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IG says Northam never received draft report on parole board

(AP) A recently leaked draft report about an investigation into the Virginia Parole Board that was far more critical than the final version made public last year was never shared with Gov. Ralph Northam’s office, according to the state inspector general.

Michael Westfall made that attestation under oath Feb. 26 in an affidavit shared with The Associated Press.

Northam’s office and Westfall say the affidavit, which was sworn out at Northam’s request, shows the governor’s office had no knowledge of the draft report and played no role in editing it.

The draft report, which outlines the findings of an investigation into the parole board’s handling of the case of a man convicted decades ago of killing a police officer, was recently obtained by GOP lawmakers and media outlets. The draft report was much longer than the final version and contained additional allegations about errors made in the case of Vincent Martin, who was convicted of the 1979 killing of Richmond police officer Michael Connors.

The discrepancies between the draft version and the much shorter final one have heaped further criticism on a board that was already facing complaints from Republican officials and some prosecutors and victims’ families. Questions have mounted about whether the report was intentionally sanitized and if so, who had a hand in it.

Northam’s office provided AP with correspondence between Westfall and Northam’s counsel, Rita Davis.

In a series of letters, Davis wrote to Westfall demanding a copy of the draft report and later asking Westfall to provide a statement under oath saying he had never presented any findings about the Martin case before July 23, when a final six-page report was conveyed to the governor’s office.

Westfall did so on Feb. 26, attesting that the report provided July 23 was “the first time my office presented any findings” related to the investigation to the governor’s office.

Northam’s spokeswoman, Alena Yarmosky, said Brian Moran, Northam’s secretary of public safety and homeland security who oversees the parole board, falls into the category of the governor’s office.

Yarmosky also said Westfall’s office provided Northam’s office with a copy of the draft report late Feb. 26.

“After reviewing the preliminary findings, it is clear the public needs to better understand why and how the OSIG determined that these initial allegations were insufficient to include in their final report,” she wrote in an email.

She said that Northam would welcome an outside investigation, something lawmakers have demanded. She also said that the individuals who the draft report alleges made errors in the case — former board chair Adrianne Bennett and current chair Tonya Chapman — deserve the opportunity to defend their reputations against assertions that were never included in the final report. Bennett is now a Virginia Beach juvenile and domestic relations judge.

Westfall said in a statement to the AP that “preliminary allegations that were not included in a final report were not supported by a further review of law and facts necessary to be included in a final report.”

Westfall said his office is required to report to a prosecutor any allegations deemed reasonable and validated with appropriate evidence, and that no such findings were made in Martin’s case.

Attorney General Mark Herring’s office, which provides state agencies legal advice, has declined comment about the specifics of its role in the report.

Separately, a spokeswoman for the Virginia State Police confirmed that the agency is reviewing “the manner and mechanism in which a draft report by the Office of the State Inspector General was publicly released without the agency’s consent.”

“The review remains ongoing at this time,” spokeswoman Corinne Geller said.

Some GOP lawmakers have criticized the focus on the source of the leak.

“Ain’t that rich? The agency charged with protecting whistleblowers is searching for a whistleblower they can punish for their lack of oversight,” Sen. Mark Obenshain said in a speech.

The IG’s investigation did not deal with the merits of the decision to release Martin, who had served 40 years and had been described as a model inmate and peacemaker while incarcerated.

Maureen Clements, one of Connors’ sisters, said Monday that the latest development in the case has caused her family, including her elderly parents, more heartbreak. She questioned the reasons for the changes in the report and said she felt like a cover-up had taken place.

“It seems like a political game now,” said Clements, who lives in New York state.

-SARAH RANKIN, Associated Press. AP writer Denise Lavoie contributed to this report.

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