Transparency News, 6/11/21


June 11, 2021
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state & local news stories
An HB 2004 workshop
June 17
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The FOIA Council's subcommittee on meetings has scheduled its next meeting for June 24 at 1 p.m.
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The bodycam footage showing the moment two Virginia Beach officers shot and killed a Virginia Beach man at his home in September is only 22 seconds but it’s intense. The video was released Thursday afternoon by Virginia Beach Commonwealth’s Attorney Colin Stolle as part of his office’s investigative findings about the Sept. 6 death of Refugio Reynaldo Olivo Jr. Stolle concluded that the shooting by officers Z. Kubera and R. Ruszas was legally justified. Their first names were not released in the report. While two officers involved in the shooting reportedly had their bodycams on throughout the incident, Stolle only released a 22-second portion from one of the officers.
The Virginian-Pilot

Harrisonburg City Council agreed to begin meeting in person again on July 13 during a conversation with staff at the end of its Tuesday meeting. City Attorney Chris Brown said the legal basis for City Council meeting remotely will likely disappear soon. “Staff’s recommendation is for the June 22 meeting, City Council and staff actually assemble in City Council chambers with the general public not invited to the live meeting,” Brown said. Staff will begin working on options to continue remote engagement options, such as public comment via phone, as in-person meetings return, according to city spokesperson Michael Parks. He said staff is still working on calculating the maximum capacity of meetings. Signage will ask unvaccinated people to wear masks, and chairs will be spaced out.
Daily News Record
stories from around the country
"We would have to agree our clients would not speak about the video, which would be very restrictive for a family that’s hurting and grieving."
Pasquotank County (North Carolina) court records reveal new developments in the high-profile case of Andrew Brown Jr. On June 4th, Brown's family and legal counsel filed a Notice of Withdrawal for the petition to release body camera footage from the day deputies with the Pasquotank County Sheriff's Office shot and killed Brown while serving a warrant.  Family attorney Harry Daniels told 13News Now that the release of video would have come with legal conditions their counsel could not agree to and would have limited them legally in the case moving forward. "We would be agreeing to not speak about the video to media, to anybody, and that wasn’t going to happen. We would have to agree our clients would not speak about the video, which would be very restrictive for a family that’s hurting and grieving," Daniels said. Daniels said that this decision does not prevent them from seeking the video's release through other avenues and that they will be using federal actions to do so. 
editorials & opinion
"There’s no need to cut off access to hearings, even ostensibly to protect Pearson’s rights under the Constitution."
Why did a Circuit Court judge lock the public out of a hearing involving a Newport News police officer? That’s a good question, one with insufficient answers — and that should worry anyone concerned about judicial transparency and police accountability. Judge Margaret Poles Spencer in April granted a motion by prosecutors to close a hearing on whether to revoke bond for Sgt. Albin Trevor Pearson, who is charged with second-degree murder and other crimes in the Dec. 27, 2019, killing of Henry K. Berry III. One can sympathize with the plight of prosecutors in this case, who told the judge they were “concerned about Mr. Pearson’s access to a fair trial” and that they didn’t want the process “unnecessarily tainted by pretrial publicity.” But those concerns are better addressed through pre-trial screening of potential jurors, as in every other serious and publicized case that comes into the courtroom. There’s no need to cut off access to hearings, even ostensibly to protect Pearson’s rights under the Constitution. Further, central to the debate about the role of law enforcement in our communities is the notion held by some that police operate under a different set of rules than do citizens — that they are not held accountable for criminal mistakes and that the legal system unfairly shields them from public scrutiny. The decision to close this hearing does nothing to dispel those assumptions. And that certainly does police, or the accused, no favors.
Daily Press

As the country and state slowly turn back to a semblance of normalcy after the COVID-19 pandemic, Harrisonburg City Council on Tuesday agreed to begin meeting in person again starting July 13. The move will get Harrisonburg’s governing body back in line with the rest of our area. What shouldn’t be ignored, however, as City Council returns to City Hall, is the option that allowed involved and concerned residents of the city to engage council from the comfort of their own homes. The fact is COVID-19 put a scare in a lot of people, and while council and plenty of us might feel comfortable interacting with each other thanks to vaccines, there are a few out there who aren’t up to that level yet. Plus, the convenient option of allowing engagement with elected leaders might have spurred those not normally involved to get involved.
Daily News Record