Transparency News, 4/27/21


 April 27, 2021
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state & local news stories
A Circuit Court judge on Monday barred the press and public from attending a bond hearing later this week for a Newport News police officer charged in a 2019 slaying. Judge Margaret Poles Spencer granted a motion by prosecutors to close Friday’s hearing on whether to revoke bond for Sgt. Albin Trevor Pearson. In asking for the closed hearing, Senior Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Brandon Wrobleski said Monday that prosecutors were “concerned about Mr. Pearson’s access to a fair trial” and that they didn’t want the process “unnecessarily tainted by pretrial publicity.” Wrobleski said that with the COVID-19 pandemic, seating jurors has proved difficult across Hampton Roads. With fewer jurors responding to summonses, he said, it could be difficult to find jurors who haven’t been influenced by media coverage on the case. Brett Spain, an attorney representing the Daily Press and The Virginian-Pilot, said Wrobleski’s assertions that it could be difficult to seat a jury because of pretrial publicity is far from specific enough. Instead, he said, “it’s an exact example of a general conclusory basis for closing the courtroom” that courts have ruled “are not sufficient” to warrant closure. Spencer said she was “taking under advisement” whether to unseal the prosecution’s 91-page motion to revoke Pearson’s bond, including the police internal affairs records they reference.
Daily Press

A lawyer representing the family of Spotsylvania County shooting victim Isaiah Brown announced Monday that he is demanding that all audio be released immediately involving the dispatcher Brown was on the phone with when he was shot early Wednesday and the deputy who shot him. David Haynes, an attorney with the Cochran Firm in Washington, said he would file a Freedom of Information Act request Monday with the Sheriff’s Office. He said the 911 call and the body cam video released thus far leaves too many questions unanswered.
The Free Lance-Star
stories from around the country
Attorneys of Andrew Brown Jr.’s family said Monday afternoon that the Pasquotank County (North Carolina) authorities only showed them 20 seconds of the redacted body cam video of Brown’s fatal shooting by sheriff’s office deputies. The family’s attorneys expressed disappointment in what the county authorities showed them Monday, describing the video as a “snippet” and saying it was heavily redacted. “We do not feel we got transparency,” said Ben Crump, one of the family’s attorneys. Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten and chief deputy Daniel Fogg posted a video statement on Facebook a few minutes before 6 p.m. saying the shooting incident lasted less than 30 seconds. “Body cams are shaky and sometimes hard to decipher,” Wooten said. “They only tell part of the story.” County Attorney Michael Cox sought to limit the number of family members and attorneys who viewed the footage, and restricted it to a 20-second clip that he deemed pertinent, Crump said.
The Virginian-Pilot

The (D.C.) Metropolitan Police Department said Monday that its computer network was breached, and a Russian-speaking ransomware syndicate has claimed to have stolen sensitive data, including on informants, that it threatened to share with local criminal gangsunless police paid an unspecified ransom. The cybercriminals posted screenshots on their dark website supporting their claim to have stolen more than 250 gigabytes of data. The District of Columbia’s Metropolitan Police Department said in a statement that it had asked the FBI to investigate the “unauthorized access.” There was no indication that any police operations were affected, and the department did not immediately say whether it had been hit by ransomware. Screenshots the Babuk group posted on its website suggested it has data from at least four computers, including intelligence reports, information on gang conflicts, the jail census and other administrative files. One of the images, apparently of network locations accessed by the criminals, showed a text document on one computer titled “How To Restore Your Files.”
The Washington Times

editorials & opinion
JAUNT’s own website says that it was “formed as a publicly held corporation owned by local governments.” The fact that it is owned by these governments — public bodies, all — should convincingly show that it functions as a public agency, corporate status notwithstanding. But part of the lawsuit hinged on where JAUNT receives its money. Fares aren’t enough to pay for the transit system. Member governments contribute annually to support its routes into their territories. But even these public funds don’t account for a large share of the agency’s budget. JAUNT’s counterargument was that it was principally funded by the federal government — about $5 million out of a $12 million budget, according to the lawsuit. And — wait for it — that federal funding was not public money. Therefore, the agency claimed, it did not receive enough public money to render JAUNT subject to the Freedom of Information Act.Well. That federal money is not public money will no doubt come as a surprise to all the taxpayers who send their hard-earned dollars up to the national government — which is, of course, a public entity. The judge hearing the suit found no reason to accept JAUNT’s argument. Common sense. What a refreshing approach.
The Daily Progress