RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) –Attorney General Jason Miyares released a 69-page report on Wednesday unpacking scathing allegations against the former Virginia Parole Board after a year-long investigation, but he said it’s too late to charge the chairwoman at the center of the controversy.
Governor Glenn Youngkin asked for the probe in one of his day one executive orders, which also fired and replaced every member of the board that served under former Governor Ralph Northam.
“The answers we found in this Parole Board investigation were actually worse than we thought,” Miyares said during a press conference before detailing his office’s findings for the first time. “What happened here was wrong, what happened here was a clear abuse of power. What happened here was the epitome of putting criminals first and victims last.”
The investigation focused primarily on the Parole Board’s activities in March and April of 2020. The report describes a “chaotic atmosphere” during this time as the pace of parole grants was “drastically accelerated.”
Miyares said a “parole granting frenzy” endangered public safety and resulted in the early release of 134 inmates–130 of whom had been convicted of violent crimes, including murder, armed robbery and rape.
Over the two month period, Miyares said the board failed to properly notify victims while weighing the early release of inmates 83 times and disregarded prosecutors 66 times. He said the board’s failure to adequately engage those parties violated state law and their own internal policies.
The investigation largely blames former Parole Board Chair Adrianne Bennett, who now serves as a judge for the 2nd Judicial District Juvenile & Domestic Relations District Court in Virginia Beach.
For example, Miyares said Bennett unilaterally cut 137 violent offenders loose from community supervision prematurely and falsified records in the process.
“If there were no statute of limitations, Chair Bennett could be charged criminally for falsifying official records and violating court orders,” Miyares said.
Miyares also accused Bennett of ignoring the limits of Virginia’s “three strikes” law for parole ineligibility and overstepping her authority, even after a top Northam administration official reportedly advised against it.
“As a result, she allowed multiple serial rapists to actually become parole eligible,” Miyares said.
Former Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran, who was cited in the report, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, nor did Northam’s Chief of Staff Clark Mercer.
A law firm representing Judge Bennett responded in a statement on Wednesday evening.
“The Office of Attorney General has cherry picked a time period for scrutiny which happens to have taken place during a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. In all cases of parole, Judge Bennett was but one vote of the board,” wrote attorney Diana Toscano. “This report grossly targeted her. Judge Bennett is a dedicated public servant who has served with distinction on the bench, on the parole board, and as a respected attorney in the Virginia Beach legal community for decades. No attempt to vilify her changes that.”
Miyares said all of Bennett’s emails from her time as chairwoman have been deleted, leaving some questions unanswered. He said Virginia’s law on destruction of public records isn’t strong enough to pursue charges.
However, Miyares said the General Assembly could try to impeach Bennett from the bench in Virginia Beach.
In a statement, Senate Republican Leader Tommy Norment said he is “respectfully asking Judge Bennett to avoid legislative action regarding her status by immediately submitting her resignation from the bench.”
Norment added that the General Assembly should act on the Attorney General’s other recommendations for legislative action as soon as possible. The report details various reforms addressing ethics, transparency and victim notification.
“The reckless and deliberate disregard for the Code, and for the Parole Board’s own policies and procedures, ranks among the most outrageous conduct by government officials I have seen in my three decades of service,” Norment furthered.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.