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Mayor wants Darden report to be made public
 

By HARRY MINIUM AND MATTHEW JONES, The Virginian-Pilot
© September 8, 2006
 

Mayor Paul D. Fraim

 

NORFOLK –– Mayor Paul D. Fraim said Thursday that he will ask the Virginia State Police to make public its report of the investigation into the fatal shooting of police Officer Seneca Darden.

Fraim said he wants to put to rest lingering questions and criticisms about the investigation, which resulted in no criminal charges and alleged police mistakes.

“Let’s put all of that to bed,” Fraim said. “It would be fine with me if they released the report this afternoon.”

Darden was shot in late May by Officer Gordon Barry as police were trying to manage a crowd after a double shooting in Young Terrace. Barry, who is white, did not recognize that Darden was an officer. Darden, who was black, was in plain clothes.

The State Police investigated the shooting at the request of the Norfolk police. In early July, the agency gave a copy of the report to Commonwealth’s Attorney Jack Doyle.

Doyle released a summary of the report, in which he cited police errors that contributed to Darden’s death but found no criminal intent on Barry’s part. Barry remains on administrative duty while city police conduct an internal investigation into the shooting and related events.

City Attorney Bernard A. Pishko also received a copy for informational reasons in case the city is sued but has been ordered by State Police not to share his copy with the public or even members of the City Council, Fraim said.

The state and city have rejected requests from The Virginian-Pilot for a copy of the report. They say the state Freedom of Information Act does not require them to release it.

“These are confidential reports,” State Police Capt. Robert Tavenner said Thursday. “For that reason, we do not provide them to the public.”

Fraim said he was unaware, until he read an editorial Thursday in The Virginian-Pilot, that the State Police would never release the report. He said he is mystified as to why and has asked Pishko to draft a letter to John W. Marshall, the state s ecretary of p ublic s afety, asking him to release the report. Marshall oversees the State Police.

“I’m not aware of any good public policy reasons why the State Police should not release their investigation to interested members of the public,” Fraim said. “This is of great interest to the public. This was a tragic occurrence. Let’s do everything we can to help the public understand the nature of this incident, how tragic it was, but that’s all that it was.”

The FBI also has requested a copy of the report, said Phil Mann, chief division counsel for the Norfolk FBI office. The FBI will review the report with an eye toward possible civil rights violations, he said.

The report, and any follow-up investigation by the FBI, will then be forwarded to the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, he said. Mann said he could not predict how long that would take.

That no one was charged in Darden’s death has angered his family and led some people to accuse the city of a cover-up.

At the request of some members of the Darden family, John Wesley Hill, a former president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and a former Norfolk police officer, is leading a separate investigation into the shooting.

On Thursday, Hill said he welcomed the mayor’s call for the report to be released.

State Del. Ken Melvin, an attorney who represents Darden’s widow, agreed that the mayor’s letter “is an excellent idea.”

“I think it will do a lot to calm the rumors that are afoot in the community.”

Vice Mayor Paul R. Riddick said he has heard those rumors. “The feeling out there is that authorities are trying to sandbag things,” he said. “We need to get that report out, let people know we have nothing to hide, and that if there are any problems, we’re going to correct them.”

Fraim said he hopes releasing the report would help ease lingering concerns about a cover-up.

“There would be absolutely no reason for the State Police to collude with the city Police Department to provide a report that was less than straightforward,” he said. “By making it available, I hope we can dispel those fears.”

Marshall did not return a phone call Thursday. Fraim spent much of Thursday with Gov. Timothy M. Kaine in Norfolk but said he did not raise the issue with him.

“I don’t think this is the governor’s issue yet,” Fraim said. “We’ll see what Secretary Marshall says and give him a chance to reply before we go to the governor.”