VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – An internal probe by Virginia Beach police has determined that officers failed to meet department expectations and standards while investigating the fatal abduction of Marie Covington.
Our thoughts go out to the Covington family as they continue to grieve. We failed to meet the family’s expectations in trying to locate their loved one, which is why I implemented a process improvement team to review our procedures related to missing persons. It is my expectation that every time we are contacted about a potential missing person where there are specific, articulable facts that indicate one may be at risk, that we respond with the appropriate urgency.Virginia Beach Police Chief Paul Neudigate
The Virginia Beach Police Department announced it would conduct an internal review into its response, reporting, and public notification of the Covington case on Aug. 23 after questions were raised about a two-day delay in the department’s request for a Critically Missing Adult Alert – or an Ashanti Alert.
The Ashanti Alert is named after Ashanti Billie, a 19-year-old who was abducted from Norfolk in 2018. Her body was discovered 11 days later in Charlotte near the childhood home of her accused abductor, Andrew Brian Brown. Billie’s abduction and murder illustrated the need for an alert system for critically missing adults.
Covington was abducted from a home in the 200 block of Thalia Trace Drive in Virginia Beach on Aug. 17. She was last seen with her boyfriend, Gary Morton, in her white Ford SUV. Her family reported her missing to the Virginia Beach Police Department 24 hours later.
VBPD didn’t request for the Virginia State Police to issue an Ashanti Alert for two days. The department’s request for an Ashanti Alert came after Morton was arrested following a highspeed chase with Chesapeake police. Morton was driving Covington’s car.
VSP issued the Ashanti Alert for Covington at 9:50 p.m. on Aug. 20. The VBPD issued a tweet announcing Covington was missing and endangered at 10:49 p.m. A few minutes later, scanner traffic revealed Covington was found shot to death on Galt Street in Norfolk. Morton faces several charges, including abduction, second-degree murder, and use of a firearm.
10 On Your Side’s investigative team learned the results of VBPD’s internal review on Tuesday, Dec. 20, after sharing with the department a copy of a letter we obtained while investigating the Ashanti Alert. That letter was written by Sen. Mark Warner to Gov. Glenn Youngkin and raised concerns about the delay in issuing an Ashanti Alert in the Covington case, as well as the execution of the alert across Virginia.
VBPD told 10 On Your Side’s investigative team that it has completed its internal review, taking a critical look at what happened between officers receiving the first 911 call in the case, to Morton being charged with second-degree murder in Norfolk. Although evidence shows that Covington was likely murdered before she was reported missing to VBPD, the review found that two officers failed to meet the department’s standards and expectations in the case – specifically rule violations for “unsatisfactory performance.”
VBPD determined those failures were “separate, individual breakdowns” that happened at different points in the case after Covington was reported missing, but before her body was discovered. In a statement, VBPD said those failures have been addressed, including retraining in applicable areas.
Covington’s daughter, Carla Covington, issued this statement after reviewing 10 on Your Side’s coverage of the internal review:
Seeing this update so close to the holidays, confirming what I’ve already known about the case, is heartbreaking. My family and I will be contacting an attorney because it’s crazy to think that the people who were supposed to protect us failed to do their job multiple times.
That man[Gary Morton] should’ve never been out of jail in the first place and because he was, 4 children have to grow up without a mother resulting in us relying on our GoFundMe to help pay the bills and dealing with all this stress and everything during the holidays.Carla Covington
Carla tells 10 on Your Side she cares for her brothers, ages 14 and 9, and manages the household. She hopes that a grandparent will soon relocate to Hampton Roads to assist her with the children.
Those breakdowns in performance led the VBPD to take a hard look at its current processes for handling missing persons cases, especially when foul play is suspected. The review also led Neudigate to order the creation of the Process Improvement Team. That team will assess VBPD’s current missing persons processes and procedures and recommend changes if needed.
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