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News :: Crime & Police

Maydays' put police in spotlight

'Maydays' put police in spotlight
MARK HOLMBERG
POINT OF VIEW
Monday, May 31, 2004

In just four hours late Saturday night and early yesterday, Richmond police managed to infuriate a large crowd of black people in the East End and a large group of white people downtown.

The two incidents flooded both areas with uniformed officers responding to "mayday" calls to help deal with the highly agitated crowds that shared a common belief: Richmond's finest had stepped over the line.

"You want us to look up to you all?" one enraged East End man shouted derisively at the numerous officers gathered on Mechanicsville Turnpike on Saturday night, where a motorist had just been shot to death by police while fleeing a traffic stop.

That sentiment was echoed on East Main Street downtown, when a party broken up by police turned into an ugly confrontation. The streets were showered with broken glass and numerous young people were gasping from pepper spray, several of them also bleeding from cuts.

"Rest assured," one partygoer said, "everyone involved hates the police now."

At first glance, the two incidents would hardly seem comparable. After all, a man was shot to death in the East End.

But it was a minor miracle that no one was killed downtown when police released a fog of pepper spray in an upstairs apartment crowded with more than 100 people whose only avenue of escape was a 3-foot wide stairway.


"It was pandemonium," said 29-year-old Greg Wells, a construction and demolition worker. "People couldn't move. It was completely irresponsible. The first thing I thought of was Rhode Island, the fire up there."

As one longtime officer said early yesterday, "I would hate to be at the command staff meeting Tuesday morning" when Richmond police brass critique the holiday weekend's events.

The East End fatal shooting is being investigated by the Virginia State Police at the request of Richmond police Chief Andre Parker, who wants the public to know that fatal use-of-force cases by his officers will be scrutinized by an outside, impartial agency.

State police investigators determined that the motorist, whose identity has not been released, had a gun in his car.

But many of the people who crowded around the scene of the 8:56 p.m. shooting at Fairfield Way and Mechanicsville Turnpike firmly believed that the officer or officers who shot the motorist should have let him drive away rather than kill him.

The brief official version of the shooting matches accounts given by those who said they witnessed it. The victim stopped his Buick when officers pulled him over at the corner. As an officer approached the car, the man pulled away, apparently running over the officer's foot.

The officer managed to reach into the car though the window, and was dragged a short distance. The Buick then bumped into a Ford idling at the stoplight, and one or more officers opened fire, killing the driver of the Buick, witnesses said.

Details surrounding the shooting will be released as the investigation develops, Parker said. He urged that residents wait for those facts to emerge before judging the police.

Despite the anger felt, and expressed, by numerous people at the scene, there were no physical confrontations with police.

That wasn't the case during the near-riot on Main Street at 12:40 a.m. yesterday.

Patrol officers spotted a large crowd of people, some of them drinking beer, hanging out at the corner of Second and East Main streets, a police supervisor said.

Officers determined a party was going on in a second-floor apartment and asked the woman leasing the apartment, who was outside, to go upstairs and tone it down, police said.

That woman, Anda Lewis, said she went upstairs and tried to quiet things down - a punk-rock cover band was playing - but couldn't.

She came back downstairs. Several officers then went up into the apartment without her permission, she said.

Greg Wells and several others upstairs reported that the officers got the band to shut down, which sparked some booing.

"All of a sudden," said 23-year-old Amy Biegelsen, "there was the pepper spray." She and others said there was no warning. Police confirm that a pepper-spray fogger was activated in the apartment.

The stairwell was immediately clogged by those trying to get away. Gasping for breath and their eyes flooded with tears, those trapped upstairs tried to open the apartment's windows to let in some fresh air.

But some of the windows were stuck, Wells said, so he and others broke some of them. He cut his arm in the process.

Some of the partygoers were hanging out of the windows. "Some people actually jumped," Wells said.

Witnesses and police said some in the crowd threw bottles out the windows, seemingly at police. One police car was damaged, along with a minivan parked nearby.

Thus began a series of clashes on the street between irate partygoers and police officers who were none too pleased about the shower of broken glass.

Some partygoers yelled at police, crowding them. Officers handcuffed some of them, at times throwing them to the ground or slamming them against cars. More pepper spray was squirted at those confronting or wrestling with officers.

One handcuffing led to more shouting and pushing by stunned and angry onlookers, which led to another throw-down and handcuffing, and so on, for about 10 minutes.

Three people were formally arrested. Others who had been handcuffed were released after the situation calmed down.

Richmond police Maj. David McCoy said yesterday that the Main Street incident will be investigated to see whether deploying the pepper-spray fogger in the apartment violated police policy.

"We're initiating a fact-finding investigation with internal affairs," McCoy said, pledging there will be a "good, thorough investigation."

While sitting in front of the newspaper early yesterday morning, winding down after the wild night, I talked with 21-year-old Emily Erb, who had pedaled over after leaving the weirdness on Main Street.

She's a soft-spoken college student, fresh from studying in Italy. We talked about the shooting in the East End, the party incident she had witnessed, and all the violent crime that plagues this city.

"I understand they've been though a lot, seen a lot," she said of the Richmond police. "I want to understand their side of the story."

Contact Mark at (804) 649-6822 or mholmberg@timesdispatch.com

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News :: Children

City's lead-safe program blasted in internal audit

City's lead-safe program blasted in internal audit

BY TAMMIE SMITH
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER May 28, 2004


City auditors have issued a scathing review of management and operation of the city's $3.8 million Lead-Safe Program that arranges for lead-based paint to be removed from housing inhabited by young children.

The audit, which covered a 19-month period that ended Feb. 29, concludes that the program has been so poorly run and inadequately overseen that:

some contractors' bills were paid twice;
some housing units supposedly abated were never checked to see that they actually were;
no accounting was maintained for employee time spent working on the project; and
cash advances were paid to some subcontractors in violation of stipulations of the federal grant paying for the project.
The audit makes a total of 11 recommendations, of which four are major areas for correction. In recent months, the city has tried to correct many of the deficiencies, some of which were also cited in a federal review last fall.

The city has, for instance, named a new director of the pro- gram, but the auditors question whether progress made is enough to keep the city in good standing with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which awarded the city a $3 million grant for the program in 2001.

In a review last fall, HUD classified the city's grant as "high risk" because of performance problems.

The city has to be in good standing to maintain a competitive edge when applying for future lead-removal grants.

City Auditor Lance Kronzer warned that Richmond may have to repay or forfeit some or all of the federal grant unless it can document worker hours and in-kind services it has funded for the program. Those items are supposed to add up to about $850,000 that the city must spend in matching funds.

"Overall project management of the Lead Grant program was weak," city auditors wrote in the report.

"To assign someone without the requisite skills to manage this grant program was reprehensible at best," the report states later. The report does not identify any city employees by name.

The audit was released to City Council members on May 24. It includes comments from city lead-abatement officials who were given a chance to respond to the findings.

Community activists have complained for some time that the program was performing poorly and that families in need were not being helped.

Young children can get lead poisoning and suffer permanent neurological damage if they ingest lead-based paint from flaking paint chips or lead dust. Neighborhoods in Richmond with older homes more likely to have the paint have been targeted for lead-abatement efforts.

City employee Thomas Chatman took over management of the program after the federal review last fall. He said yesterday that many of the audit deficiencies have been corrected or are being corrected.

"We knew there were some issues that needed to be addressed," Chatman said. "The city had a set of unfortunate circumstances, such as not having all the right ingredients in the beginning."

Chatman said problems with the program were compounded last fall when the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority stopped handling the bid work for some of the housing units identified for abatement.

The federal review identified RRHA as a partner in the project.

In December, RRHA was in the midst of its own turmoil as details unfolded of a phony-billing scam involving an RRHA employee, Edward M. Andrews Jr., who was working in cohorts with Robert Evans, a former assistant to the city manager.

Andrews was sentenced to 2½ years in prison and ordered to repay nearly $500,000 he helped Evans embezzle from the city. Evans was sentenced to 10 years in prison and ordered to repay $1.1 million he stole from the city.

City auditors say there is no evidence that lead-program grant dollars were affected by the scandal, noting that: "Although he [Evans] participated in the process, we noted no evidence that the employee who was involved in the recent discretionary fund fraud was in a position to award contracts by himself."

"They were the ones putting the projects out to bid," Chatman said of RRHA. "They would find the contractors, pay the contractors. They had the bulk of the work. They were administering the work of a huge part of the grant."

Chatman said RRHA suddenly stopped processing projects for the lead program in October.

"From October to January, we did not have anything.," Chatman said. "We had to bring all that in-house [to the city] and create a whole new protocol" for administering it.

Chatman said the city has met the most recent deadline in the numbers of homes that had to be cleared of lead under the grant. He said at least 125 housing units have been cleared of lead.

The goal is to get 135 units abated during the three years. That number is much lower than the original goal of 235 units, so the grant may be scaled back to reflect the smaller number.

"We are anticipating submitting an application for an automatic renewal in July, and we look forward to having a real strong, solid program," Chatman said.

Federal officials said they planned to look at the audit to see if any additional issues were raised that were not found in the federal review last fall.

"This is a program that has had a very rough startup," said Leland Jones, local HUD spokesman.

"They seem to have made some very significant improvements. We hope that would continue."


Contact Tammie Smith at (804) 649-6572 or tlsmith@timesdispatch.com

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News :: Labor & Class

school employees speak out

More than 50 residents attended a 100-minute town hall meeting yesterday

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News :: Urban Development

This old house takes a five-block journey

Believed to be the oldest in Jackson Ward, cottage will be restored and sold.

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Announcement :: Peace & War

THE SITE PEACE GRANPA JEANMARRY

THE SITE PEACE GRANPA JEANMARRY FOR JOHN KERRY
http://www.casino-granpaboom-world.com

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News :: Elections & Legislation

Richmond Protesters Prepare for Republicans in New York

May 24, 2004
Permit or Not, Protesters Prepare for Republicans in New York
By RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD

He relishes the idea, and it is just an idea, he says, of linking arms on streets around Madison Square Garden to block delegates and bring the Republican convention to a halt. Getting arrested for civil disobedience, if it comes to that, does not faze him.

"I am not going to have a work schedule for two weeks after, just in case,'' says Jim Straub, 23, who is a part-time dishwasher and bookstore clerk and full-time radical in Richmond, Va.

For Jen Lawhorne, 24, who also plans to attend the convention from Richmond: "This is going to be one of the finer moments of the American left. The sheer numbers excite me.''

They are a band of like-minded activists, many in their 20's, leading a charge to direct protesters from Richmond to New York for the convention, Aug. 30 to Sept. 2.

Linked by indignation over the war and economic and social issues, protesters from Chicago, Santa Barbara, Calif., Cleveland and scores of other places across the country are developing their plans to descend on New York City for the convention.

The protesters are not deterred by the barriers they face. New York City has yet to issue any protest permits. Housing is in short supply and prohibitively expensive. And just the logistics of getting to vehicle-unfriendly New York can be daunting. But convention protesters like the group in Richmond are pressing forward with plans, and developing ways around the hurdles.

An organizer on the West Coast is suggesting using airline discounts to New York. Another is arranging backpacking trips to raise money for airfare, while some groups in Los Angeles and San Francisco have discussed a car caravan. And in Richmond, organizers plan to pass the hat at parties and hold other fund-raisers for the $1,000 or so needed to charter a bus.

The fact that the New York police have not issued permits for any of the 15 groups that have applied for marches and rallies near the Garden matters little, especially to the more rebellious sorts.

The RNC Not Welcome Collective, an affiliation of radicals in New York, is encouraging prospective demonstrators to focus on other sites besides the Garden, like parties and other gatherings of delegates.

"If we are diffused throughout the city, we will have a much better advantage,'' read a recent handout at a strategy meeting. "After all, the real target is not Madison Square Garden, the stage of the spectacle, but the various events where deals are made - where the lobbyists wine, dine, and bribe Bush & Co.''

"If we are truly everywhere in this very big city,'' it goes on, "the police cannot be concentrated in one area, their communications will be hampered by their hierarchical processes, their steps will be slowed by their pounds of body armor and fatigue from forced overtime.''

Whether for organized demonstrations or not, people eager to protest the convention are strategizing.

A "consulta'' was held recently in Chicago among various groups to discuss plans to take at least 1,000 people to New York, said José Martín, an organizer in Chicago.

M. J. Musler, an antiwar activist in Cleveland, said groups across Ohio hoped to muster 15,000 people in New York, "little church ladies to the more radical end of the spectrum.'' Most, she said, plan to go for at least Aug. 29, when United for Peace and Justice has applied for a permit for an antiwar demonstration past the Garden for 250,000 people or more.

West Coast demonstrators may find it more difficult to get to New York, but they seem undeterred, with groups sprouting in Santa Barbara, the San Francisco Bay area, Los Angeles, Fresno and other places promising to bring carloads.

Tanya Mayo, an organizer with a national group called Not In Our Name who is in Oakland, Calif., said she had even advised prospective demonstrators who want to fly to take advantage of a Continental Airlines discount on air travel to New York during the convention period.

"It's a beautiful location for mobilizing people,'' she said of New York. "Three international airports, big bus terminals."

While established antiwar groups and labor unions are actively organizing, many grass-roots organizers, young, self-described radicals like Mr. Straub and his Richmond companions, are playing a role , too.

Nicholas DeGraff, a 23-year-old antiwar activist in Fresno, helped coordinate a group called Rancor (a play on the initials for the Republican National Convention), that is raising money through guided backpacking trips and other events to send at least a couple of dozen demonstrators to New York.

"A lot of people going are professionals, social workers, people who have the ability to save up and pay for a ticket and a place to stay,'' Mr. DeGraff said last week. "We are having fund-raisers for people who can't afford to fly out, like students and individuals whose voices are not heard.''

Mr. DeGraff himself does not have a place to stay yet, counting on the beneficence of churches or other organizations that may offer housing. But he said that would not hold him back and that he planned to take part in acts of civil disobedience, if it comes to that.

"Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. taught that civil disobedience is your duty if that's what it takes,'' Mr. DeGraff said. "The thinking is: Are we going to have to shut down your convention before you listen to average people?''

Organizers are discussing with several churches in New York the possibility of housing demonstrators, and people across the country are calling in favors with friends who live in the city. An anticonvention Web site includes a bulletin board for housing and transportation assistance.

Many activists are deciding to skip the Democratic convention in Boston July 26-29 - and other events like the Group of 8 summit meeting of presidents and prime ministers in Savannah, Ga., June 8-10 - to reserve resources for the Republicans. While many object to Senator John F. Kerry, the presumptive Democratic nominee whose support of the Iraq war is anathema to the left, "he is the lesser of two evils,'' said June Grossholtz, a retired college professor organizing convention protesters in western Massachusetts.

The will may not be a problem but the means can be, especially in places like Richmond, which does not have a deep history of leftist mobilization.

"I am less concerned about getting people interested than where we are going to get the money for the buses,'' Mr. Straub said, adding that they rent for $1,000 per bus.

Muna Hijazi, another organizer, retorted, "People always find a way to pay for them.''

The organizers plan to pass the hat at parties and meetings. They will pass out leaflets at a planned July 3 antiwar demonstration in Richmond, and they are collaborating with organizers in Washington for at least the Aug. 29 demonstration.

The uncertainty over what permitted marches will materialize has caused some confusion and delays in planning.

"What are we going to, if there have been no permits issued?'' one woman asked at a meeting in Richmond the other night to plan the July 3 march, which Mr. Straub and his companions see as a way to fire people up for a descent on New York.

"You don't need a permit to go to New York and express free speech,'' replied Emily Harry, an anticonvention organizer.

This Richmond group began organizing eight months ago, after regular Sunday gatherings in a city park of the local chapter of an antipoverty group, Food not Bombs. Not all are agitated 20-somethings; Connie Moss, 45, who has a son in the Air Force stationed in Europe, said she wanted to show that not all military families support the war.

"The reason I am going to New York is I want the numbers there,'' she said.

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News :: Civil & Human Rights

"Angry gays ponder leaving Virginia"

Angry gays ponder leaving Virginia
Activists say new state law that bars civil unions is too extreme

BY JUSTIN BERGMAN
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS May 24, 2004


Gay activists in Virginia are toying with a new motto for the state: "Virginia is for lovers. Some restrictions apply."

Gays and lesbians are angry and even threatening to leave the state over a new law that will prohibit civil unions and could interfere with contracts between same-sex couples. Some legal experts call it the most restrictive anti-gay law in the nation.

"I won't buy a home in Virginia. I'm done," said Bo Shuff, a 30-year-old gay-rights activist who has rented in Arlington County for the last two years.

Added Edna Johnston, a lesbian who has scuttled plans to move her historic preservation consulting business from Washington to Northern Virginia: "It's not a signal, it's a message: 'You're not welcome.'"

The new law is an amendment to the state's 1997 Affirmation of Marriage Act, which prohibits gay marriages in Virginia. The amendment extends that ban to civil unions, partnership contracts and other "arrangements between persons of the same sex purporting to bestow the privileges or obligations of marriage."

Virginia's attorney general and other supporters say the law provides a needed safeguard for the institution of marriage and does not deprive anyone of individual rights.

But some legal experts say the law is so vague and ill-defined that it could interfere with legal contracts such as powers of attorney, wills, medical directives, child custody and property arrangements and joint bank accounts.

"For the Virginia legislature to go as far as they did, knowing that this is probably unconstitutional, to me it is a political statement," said Henry F. Fradella, a law professor at the College of New Jersey who specializes in gay-rights law. "I have not seen anything quite so radical."

The bill's sponsor, Del. Robert G. Marshall, R-Prince William, said the law is aimed at preventing same-sex couples from acquiring the benefits of marriage through other means.

One state, Massachusetts, has legalized gay marriage. Civil unions are legal in Vermont; California and Hawaii have domestic-partnership laws that provide legal rights to gay relationships. New Jersey has a partnership law taking effect July 1.

"Civil union is a proxy for marriage and domestic partnership is a proxy for civil unions," Marshall said.

Virginia Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore, the likely Republican nominee for governor next year, echoed this in an advisory opinion, saying he believes the law is constitutionally defendable.

Conservative groups such as the Family Foundation also have praised the law, which passed the Republican-controlled legislature by a veto-proof margin after Democratic Gov. Mark R. Warner tried to amend it to make it less restrictive.

Warner said the bill interferes with people's right to enter contracts and violates the 14th Amendment's guarantee to due process and equal protection. He said constitutional scholars across the state urged him to veto it.

"I think the courts will show that it's unconstitutional," Warner said. "This bill went way beyond gay marriage and civil unions."

The state's leading gay-rights organization, Equality Virginia, is discussing options for challenging the law with the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal, a national gay and lesbian advocacy group. A statewide protest is planned June 30, the day before the law takes effect.

But some gays say the piling on of anti-gay legislation is starting to wear them down.

Virginia is the only state where companies not large enough to underwrite their own insurance policies are prohibited from offering domestic-partner benefits. The state bans joint adoptions by same-sex couples and refuses to list the names of same-sex couples from other states on the birth certificates of children adopted here.

Lawmakers also shot down attempts this year to rewrite the state's anti-sodomy law to conform with the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down a law that made homosexual sex a crime.

Barry Parsons, a 39-year-old lawyer, left Virginia for Washington in 1999 so he and his partner of 12 years could adopt a baby. He said Virginia could suffer economically if more professional gays like him move out.

"I went to law school in Virginia . . . and the state of Virginia invested a substantial amount of money in my education," Parsons said. "After four years I left and that's when my income started to pick up. Now all my taxes are going to D.C."

Brad Haransky, a 43-year-old director of membership for a Washington lobbying firm, said he and his longtime partner moved to Virginia three years ago to escape the city. Now, they're thinking about moving back.

"I had planned to have a long future in Virginia because I like it here," he said. "But the question is, 'What will the future hold as long as we have a Republican legislature who puts through such a badly written bill?'"

Haransky said he was looking at $400,000 homes in his Arlington neighborhood before he became aware of the law.

"If every gay person said, 'We're out of here,' we'd crash the market big time," he said. "In some neighborhoods [in Arlington], every third or fourth house is gay-owned."

Victoria Cobb, lobbyist for the Family Foundation, called this a "ridiculous threat."

"This reminds me of the Hollywood elite's reaction to Bush being elected," she said in reference to threats by some actors to leave the United States after the 2000 presidential election. "Virginia has always elevated marriage over all other relationships. Traditional marriage is undeniably beneficial to the economy."

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News :: Miscellaneous

Black Confederate marching from N.C. to Richmond

DINWIDDIE - An African-American man from western North Carolina marched through Dinwiddie County on U.S. Route 1 yesterday, waving his huge Confederate flag as he headed toward Richmond.

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