Bearing signs wrapped in plastic and strapped to umbrellas, a crowd of about 2,500 demonstrators arrived at the steps of a rainy Virginia Capitol on Thursday to protest abortion access legislation moving through the state legislature.
The second annual Virginia March for Life rally followed a larger demonstration last year focused on Gov. Ralph Northam’s comments defending late-term abortions.
Thursday’s crowd homed in on legislation sponsored by Democrats in the legislature to draw back restrictions on abortions, like a 24-hour waiting period and mandatory ultrasounds.
“We heard last year the comments of the governor,” and “now we’ve got two bills that essentially decrease women’s health and requirements for women’s health in the name of greater abortion access. It makes no sense,” said Jeanne Mancini, president of the national March for Life.
The group organized the event in partnership with the Family Foundation, the Virginia Catholic Conference and the Virginia Society for Human Life.
Mancini pointed to House Bill 980, introduced by House Majority Leader Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, which would eliminate a 24-hour waiting period, mandatory ultrasounds and a requirement to provide certain information to women before they can have an abortion.
The bill, which passed the House on Jan. 28 on a 52-45 vote, would also expand the types of medical professionals allowed to perform abortions from only physicians to include physician assistants and nurse practitioners.
In a statement, Herring said: “Medical decisions should be between a woman and her health care providers. Medical professionals know the proper protocol for each individual patient, not politicians. HB 980 accomplishes this.”
Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, has similar legislation, Senate Bill 733, which the Senate approved Jan. 29, with Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax breaking a 20-20 tie.
“We’ve got work to do in these few weeks ahead of us. We’ve still got some hope for some of these bad bills,” Mancini told Thursday’s crowd.
As the House and Senate convened for legislative business, the crowd heard from speakers and marched around the perimeter of the Capitol. One speaker, Victoria Cobb of the Family Foundation, said to cheers that abortion is the “human rights crisis of our day.”
Joash Cain, 7, smiled for a family photo with his yellow “LIFE” balloon wrapped around his left wrist. His mother, Julia, was behind the lens. They, along with Julia’s triplets, traveled from Fredericksburg on Thursday morning. It’s important for her to set an example, she said.
“When I was pregnant with them, I was very strongly urged to abort at least one to give two a better chance at not being disabled,” she said, pointing toward the triplets. “They have no issues. They come because they’re thankful they’re here.”
Michael Lewis, who attended the rally with his wife, Kimberly, and their children, said they regularly attend similar events as a family “to set a good example of our kids and show everyone that life matters.”
Lewis, 33, said he was born and lives with cerebral palsy. He called the legislation advancing in the legislature “extreme and out of the mainstream.”
“It’s reflective of a lack of compassion, especially the fact that they view disability as a justification for ending a child’s life. I’m disabled myself,” he said.
Larry Tyler, 72, slapped a “Virginia March for Life” sticker to the front of his Donald Trump shirt. He joined others walking down Broad Street with a “Stop Abortion Now” sign.
“Hopefully these bills get watered down or get beat,” he said. “If they don’t, then in two years, we got to come back and vote all these people out. Get conservatives back in control.”
A law enforcement source put the crowd at about 2,500 people.
As the rally and march proceeded, Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, gave a speech in the House of Delegates in which he criticized the defeat of his bill that would have required physicians to care for a child born alive as a result of a “botched abortion.”
The House Courts of Justice Committee left his bill in the panel and did not vote it out before Tuesday’s crossover deadline. A violation of the measure would have been punishable as a class 4 felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Freitas quoted from comments Northam, a pediatric neurologist, made in a January 2019 appearance on the radio station WTOP.
Northam had been asked about a defeated bill sponsored by Del. Kathy Tran, D-Fairfax, that would have loosened restrictions on third-trimester abortions. Northam said that if a nonviable or badly deformed infant survived birth, a woman and her doctor could have a “discussion” about what to do next.
Northam later stood by his comments, saying he was speaking as a doctor who has had conversations with parents in situations in which there is no hope for survival.
Del. John McGuire, R-Goochland, who, like Freitas, is seeking the GOP nomination for the U.S. House in the 7th District, said in a floor speech Thursday that he believes life begins at conception.
“We’ve undone, in just 30 days, everything that we’ve done to protect life in 20 years,” he said.
Wartime England was maybe not the ideal time or place to fall in love, but matters of the heart don’t bother with logistics, and so it was with Rudy Switzer and Avril Lewis-Lewis.
He was from Southwest Virginia, in the Eighth Air Force stationed at a British airfield during World War II; she was from the nearby city of Lytham, serving in the in St. John Ambulance Brigade.
She also belonged to a women’s organization that operated a canteen on the air base. She showed up on a Saturday night to help serve refreshments to the Americans, and that’s when they met.
“He came in the door,” Avril recalled with a laugh,” and I said to myself, ‘He’s mine!’”
She served Rudy and his buddy grilled cheese sandwiches and coffee — “Actually, that was the first time I’d ever made grilled cheese sandwiches,” she said — and that was that.
It was April 1944. They were engaged by October.
“That’s when the fun starts,” as Avril told the story. “You have no idea what you have to go through [to get married].”
But go through it they did, and they were married, in uniform, a few months later in an Anglican church in Lytham on a Wednesday morning.
Valentine’s Day, 1945.
This year’s anniversary is their 75th.
“I guess so,” Avril said when I marveled at the astonishing feat of 75 years of marriage, “but it doesn’t seem like forever. It’s like: we’re here; we’re our best friends. Seventy-five years has been a fun time. Like anybody, you have your ups and downs” — the loss of a child is the lowest of low points — but overall, she said, life has been good.
I visited the Switzers in the Hopewell home where they have lived since they built it in 1972. Rudy, 95, and Avril, 93, were as enjoyable as Steve, their next-to-youngest child and a retired pharmacist, had promised.
“I would say their secret of continued love is a mutual respect for each other and approaching decision-making as a team,” said Steve Switzer, who is taking his parents to the Half Way House restaurant for their anniversary. They opted for a quiet lunch rather than a big to-do, which seems to fit their understated style, although there will be cake and Champagne.
Rudy spent 27 years with the former Allied Chemical Corp. and retired in 1986 as a shift supervisor and maintenance coordinator. Avril, who earned an associate degree in business at John Tyler Community College after their children were grown, worked for the state, spending the last decade of her career at the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation. She retired in 1981 as assistant director for the former Jamestown Festival Park.
Now, Rudy putters around the house and still does some yard work. He used to tend a big vegetable garden out back — “He had a very good garden,” Avril said, “from raspberries to onions” — but he’s down to a few tomato and cucumber plants. He still uses his riding mower to trim the lawn and tends the flower beds, but hires out for spreading mulch and gathering leaves in the fall.
Avril spends much of her time knitting and crocheting on behalf of From the Heart Stitchers, a volunteer organization that creates and distributes hand-stitched items to individuals who are sick or in need. Avril produces about 200 items a year — from hats for newborns to blankets for veterans.
She was 4 years old when her mother taught her to knit. When she was in high school during the war, she knitted seaboot stockings for the British navy, as well as hats and gloves and such. As a mother, she knitted for her children.
“I’ve always kept it up through my life,” she said. “After I retired, I wanted something to do.”
They met only because Rudy was drafted along with a few other classmates soon after he graduated from Andrew Lewis High School in Salem. He had no firm plans for the future, as the war was in full bloom and he expected to be drafted. His military journey began in March 1943, when he traveled from Salem to Fort Lee, south of Richmond, where, he said, “I got my shots, haircut and uniform.” The next day, he was put on a train to Utah for basic training.
During the war, Rudy was assigned to the depot commander’s staff, working with confidential materials, at a base in England near Lytham on the Lancashire coast. Avril, who lived in Lytham, worked as a nurse’s aide in a voluntary unit of civilians providing care for military personnel in a Red Cross hospital an hour’s train ride away in Manchester.
After their initial meeting in 1944, they began “going out” — at which point I wondered how you “go out” during a war.
Turns out, that section of England wasn’t under direct attack by the Germans and was used as an evacuation destination for Londoners.
“We went for walks, we rode bicycles, we played tennis. … Rudy cut our hedge,” Avril said with a laugh. “We had a long hedge, and Rudy cut it.”
They occasionally visited nearby Blackpool, a resort on the Irish Sea.
Despite the relative peace, blackout rules were enforced, and, Rudy said, “There were no lights whatsoever at night. No streetlights. Nothing.”
Not that he was out all hours of the night. He had to be back on the base by 10 p.m. and would hitch a ride from Avril’s home.
When they decided to marry, the “fun,” as Avril called it, really started.
“First of all, you have to submit paperwork with your commanding officer that you want to get married because they will not let you — in those days — marry someone in another country without checking their background,” Rudy said. “They sent a chaplain from my base to her home to interview her. It took probably five months to get the paperwork through to get permission from the service to get married.”
Then they had to work out the logistics with the Church of England, which included having the “banns of marriage” — pretty much, a proclamation of their intent to marry — at weekly services for three consecutive weeks to allow someone to raise objections. No one did.
By that point, though, time was a real issue, as Lent was approaching, and the church didn’t perform weddings during Lent. They didn’t wish to wait until after Easter to get married, so their last opportunity to have a ceremony was Ash Wednesday.
Which, in 1945, was Valentine’s Day.
“We knew it was Valentine’s Day,” Avril recalled, “and that seemed just fine.”
There was a small crowd for the 11 a.m. wedding — no one from Rudy’s family was there, of course, and even Avril’s father, who was in the British army, could not attend — and no photos in the church. But there was a honeymoon: a train ride to London, where Avril showed Rudy the sights — Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Buckingham Palace — and then back to work: Rudy to the air base and Avril to the hospital in Manchester.
As the war was winding down, Rudy was shipped to Germany, where he became part of the occupying force. It was during his stint there that Avril gave birth to a son. However, before Rudy could return to England the baby developed bronchial pneumonia and died at the age of 3 months. He never saw their first-born.
A few weeks later, just before her 20th birthday (she would turn 20 in the middle of the Atlantic), Avril boarded a converted hospital ship “with 499 other war brides” and headed for America — arriving the way tens of thousands of other British brides of American servicemen did as part of the U.S. military’s Operation War Brides. She disembarked in New York, was escorted to Grand Central Station and took an overnight train to Roanoke, where she arrived wearing “a little red hat with a feather on it,” she recalled. “I didn’t know where I was going or anything, and I saw these two people and they said, ‘Are you Avril?’”
“It was very strange,” she recalled. “We had lost our son in March and this was April. I had come to a new country and met people I’d never seen. It was equally hard for them. But it all worked out well in the end. We all got along.”
On her first visit to an American grocery store, she had a simple request: potato chips.
“We called them crisps, and they disappeared during the war, so they bought me a bag of potato chips and that made me happy.”
It was more than a month before Rudy came home, arriving at his family’s home at dawn. It was the first time his parents had seen him in uniform. It had been three years since he’d left home and so much had happened: the war, his marriage, fatherhood.
Rudy and Avril commenced to building a life together, first in the Roanoke area where Rudy hired on at a nylon plant, which closed a few years later, prompting the family’s move to Hopewell.
The Switzers have three children, a grandchild and two great-grandchildren. Much of their family visited over Christmas.
“It was one of the best Christmases we ever had, but when they left we were completely worn out,” Avril said with a laugh. “That’s when we knew we were in our 90s.”
As I was getting ready to leave, Rudy went to another room and returned with an album of family photos he wanted me to see. One he turned to was a childhood picture of Avril in a fancy dress from a Christmas party when she was 10 years old.
“Oh!” Avril gasped in semi-horror. “You’re not supposed to show that.”
She blushed. Rudy laughed.
“That’s my girl,” he said.
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The governing body of Riverside Regional Jail has unanimously accepted the resignation of the facility’s beleaguered superintendent, who was hired just nine months ago to lead the jail in a new direction after it endured judicial criticism for the alleged mistreatment of inmates and state scrutiny for the deaths of prisoners.
The Riverside Regional Jail Authority convened a special meeting Thursday at the jail to discuss in closed session the resignation of Col. Carmen DeSadier, who last Friday surprised board members by submitting a letter of resignation while on vacation.
After meeting behind closed doors for 1 hour and 45 minutes, board members voted to accept her resignation, effective immediately, and appointed Lt. Col. Harold Reed, an 18-year jail veteran, as acting superintendent until an interim or permanent replacement can be hired.
Authority Chairman John Altman, along with the board’s attorney, Jeff Gore, declined to provide a copy of DeSadier’s resignation letter or say what reasons she may have provided for her departure. Both Altman and Gore said DeSadier’s resignation was voluntary and not requested or required by the board.
“It’s a personal matter, and I’m not going to comment on her letter,” Altman said after the meeting.
DeSadier did not attend the meeting and will not return. Her contract has a provision requiring 30 days’ notice, but the board agreed to waive that at her request.
DeSadier could not immediately be reached for comment.
The board also voted to direct jail staff members to prepare a proposal for an assessment of the jail and its operations.
DeSadier apparently could not overcome internal staff resistance to her management practices, which became the subject of an investigation by an outside law firm the board hired in September. The investigation commenced after the board said it received “numerous concerns from long-serving, senior staff-level members regarding changes in management practices” since DeSadier took the helm May 13.
The board has declined to say whether the law firm’s investigation, completed in December, uncovered any actionable violations of law or jail policies. However, in subsequent meetings the board members took no public action following several closed sessions to discuss “employee matters” and the investigative report of DeSadier’s management activities.
The board was billed $23,924 for the investigative effort, which included nearly three dozen hours of employee interviews and a review of hundreds of pages of documents. The board has declined to make public the report, saying it is protected from disclosure by attorney-client privilege in addition to being covered by the personnel exemption from mandatory disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.
DeSadier has 35 years of experience in corrections that includes stints in New Orleans and Chicago, and has been certified as an American Correctional Association auditor. She was earning $125,000 annually as Riverside’s superintendent.
She hired three people in August and October to fill top commander positions at the jail, and two of them formerly worked with DeSadier at jails in New Orleans and Chicago. Both of those people have since left.
DeSadier was hired during a critical period for the jail last spring, when the facility faced significant operational and financial issues.
In a span of several months before she took the job, the jail saw four of its current or former administrators called before Chesterfield judges to answer for alleged mistreatment of inmates. Two were convicted of contempt of court and fined, and two others were put on notice for any further problems.
The facility at that time also was awaiting the final disposition of a Virginia Board of Corrections investigation that showed staff failings may have directly or indirectly led to the deaths of two inmates who committed suicide in their cells in 2017. Then in July, the corrections board took formal action on those cases and placed the jail on “probationary certification” for three years, which requires two unannounced audits every six months.
The wife of one of the inmates who committed suicide in the jail subsequently filed a $2.7 million wrongful death suit against the facility, citing in part the Board of Corrections’ findings.
The jail also has been dealing with a significant decrease in its revenues needed to operate the facility, as a result of a substantial drop in the inmate population. The board has had to twice dip into its “rainy day” fund to cover multimillion-dollar revenue shortfall in fiscal years 2018-19 and 2019-20.
Riverside, like other regional jails, is run by a superintendent hired by a governing board of local officials and sheriffs. The jail, in Prince George County, is one of the largest in central Virginia and serves Petersburg, Hopewell, Colonial Heights and the counties of Chesterfield, Charles City, Surry and Prince George.
Overtime pay at the Richmond City Sheriff’s Office skyrocketed 333% last year, according to a new audit.
The sharp increase resulted in a $2.8 million budget overrun during the last fiscal year for Sheriff Antionette Irving, according to the audit City Auditor Lou Lassiter released earlier this month. The auditors found that overtime payments rose sharply under Irving, who took over the Richmond City Justice Center and its budget in 2018, despite a declining inmate population.
“The jail population and staffing level of sworn employees have an inverse correlation to overtime spending,” the report states.
In fiscal year 2016, under then-Sheriff C.T. Woody, overtime totaled $161,776. In fiscal year 2017, Woody’s last year as sheriff, the payments were $127,096. In fiscal year 2018 — Irving’s first year on the job — the payments rose to $643,985. In fiscal year 2019, they totaled $2.76 million.
Over the past two years, the average number of inmates at the jail decreased from 952 to 750. Auditors found that during that same period, Irving’s administration maintained or increased staffing levels. The auditors also found Irving’s staff did not fully utilize the spaces in the jail, called pods, where inmates are housed together.
Rather than close pods as the number of inmates has dropped, Irving kept the same number open. One in three beds were empty in the open pods before she took over. By last April, half the beds in the open pods were empty, according to the audit.
Irving told the auditors she did not reduce staffing as the number of inmates dropped because of a requirement that deputies directly supervise inmates at all times.
Asked for comment Thursday, Irving cited a written response to the auditor’s finding that was published with the report. It cited safety as the reason why fewer inmates have been housed together.
“While overtime has increased and the inmate population has decreased the facility is a much safer place to visit and reside. We continuously evaluate the pulse of the environment of the jail and the housing needs for the inmate population. Our utmost concern is to ensure the life, health and safety of inmates, staff and volunteers.”
The response also cites another factor: vacancies.
Staffing shortages have persisted during her two-year tenure at the jail. When Irving took office, she said the jail had 82 vacancies. Later that year, she said the openings necessitated overspending her operating budget to meet minimum staffing requirements set by the state of at least one deputy per three inmates.
At the end of last May, auditors found that 64 of the 388 sworn positions on her staff were vacant. That number has ticked up again to 71, she stated in her written response to the auditors.
Irving cited pay as a hindrance to hiring and retaining staff. Despite increases, Richmond’s pay still lags behind neighboring localities, she stated.
In the last fiscal year, five employees who each logged more than 1,300 hours in overtime nearly doubled their respective salaries, according to the audit.
Irving’s office was projected to overrun its budget by $1.7 million by the end of the current fiscal year, according to a quarterly financial report Mayor Levar Stoney’s administration released last fall. It cited overtime as the primary reason. A new report with updated projections is due to the City Council on Friday.