RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Just hours after he was sworn in Saturday, Gov. Glenn Youngkin followed through on one of his key campaign promises and fired the entire Virginia Parole Board.
Youngkin signed an executive order after his inauguration appointing five new members to the board and directing the secretary of public safety and homeland security to conduct a thorough review of the board with recommendations for administrative, legislative and policy changes by not later than Sept. 1.
“The review shall include, but not be limited to, increasing the transparency of Parole Board votes, recording reasons for granting parole, and reviewing the management, personnel, and operations of the Parole Board,” Youngkin wrote in the order.
The executive order also gives new Attorney General Jason Miyares the authority to open an investigation into the previous board, which came under fire after state investigations found that members had violated procedure and state law by failing to notify victims’ families and local prosecutors before granting parole to people convicted of murder.
High-profile cases made headlines and the state investigator who led the investigations into the board in 2020 was fired after filing a whistleblower lawsuit. That former state employee filed a wrongful termination lawsuit alleging defamation by senior state officials.
Youngkin, Miyares and other Republicans made the scandal surrounding the parole board a main talking point on the campaign trail, accusing the Northam administration and Democrats of being weak on crime and vowing to replace the board if elected.
“To this day, the family members and victims have no answers as to how or why the Virginia Parole Board failed to abide by the laws governing its operations, and no one has been held accountable,” Youngkin’s order states.
On Monday, Jan. 17, Rich Meagher, the legal expert for WFXR’s sister station, WRIC, said this is not only a symbolic move for Youngkin, but that the new board will very likely keep more people in prison for longer.
“They [Youngkin administration] want a return to kind of more traditional republican law and order politics and these replacements reflect that,” Meagher said. “In one sense it’s just rewarding people who were supportive of the governor in his campaign. You have to remember that these are jobs. These are well-paid jobs.”
Virginia’s parole board is tasked with reviewing requests from those with convictions before 1995, the year the commonwealth abolished parole, and those seeking geriatric release.
There is a Democratic bill in the state Senate for the 2022 legislative session that aims to repeal the abolition of parole. Other measures filed for this year would increase the number of members from five to 11, require votes to be unanimous and mandate monthly reports from the board.
The new members of the Virginia Parole Board
Chairman Chadwick Dotson
The new chairman of the Virginia Parole Board is Chadwick Dotson, the former top prosecutor for Wise County and the city of Norton and a former circuit court judge in Wise County. Dotson was elected to the General District Court in 2007 by the General Assembly.
Dotson, the dean of students at the Appalachian School of Law, lost out on the Republican nomination in the special election for the state Senate seat held by former southwest Virginia state Sen. Ben Chafin, who died from COVID-19 complications last year.
Dotson did not immediately respond to WRIC’s request for an interview.
Montgomery County Sheriff Hank Partin
Sheriff Hank Partin started his law enforcement career in 1987 and has served in the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office since December 1993.
Partin, who was named to Youngkin’s transition steering committee, gained attention ahead of Virginia’s gubernatorial election after he asked former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, one of Youngkin’s opponents, whether he backed calls to defund police after he received an endorsement from the New Virginia Majority, a group that has supported moves to defund the police.
The tense exchange between Partin and McAuliffe was recorded and then shared online by Youngkin’s campaign staff. McAuliffe shoots down any link between the group’s priorities and his own in the video, telling Partin that he has “invested in law enforcement” and refusing to commit on whether he would ever support plans to defund police.
Partin then tells McAuliffe he doesn’t believe his answers, with the former governor responding, “I don’t care what you believe. I’ve got a track record.”
The sheriff’s office did not immediately respond to 8News’ request for an interview with Partin.
Cheryl Nici-O’Connell, a former Richmond police officer, was featured in one of Youngkin’s political spots targeting the parole board appointed by McAuliffe. In the ad, she tells a story about how she was shot in the head in 1984 by a wanted man.
“Every few years I have to rip those wounds open again to plead with the members of Terry McAuliffe’s parole board to keep the man who tried to kill me off the streets,” Nici says in the ad.
However, The Washington Post did a fact-checking report that said the ad is misleading as the man who shot Nici has been denied parole multiple times.
Carmen Williams is the legal services project manager at Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance, a nonprofit that aims “to strengthen how communities across Virginia respond to and prevent sexual and intimate partner violence,” according to its website.
Williams is a member of the Chesterfield County Republican Committee, according to a Facebook post from the group congratulating Williams on her appointment to the parole board. Williams told WFXR’s sister station on Monday she could not speak to the press about her appointment at this time.
Tracy Banks is an attorney in Charlottesville. Efforts to reach Ms. Banks and the law firm she’s listed as working at have been unsuccessful.