Supervisor Ron Frazier asked the circuit court to reverse a decision by the Board of Supervisors refusing to pay the $19,365 in legal fees that Frazier incurred during the case of Marian Bragg v. Board of Supervisors of Rappahannock County.  The Rappahannock News reported in 2019: “County Attorney Art Goff maintains that because Frazier removed himself from the suit and was an unnamed party, the county — or taxpayers, in this case — was not responsible for Frazier’s legal bills nor for appointing outside counsel to represent him."
Rappahannock News
stories from around the country
"The fact that social distancing is required for this trial and that it is a trial of international magnitude meant that Judge Cahill said I've got to do something to make access meaningful."
Maryland lawmakers are poised to pass first-in-the-nation legislation that would limit police access to popular genealogical databases that have been used in recent years to solve decades-old rape and homicide cases across the country. Using DNA analysis from crime scenes, authorities have been able to identify suspects such as the “Golden State Killer,” who terrorized Californians in the 1970s and 1980s. The genetic samples came from relatives who submitted to genealogy-tracing companies such as GEDmatch and Family Tree DNA. The Democratic-controlled Maryland House and Senate last week unanimously passed bills that would restrict authorities’ access to such databases and technology.
The Washington Times

Parents, students and teachers have had to navigate a minefield of cyber threats over the past year as schools continue to invest in ed-tech tools and devices needed for remote learning during COVID-19 school closures. At the same time, cyber criminals found new avenues for data breaches and phishing scams, as well as ransomware and malware attacks targeting school districts in 2020. According to a report released earlier this month by a public data resource called the K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center, in association with the nonprofit K12 Security Information Exchange, 2020 marked a “record-breaking” year for cyber attacks against public schools in the U.S. The report includes data from the center's K-12 Cyber Incident Map, which recorded 408 publicized school cyber attacks in 2020, representing an 18 percent increase over 2019. The problem has only intensified due to vulnerabilities found in the American public school system, according to the report, which notes that many districts still lack the IT staff and security protocols needed for modern cybersecurity systems. For sophisticated cyber criminals, this means easier access to financial documents and sensitive data about students, parents, educators and others involved in school operations.

Many media outlets — including MPR News — will livestream the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin after pressing for access.  This is the first time a Minnesota trial has been broadcast. Unlike Iowa, Wisconsin and other states, courts here have long opposed electronic media coverage. Jane Kirtley, a University of Minnesota journalism and law professor, said at least in the Chauvin case, COVID-19 and the judge's decision changed everything. "I don't think we can discount the significance of the pandemic here," Kirtley said. "The fact that social distancing is required for this trial and that it is a trial of international magnitude meant that Judge Cahill said I've got to do something to make access meaningful."
editorials & opinion
Beach police have a policy for body cameras and will need to explain why it was not activated in this case. It should make public all of the relevant body camera footage and refer the officer-involved shooting to the Virginia State Police to endure an independent eye takes measure of the facts and renders a more impartial verdict. 
The Virginian-Pilot