University Police Department Chief Tommye Sutton was placed on administrative paid leave in September, only to resign two weeks later. Shortly after, Gloria Graham, associate vice president of safety and security, resigned. The University subsequently failed to provide reasons for both resignations and disciplinary action.
Tim Longo, a former UPD Police Chief, has stepped into both Graham and Sutton’s positions in the interim and has said he seeks to “build trust in the community.” However, an important part of achieving that goal is ensuring that UPD is both transparent and accountable to the University community. The first thing he should have done was explain why he is in the position to begin with.
“Every individual that is a part of this police agency will understand the importance of relationships and how that will impact our ability to best serve this community,” Longo said. But without a proper introduction, we cannot build a relationship with the police department, the unit we put our trust into each day. Opinion Columnist Hunter Hess asked the University for an explanation in December, and the administration still has yet to respond.
In an attempt to investigate further, The Cavalier Daily has requested several documents related to both Graham and Sutton’s resignations and any related administrative action under the Freedom of Information Act, but we have been denied access to many of these documents. Furthermore, the University has failed to produce documents or provide compelling reasoning for why they have not done so, effectively stonewalling organizations like The Cavalier Daily who are attempting to hold them accountable. The University has exercised discretion under FOIA to withhold from the public any documents or information surrounding the resignations of Sutton and Graham.
While the University can legally withhold these “personnel” records, it remains within its discretion the ability to produce those same documents. However, a refusal to do so here — in light of the significance of the office of UPD chief and additional questions raised by Graham’s resignation — may be seen as an effort by the University or UPD to restrict students’ right to know about important administrative decisions or shifts made by U.Va. which may affect students.
Increased transparency is especially important now given the recent revelations that the Charlottesville Police Department accused UPD of mishandling a reported beating and stabbing incident at a Corner resturant in November and of a failure to share evidence in the case.
Charlottesville Police Chief RaShall Bracknell said in an email to UPD, obtained by The Daily Progress, the University withheld “everything,” and that includes “interviews, evidence, witnesses to interviews, phone calls, text messages, any of those things, video, possibly from cell phones, they’re claiming are protected.” UPD’s further failure to uphold transparency with the neighboring police department is concerning but unsurprising given its lack of transparency to its own community.
The University should reverse its position and release the personnel documents relating to the resignations of Sutton and Graham. If there is something amiss, the student body deserves to have a more complete explanation.
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