Thursday, November 05, 2020

Investigative journalists uncover public officials' racist or racially unbalanced actions in Alabama and Virginia

Two stories from the South illustrate the power of investigative local journalism to uncover questionable actions by public officials.

In Alabama, a Talladega police dog sent at least nine people to the hospital in a year spanning the summer of 2014 to 2015. A veteran police sergeant testified under oath that the police specifically wanted a dog that would attack Black residents, Challen Stephens reports for, in partnership with The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization covering the U.S. criminal justice system.

Brad Zinn of the Staunton News Leader in Virginia contrasted how two magistrates treated two defendants: a young Black man reportedly armed with a skateboard, and a middle-aged white man allegedly armed with two rifles and a handgun. Neither had a prior criminal record, 

Devin Turner, 22, was arrested after throwing his skateboard at a passing car. At his arraignment, one of the Augusta County magistrates ordered him held without bond at a nearby jail. He was eventually granted a $5,000 bond and released after spending the weekend in jail, Zinn reports.

Douglas Truslow, 57, aimed laser-sighted firearms at neighbors, including an elderly woman and a 5-year-old, and threatened to start shooting them. The sheriff's office and Charlottesville police responded. During the eight-hour standoff that followed, Truslow allegedly threatened to kill several officers. A different local magistrate gave him a $1,000 unsecured bond and he was immediately released. Truslow is the lone caregiver for his spouse, according to court records, Zinn reports.

When the News Leader asked the magistrate's office why the two suspects were treated so differently, Chief Magistrate Robyn Wilhelm said the magistrates stick to a rigid script when making bond decisions, and said neither the police nor the commonwealth attorney's office spoke up with concerns about either Truslow or Turner's bonds. Zinn reports.

Wilhelm said she couldn't comment on ongoing cases but told Zinn: "We're dealing with humans, so oftentimes there could be imperfections ... Certain judges will find people guilty of one thing but another judge ... could find someone innocent."

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