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Governor Northam signs tobacco-free schools legislation

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RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam has signed House Bill 2384, sponsored by Delegate Patrick Hope and Senate Bill 1295, sponsored by Senator Lionel Spruill, Sr., which will require all local school boards to develop and implement a comprehensive tobacco-free policy banning the use and distribution of any tobacco product or nicotine vapor product on a school bus, on school property, and at on-site and off-site school-sponsored activities. This legislation will be effective July 1, 2019.

“The recent and dramatic rise in youth smoking and vaping represents a serious public health crisis that requires our attention and action,” said Governor Northam. “We have a responsibility to prevent our children from being exposed to all types of tobacco or nicotine-containing products—as state senator, I led the successful, bipartisan effort to enact a statewide smoking ban in our bars and restaurants, and as governor I am proud to sign this legislation that will make Virginia schools and communities safer and healthier.”

Current law prohibits smoking on school buses and in school buildings, but does not address smoking on other school property, such as school grounds or school-sponsored events, or other types of tobacco products, such as electronic cigarettes. The United States Surgeon General and the Food and Drug Administration recently declared that e-cigarette use among high school students is an epidemic that is leading a new generation of young people to become addicted to nicotine.

“Tobacco products do not belong in schools or at school-sponsored events,” said Secretary of Health and Human Resources Daniel Carey, M.D. “This law will not only protect Virginia’s children from exposure to second-hand smoke, it will also help to establish a tobacco-free norm, allowing students to make better choices about their health when it comes to saying no to tobacco products outside of school.”

Between 2017 and 2018, use of e-cigarettes among high school students in the United States increased 78 percent, from 11.7 percent to 20.8 percent. As of fall 2017, 152,366, or 11.8 percent of Virginia high school students, were using e-cigarettes—almost twice as many as the number of kids smoking traditional cigarettes.

“I am pleased to see this legislation pass,” said State Senator Lionel Spruill, Sr. “Studies have shown that tobacco and vape products can have a negative impact on the health and development of children and we need to do all we can to insure our students are not negatively affected by these products while on school grounds.”

“Virginia is making a commitment to a 100 percent tobacco-free environment for our students,” said Delegate Patrick Hope. “This is a comprehensive policy that will positively benefit students, school staff, and parents.”

The Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth (VFHY)’s award-winning volunteer group for high school students, Y Street, has been working on this issue for more than four years as a part of its 24/7 campaign. As a former member of the VFHY Board of Trustees, Governor Northam kicked off the very first 24/7 tobacco-free schools event in 2015 when he was lieutenant governor. VFHY and Y Street will continue to serve as a partner and resource to schools after the bill becomes law, providing schools with free tobacco-free signage and a toolkit with model policy language, event announcements, and sample enforcement strategies.

“The overwhelming support this bill received from Governor Northam, our legislators, and stakeholders demonstrates the importance of keeping our learning environments healthy and free of addictive and harmful tobacco and nicotine products,” said VFHY Executive Director Marty Kilgore. “Youth e-cigarette use is a national public health epidemic and it’s critical that we protect the health of Virginia’s students.”

When Y Street began the 24/7 campaign, VFHY determined that only 20 of Virginia’s 132 school systems had voluntarily adopted comprehensive tobacco-free and e-cigarette-free policies. Through Y Street’s hard work reaching out to school administrators, superintendents, and local school boards over the last four years, the number of school systems voluntarily adopting these policies doubled to 40 as of February 2019.

“The Virginia Adult Tobacco Survey found overwhelming support for this type of legislation,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. M. Norman Oliver. “More than 84 percent of Virginians agree there should be a ban on all tobacco use on school grounds and at school events. More than 75 percent of smokers also agreed with this type of ban. While forty school districts in Virginia already have established this type of policy, the new law will expand protection to children in all of our public schools.”

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Governor Northam unveils priorities for upcoming special session

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~ Governor’s proposals include measures to reform policing, protect Virginians from eviction; close the digital divide ~ 

Governor Northam on Friday, August 14, 2020, unveiled his administration’s key priorities for the upcoming Virginia General Assembly special session, set to begin on Tuesday, August 18th.

Legislators will reconvene to address Virginia’s biennial budget, which has been severely impacted by the ongoing global pandemic. In addition, Governor Northam is proposing several measures to advance equity, reform policing, and protect the safety, health, and welfare of Virginians during this crisis.

“Virginians are hurting, and the Commonwealth is stepping up,” said Governor Northam. “Our country is battling both a health crisis and an economic crisis at once, so Virginia is advancing new programs to help people stay in their homes, care for the ones they love, and feel safe in the community.

“This starts with sound fiscal management and smart investments in our future. Careful planning has kept us from having to gut critical services or lay off state workers, like other states have done. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the General Assembly to advance long-overdue police reform and pass record investments in affordable housing and broadband, so we can continue to support Virginians during this unprecedented time.”

Below are several of Governor Northam’s priorities for the upcoming special session. Additional priorities will be announced at the Governor’s annual speech to the General Assembly Joint Money Committees, scheduled for 9:30 am on Tuesday, August 18th.

Safe, Affordable Housing
Access to safe and stable housing is critically important, particularly in the midst of the ongoing health crisis. That is why Governor Northam is proposing $88 million in state funding to combat evictions and to expand access to affordable housing. These investments include a historic $85 million investment in the Virginia Housing Trust Fund, which will complement federal CARES Act funding to expand access to affordable housing, reduce homelessness, and protect Virginians from eviction. The Governor is also proposing $3.3 million in funding to establish an Eviction Prevention and Diversion Pilot Program to reduce evictions in communities across the Commonwealth.

In addition, Governor Northam is proposing a pause on evictions until at least April 30, 2021, tied to the requirement that landlords and tenants work together on a payment plan and seek out financial assistance, including through Virginia’s statewide Rent and Mortgage Relief Program.

While Virginians remain safely housed, they also need access to critical utility services. The Governor’s package includes a moratorium on utility disconnections for electric, water, and natural gas utilities until 60 days after the current state of emergency ends.

Access to Broadband
A recent SCHEV report found that nearly 200,000 K-12 students and 60,000 college students across Virginia lack access to broadband at home. This disparity is particularly troubling as many school districts across Virginia plan a virtual start to the school year. To address this, Governor Northam is proposing a record $85 million to expand access to broadband for unserved communities. This historic investment in the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative (VATI) will fund last-mile broadband infrastructure across the Commonwealth during this time of need.

Historically Black Colleges and Universities
Historically Black Colleges and Universities play an essential role in reducing educational inequities, many of which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis. That is why Governor Northam is proposing a $15 million investment in Virginia’s public HBCUs. This funding will increase support for underserved students and will fund needed technology upgrades.

Police and Criminal Justice Reform
In July, Governor Northam directed the Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS), the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, the Virginia African American Advisory Board, and the Commission to Examine Racial Inequity in Virginia Law to develop policy recommendations and share input with the administration. Governor Northam has also communicated regularly with activists, community leaders, and law enforcement officials, and incorporated their feedback into his policy priorities.

The Governor’s special session priorities include measures to:

• Expand the criteria for which a law enforcement officer can be decertified, to include officers who are terminated due to law or policy violations or resign during an ongoing investigation;

• Empower Virginia’s Criminal Justice Services Board to initiate decertification proceedings when de-certifiable conduct is brought to the Board’s attention, regardless of written notice from a local law enforcement department;

• Require law enforcement officers to intervene when they see a colleague engaging in or attempting to engage in unlawful use of force;

• Standardize law-enforcement training across Virginia through development of statewide minimum training standards, curriculum, and lesson plans, to include use of force tactics;

• Mandate information-sharing between hiring agencies and previous employers and strengthen the vetting process of newly-hired officers;

• Create best practices for Civilian Review Panels and empower localities to establish review panels;

• Diversify the Criminal Justice Services Board’s Committee on Training to include representatives from civil rights and community organizations, and require opportunities for public input into the development of training standards.

In addition, Governor Northam and his administration are working closely with legislators on measures not outlined above, including proposals related to behavioral health, fair and free elections, and racial equity. Additional proposals will be announced at the Governor’s annual speech to the General Assembly Joint Money Committees, and the Governor looks forward to continued discussions with lawmakers throughout the special session.

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Governor Northam announces launch of Pediatric Coronavirus Serology Study

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On August 13, 2020, Governor Ralph Northam announced that the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) will conduct a pediatric coronavirus disease serology study in Northern Virginia. Interim results from Virginia’s ongoing adult serology study show an estimated 2.4 percent of adults statewide have antibodies to COVID-19. The new pediatric study, completed in collaboration with Inova Health System, will measure the proportion of children and teens with antibodies to COVID-19.

“The Commonwealth’s low exposure rate among adults is a testament to Virginians’ sacrifice and dedication in battling this virus,” said Governor Northam. “But as a pediatrician, I know children are often impacted by the disease in a different way than adults. These studies provide key insight into how COVID-19 spreads among different ages and demographics groups. With this information, we are one step closer to beating this virus.”

Northern Virginia was selected for this project due to the number of confirmed COVID-19 pediatric cases reported in the region. Northern Virginia’s population is also diverse in terms of ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and race, which provides an important comparison to the rest of the Commonwealth.

Inova Children’s Hospital will recruit up to 1,000 participants aged 0 – 19-years-old who live in Northern Virginia and seek care at participating clinical sites. Participants’ blood samples will be tested for COVID-19 antibodies, which indicate that a person had a COVID-19 infection in the past.

VDH will use the information collected from this project to estimate the total number of children and teenagers that have been infected with the COVID-19 virus in Northern Virginia and statewide, including those who may have had mild or asymptomatic infections. VDH will also analyze children’s risk factors for COVID-19 infection, including age, underlying health conditions, sociodemographic characteristics, history of COVID-19 infection within households, and childcare exposures. Preliminary results are expected by mid-September.

Adult Study: Interim Results

In early June, the Commonwealth launched an adult COVID-19 serology study in partnership with the University of Virginia, Inova Health System, Virginia Commonwealth University, Sentara Healthcare, and Carilion Clinic. To date, that project has enrolled 4,652 adults (93%) of the 5,000 participant goal and is ongoing.

The interim analysis, based on 3,113 participants, estimates that 2.4 percent of adults statewide have antibodies to COVID-19. By region, the estimated COVID-19 antibody prevalence is: Northern, 4.2%; Central, 3.0%; Eastern, 1.5%; Southwest, 1.0%; and Northwestern, 0.9%.

According to the study, COVID-19 antibodies are 13.1 times higher among Hispanic adults (14.4%) than non-Hispanic adults (1.1%). Adults under 50 years-old have the highest seroprevalence, while adults ages 60-69 and 70-79 have 1.0% and 1.4% seroprevalence, respectively.

Adults who reported a health condition that put them at risk for severe complications of COVID-19 infection had a lower prevalence of antibodies to COVID-19 than those without a chronic health condition (1.5% compared to 3.0%). A full report is expected at the conclusion of the study next month, September 2020.

“It’s important to recognize that more than 95% of Virginians have not yet been exposed to the COVID-19 virus and remain at risk of infection,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, MD, MA. “Individually and collectively, all people in Virginia should continue to take preventive measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 in the Commonwealth.”

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AG Herring outlines priorities for criminal justice and policing reform ahead of special session

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RICHMOND (August 11, 2020)—Ahead of the upcoming special session of the General Assembly, Attorney General Mark R. Herring today outlined his priorities for criminal justice and policing reforms that will reduce brutality and abuses of power by law enforcement, increase transparency, accountability, justice, and equality, and address disparities throughout the criminal justice system from policing to re-entry.

“Virginia cannot have different systems and standards of justice depending on the color of a person’s skin,” said Attorney General Mark Herring. “Ours must be a Commonwealth where justice, equality, and opportunity are guaranteed for each and every person, no matter where they live, what they look like, how they worship, who they love, or how much money they have.

“We know that African-Americans and Virginians of color experience the criminal justice system differently at every level from policing through prosecution and into re-entry. It is documented and undeniable. That’s a hard thing to admit, but it’s even harder to experience. It means that we are failing in one of our most foundational responsibilities as a country and a Commonwealth: to ensure that all men and women are truly treated equal.

“This moment has given us an opportunity like none I can recall in my lifetime to truly focus on how we create a criminal justice system that meets our public safety goals in a way that ensures justice and equality for all. Those of us who have been frustrated by the pace of change in previous years now have the benefit of open minds and a broader recognition of the change that is needed in this country to ensure that black lives matter and that the criminal justice system is oriented around justice and safety, not simply control or oppression.”

In the upcoming special session, Attorney General Herring will be supporting the following measures:

Police Reform:
• Enable the Attorney General of Virginia to conduct “pattern and practice” investigations
• Modernize, standardize, and elevate the rigor of police training
• Department of Criminal Justice Services should be required to develop within the year a new basic training curriculum in conjunction with the Office of Attorney General
• Current law enforcement officers must-have 21st-century policing skills included in their annual in-service training curriculum
• Make it easier to remove bad officers from the law enforcement profession
• Expand police decertification criteria to include misconduct, not just criminal convictions.
• Establish a more robust database of officer discipline, terminations, and decertification.
• Ban rehiring of officers who are fired for misconduct or excessive force, or who resign during an investigation into misconduct or excessive force.
• Create a “duty to intervene” for law enforcement officers.
• Ban or limit dangerous, unnecessary, and potentially deadly police tactics
• Empower localities to establish citizen review panels
• Require the use of body-worn cameras by all law enforcement officers
• Require law enforcement agencies and prosecutors to engage an independent agency or Commonwealth’s Attorney to conduct investigations and make prosecutorial decisions

Criminal Justice Reform:
• Cash bail reform
• Expanding opportunities for record expungement and simplifying the process
• Continued momentum toward legal, regulated adult use of cannabis and resolve past convictions

“For many months now, I have been waiting for a response from the Trump Administration’s Department of Justice to my request for an independent investigation into one of my local police departments. But for the return receipt requested signature card, I didn’t even receive an acknowledgement to my letter. If the federal government isn’t going to provide this oversight when police departments may be violating citizen’s rights, then there needs to be a state backstop that can conduct these necessary investigations. It is for these reasons, I will introduce a bill in the Special Session of the General Assembly to enable the Attorney General of Virginia to conduct “patterns and practices investigations of local police departments,” said Senator Louise Lucas.

“Since 2017 the Trump Administration’s DOJ has refused to address systemic failures and investigate possible unconstitutional practices in law enforcement agencies. With that in mind, the Attorney General needs to have the authority to investigate and resolve patterns or practices of unconstitutional policing, such as use of excessive force, illegal searches, or biased policing,” stated Delegate Alfonso Lopez. “This legislation finally gives the Attorney General the authority to investigate, subpoena, and bring appropriate actions in court to ensure compliance with constitutional policing standards.”

In the area of police reform, Attorney General Herring will be actively working to ensure passage of the following bills and policies:

Enable the Attorney General of Virginia to conduct “pattern and practice” investigations of law enforcement agencies to identify and put a stop to unconstitutional practices, such as patterns of excessive force, illegal searches, biased policing, or other unconstitutional practices. For decades the U.S. Department of Justice was a reliable partner in identifying and ending unconstitutional policing practices, often through negotiated agreements for reforms, called “consent decrees,” in cities such as Chicago, Baltimore, and Ferguson, MO. Under the Trump Administration the DOJ has explicitly walked away from this responsibility, making it more important for state attorneys general to have this important tool. In June, Attorney General Herring asked Congress to expand federal law to give him and other state attorneys general clear statutory authority to conduct patterns and practice investigations. The U.S House of Representatives included this authority in the “George Floyd Justice in Policing Act” which passed the House on June 25, 2020.

Modernize, standardize, and elevate the rigor of police training to include mandatory training on implicit bias, racial bias, crisis intervention, de-escalation, hate crimes, violence interruption, and other 21st-century policing skills. Because of the immense power placed in the hands of law enforcement officers, the Commonwealth must treat the law enforcement profession as a highly-skilled and specialized field that requires both proper training and high standards.

In order to ensure proper, 21st-century training for Virginia law enforcement officers:
• The Department of Criminal Justice Services should be required to develop within the year a new basic training curriculum in conjunction with the Office of Attorney General that includes implicit bias, racial bias, crisis intervention, de-escalation, hate crimes, violence interruption, and other 21st-century policing skills.
• Current law enforcement officers must-have 21st-century policing skills included in their annual in-service training curriculum. In 2015, Attorney General Herring sponsored a series of five regional “train-the-trainer” conferences to promote the wider adoption of implicit bias training, de-escalation, and other 21st-century policing skills. The training officers from more than 50 law enforcement agencies participated, then went back to their departments and taught their colleagues, making this one of Virginia’s largest-ever investments in 21st century policing skills.

Make it easier to remove bad officers from the law enforcement profession. The Commonwealth should hold its law enforcement officers to the highest standards because they are empowered to make life-and-death decisions and other serious decisions that could dramatically affect the life of a Virginian. Virginia must, therefore, ensure that it removes from the profession any individuals who prove themselves unworthy or incapable of bearing such responsibility.

Virginia should:
• Expand police decertification criteria to include misconduct, not just criminal convictions. Currently, an officer may only lose their law enforcement officer certification for a criminal conviction. Misconduct that may not rise to the level of criminal conduct must be a basis for decertifying officers.
• Establish a more robust database of officer discipline, terminations, and decertification. If an individual has proven they are not capable of exercising law enforcement authority in a safe, fair, impartial, and constitutional way, they should not be able to conceal that information from a department or simply switch departments and continue their career.
• Ban rehiring of officers who are fired for misconduct or excessive force, or who resign during an investigation into misconduct or excessive force. No law enforcement officer should be able to hide behind a resignation to avoid accountability and continue their career when they have shown they may not be capable of serving in law enforcement.
• Create a legal obligation for “duty to intervene” for law enforcement officers when they see another officer using excessive force when it’s safe to intervene, and regardless of intervention they must immediately report the incident to their supervisors.
• Ban or limit dangerous, unnecessary, and potentially deadly police tactics like chokeholds, strangleholds, and no-knock warrants.
• Empower localities to establish citizen review panels with necessary investigative authority and, where possible, provide state-level support.
• Require the use of body-worn cameras by all law enforcement officers to ensure a complete and accurate account of any citizen-officer interactions.
• Require law enforcement agencies and prosecutors to engage an independent agency or Commonwealth’s Attorney to conduct investigations and make prosecutorial decisions on officer-involved incidents that may constitute criminal conduct, including use of force or killings by law enforcement officers.

Attorney General Herring will also be working for the passage of the following bills and policies to strengthen our communities and reduce racial and economic disparities through reform of Virginia’s criminal justice system:
• Cash bail reform. Attorney General Herring has long supported significant reforms to Virginia’s cash bail system which, in its current form, can lead to unjust outcomes where dangerous people with money can go free while nonviolent people sit in jail for days, weeks, or months because they can’t afford to pay bail. This can cause a person to lose their job, housing, and support systems. Attorney General Herring will be pushing for Virginia to move away from the use of cash bail as its default for low-level offenses and instead expand pretrial services that have proven to be effective and cheaper.
• Expanding opportunities for record expungement and simplifying the process. Attorney General Herring has also advocated for expanding record expungement opportunities and simplifying the process to build a more just and fair criminal justice system and to address the disproportionate burden that criminal convictions place on African Americans and people of color. Virginia is one of the nation’s least forgiving and most restrictive states for individuals who have earned the opportunity to have old convictions and charges expunged from their records. While many other states have some form of a “Clean Slate” law, the Commonwealth appears to be one of just ten states that do not offer any sort of judicial “record closure” for any adult convictions, nor does it offer any automatic expungement for those who are eligible for expungement. This means that a relatively minor charge or conviction, like marijuana or alcohol possession, can become a permanent stain that limits a Virginian’s job, educational, and housing opportunities.
• Continued momentum toward legal, regulated adult use of cannabis and resolve past convictions. During the 2020 General Assembly Session, Attorney General Herring helped successfully decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana but believes Virginia needs to continue on to full legal, regulated adult-use as quickly as possible because the social and human costs of prohibition fall disproportionately on African Americans and people of color. In 2018, there were nearly 29,000 marijuana arrests, and the Virginia Crime Commission found that from 2007 to 2016 46% of all individuals arrested for first offense marijuana possession were African American, despite being just 20% of Virginia’s population.

In addition to these policing and criminal justice reform priorities, Attorney General Herring supports measures that require officers to deescalate situations, and to better utilize specialized resources instead of police officers to respond to non-public safety situations, such as addiction, a person experiencing homelessness, or a mental health crisis.

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Virginia Supreme Court grants temporary statewide eviction moratorium

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Governor Ralph Northam today, August 7, 2020, announced a temporary statewide moratorium on eviction proceedings in Virginia. The moratorium, which will begin on Monday, August 10, and remains in effect through Monday, September 7, halts all eviction proceedings related to failure to pay rent. Governor Northam requested this moratorium in a letter to Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice Donald Lemons on July 24.

“Today’s decision comes at a time when we are still battling this public health crisis and need all Virginians to maintain safe, stable housing,” said Governor Northam. “As the ongoing Congressional stalemate leaves hundreds of thousands of Virginians without federal housing protection or unemployment relief, this is a critical step towards keeping families safe in their homes. I am grateful to the Virginia Supreme Court for granting this order, and I look forward to working with the General Assembly this month to develop more permanent legislative protections for Virginia homeowners and tenants.”

On June 29, Governor Northam launched the Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief Program (RMRP), which provides an initial $50 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding for Virginia households facing eviction and foreclosure due to COVID-19. Eligibility and application information for the RMRP is available here.

Tenants are encouraged to know their rights and responsibilities and pay their rent on time if they are able. Please visit StayHomeVirginia.com for additional information and resources on tenant rights.

Governor Northam’s letter to Chief Justice Lemons requesting this moratorium is available here. Today’s order from the Virginia Supreme Court can be found here.

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Governor Northam COVID-19 update briefing – August 5, 2020; rapid testing, Tropical Storm Isaias, restrictions in Hampton Roads area

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Governor Northam joins the Virginia Emergency Support Team to share the latest updates on the COVID-19 response. Here are the highlights:

  • COVID-Wise app to send alerts to those who have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. The app is free, and voluntary, to download and use.
  • Joining 7 states to expand the use of rapid antigen testing.
  • Feds to continue to fund the majority of the National Guard’s presence in Virginia in response to both COVID-19 and tropical storms such as Isaias.
  • Increased restrictions remain in place in the Hampton Roads area.
  • Case counts have begun to slowly rise throughout most of Virginia, with a sharp rise in the Eastern Region. Seeing about 1,000 new cases per day, which is similar to the number of new cases per day at the peak. Averaging, statewide, between 15,000 and 20,000 tests per day. Statewide percent positivity is 7.2%.
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Supreme Court of Virginia denies appeals by Goodwin and Ramos for their role in the beating of Deandre Harris during Unite the Right Rally

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Attorney General Mark R. Herring and his team have again successfully defended the convictions of two men who were convicted of malicious wounding for their roles in the beating of Deandre Harris in a Charlottesville parking garage during the August 2017 “Unite the Right” rally. The Supreme Court of Virginia denied Jacob Scott Goodwin’s petition for appeal today and denied Alex Michael Ramos’ petition for appeal in early May.

“The violence, mayhem, injury, and death caused at the hands of the racists and white supremacists who descended on Charlottesville for the Unite the Right rally can never be forgotten, but we can make sure that the individuals who broke the law or incited violence are brought to justice,” said Attorney General Herring. “My team and I will do everything in our power to combat this white supremacist violence that we continue to see in the Commonwealth, and I will not hesitate to hold these racists and white supremacists accountable when they act on their hate.”

In each of the opinions denying the appeals, the Supreme Court of Virginia said, “Upon review of the record in this case and consideration of the argument submitted in support of the granting of an appeal, the Court refuses the petition for appeal.”

Goodwin was sentenced to serve eight years in prison and Ramos was sentenced to serve six years for their roles in the beating of Deandre Harris.

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