Richmond’s 19th police chief outlined his vision for a more compassionate and effective department on Wednesday after being officially sworn in at Virginia Union University.
Chief William C. Smith smiled widely as he took the oath of office and received a resounding ovation from well-wishers who included his wife and two daughters, Mayor Levar Stoney, two city councilwomen, dozens of retired and active police officers, and partners from other city departments as well as regional and statewide law enforcement agencies.
Stoney gave Smith the job more than a month ago. He had been acting and interim chief since mid-December, when former Chief Alfred Durham stepped down.
“The word I think is most appropriate for this ceremony is ‘investiture.’ Because that is what we are doing here today. We are formally investing a new rank on an old friend who has 23 years of public service to this city and the Richmond Police Department,” Stoney said.
“We are also making an investment in a vision for our city that I’m confident Chief Smith shares. A vision of being welcoming and inclusive, equitable and accountable, and committed and compassionate to every citizen regardless of who they are, where they live, where they come from, how much they have, how they worship or who they choose to love. ... He has the character to serve this community, not simply to make it safer, but make it a better place.”
Smith began his law enforcement career with the Richmond Police Department in 1995 and has risen through the ranks.
His father was a former Richmond police lieutenant.
Smith choked up saying that his father couldn’t be at the ceremony — he died in 2016 — “but I know he’d be happy,” Smith said.
He’s the right man for the job, Stoney said. The city searched nationwide before landing on the 51-year-old Richmond native.
“But he’s not Superman,” Stoney quipped, saying Smith can’t do it alone. “My message to you all here today and to the rest of this great city is to support this chief. He will work with you, so you work with him.”
Smith outlined his vision for the department, focusing on effectiveness and efficiency, intervention and restorative justice.
“My role as chief of police is to listen,” he said, explaining that the complicated job really boiled down to that one act. “Listen to the needs of the community, the desires of the community, and the expectations of the community, and then translate that into action. Translate that into outcomes that are desired. Translate that into our daily policy, processes and procedures.”
Smith promised to be more inclusive of retirees in department activities and to recognize and invest in active officers more. He’s the first chief to be promoted internally in more than 50 years, and Smith said he hopes to “make it two in a row” when he leaves.
But he also warned that he would “address internal failures with the same dedication and zeal as criminals who prey upon our city.”
While being critical internally, externally they must be kind, he said.
“We do the right things for the right reasons. And we have the strength of character to admit when we do things wrong,” he continued. “We are a compassionate organization. We are one that believes in the ability of people to transform their lives and we are going to be a supportive partner in that process. ... We want to provide the best solution, not necessarily the fast solution.
“In many cases, the best solution is something other than law enforcement action, but rather a compassionate action.”
A Chesterfield County jury tasked with deciding the guilt or innocence of Joshua Federico — who is charged with shooting his estranged wife, paralyzing her, and killing her live-in boyfriend in an ambush attack last summer — was sent home Wednesday after jurors told the judge they needed a rest and weren’t close to reaching a verdict.
About 5:25 p.m., the 10-woman, two-man panel told Circuit Judge Lynn Brice they could use a break and that they were unable to make a swift decision after deliberating for 2½ hours. Federico is facing eight felony charges, including murder, attempted murder and malicious wounding.
The judge then briefly sent them back into the jury room to decide whether they wanted to continue their deliberations. When the jurors returned, they asked to be allowed to go home and the judge agreed.
Chesterfield prosecutors Scott Miles and Erin Barr rested their case at 9:50 a.m. after calling their last two witnesses in a trial that began Monday.
Their case is centered on the testimony of Federico’s estranged wife, 31-year-old Sarah Federico, who testified at length Monday that Federico, then 44, fatally shot her boyfriend, Lawrence Howell, 38, before shooting her. She said Federico stayed for hours and cleaned up the bloody scene with bleach, and then tried staging a false narrative of the crime before chasing her to her closest neighbor’s home and shooting her again.
She was shot three times. The last round, to her back, paralyzed her for life.
On Tuesday, prosecutors sought to buttress her account by calling Constantine “Dino” Trikoulis, a close friend of the defendant’s, who testified that Federico told him that he had shot his estranged wife after exchanging fire with Howell, who was killed. Federico then moved Howell’s body to his 30-acre farm about 5 miles away, where he dumped the body in a pit on a neighbor’s adjoining property and set it on fire, Trikoulis said Federico admitted.
To further support their case, the prosecution introduced DNA evidence developed from blood samples taken from inside Sarah Federico’s home after the shooting; from a piece of paper discovered inside her GMC Yukon that prosecutors said Federico used to transport Howell’s body; and from a red-stained paper towel found in a pasture near one of Federico’s barns. Forensic experts determined Howell’s blood was on all three items.
The prosecution also introduced a state forensic analysis of genetic material recovered from the steering wheel of the Yukon, which showed that Federico’s DNA was present.
Defense attorneys Paul Gregorio and Barry Montgomery got their turn about 10:15 a.m. Wednesday, and presented their case over the next 35 minutes. The defense contends that Federico did not commit the crime because he wasn’t at his estranged wife’s house when the attack occurred late Aug. 23 and into the early hours of Aug. 24.
In support of Federico’s alibi, attorneys called his 19-year-old son, Hunter, who was living with his dad in the 12300 block of Black Road at the time of the shootings. Hunter Federico testified that he last saw his father about 8 p.m. on Aug. 23, when Federico retired for the evening to his bedroom.
Hunter said that when he went to bed about 10:30 that evening, his father’s door was closed but he could hear the sound of his dad’s television and see its illumination from under the door.
Hunter Federico said his father didn’t leave the room and he didn’t hear any movement inside or outside the house until he got up about 7 the next morning. Under cross-examination, Hunter said he didn’t hear the sound of police outside his father’s house around 6 a.m., yelling through a bullhorn for his father to come out with his hands up.
Hunter said his father wasn’t in the house when he got up but that it wasn’t unusual for him to rise early to work on the farm.
Three other defense witnesses, including two women who formerly boarded their horses with Sarah Federico, testified that Sarah had a reputation for dishonesty, but they didn’t elaborate.
The defense, throughout the trial and in closing arguments, told jurors that Sarah Federico was deceitful and that the account she provided about how the shootings occurred was made up. “You cannot believe her,” Gregorio told jurors.
The attorney also dismissed Trikoulis’ testimony, calling him an admitted liar who changed his story a year after the attack to curry favor with prosecutors. Trikoulis — along with Federico and Federico’s mother and brother — were charged several weeks after the shootings in an alleged conspiracy to kill Sarah Federico, her father and her brother in a murder-for-hire plot.
Miles, in closing for the prosecution, told jurors that Joshua Federico’s guilt had been proved beyond a doubt, and that if they believe Sarah Federico’s testimony, that alone is enough to find Federico guilty. Even if she had died from her injuries, Miles said, the remaining evidence would be strong enough for a conviction.
“Is it a coincidence that [Howell’s] remains were found off Federico’s back pasture?” the prosecutor asked jurors.
Miles said Sarah was courageous on the night she was attacked, and courageous when she rolled herself into the courtroom in a wheelchair to testify.
“It’s not possible that she lied,” Miles told jurors, because that would be contrary to human nature given the circumstances. She testified not to take vengeance on Joshua Federico “to make him suffer,” but to hold accountable the person who attacked her, the prosecutor said.
The real estate company Joyner Fine Properties has been acquired by the Virginia Credit Union.
The Henrico County-based real estate firm, which has been in business since 1973, will keep its name, brand and employees but it becomes part of the largest state-chartered, member-owned financial cooperative in the state.
Terms of the deal, completed Tuesday and announced Wednesday morning, were not disclosed.
“This gives us opportunities to expand and not change our brand, our people or our culture,” said William “Bill” A. White Jr., who has been president of Joyner since 1998 when he joined the firm. He became the firm’s owner in 2003.
“Our intent is business as usual,” White said. “We want to continue the reputation we have been fortunate to have and make it better.”
For a couple of years, White said he had considered selling Joyner Fine Properties, which has a residential division, a commercial real estate business and a property management firm.
“Every interested party wanted to change us,” White said. “We have been in Richmond for 46 years and we don’t want to change. We want to continue to tweak our business model as the market changes.”
Since becoming president, White has taken the real estate company from 28 employees at one office in 1998 to nearly 200 employees at five area offices today.
White will continue to lead Joyner’s daily operations as senior executive vice president. He will report to John Stone, who becomes president of Joyner Fine Properties and continues as executive vice president of financial services for the Virginia Credit Union.
“This is a win-win partnership for both organizations,” said White, who served as president of the Richmond Association of Realtors in 2005 and president of the Virginia Association of Realtors in 2016.
The deal unites Joyner with the Virginia Credit Union and its subsidiary real estate businesses, further diversifying the credit union’s services for area homeowners. Those include mortgages, title insurance services, and home and auto insurance in addition to traditional financial services.
“Joyner Fine Properties is a respected locally owned real estate firm with tremendous top real estate professionals,” Stone said. “Joyner is a great firm and we want to make sure it continues on its mission.”
For instance, Joyner Fine Properties has been ranked in the midsize category as part of the Top Workplaces awards program sponsored by the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The firm was ranked No. 2 in its size category this year and was first in 2018.
Joining forces, Stone said, creates some synergies.
The Virginia Credit Union’s business services area provides business and commercial real estate loans that could be helpful to Joyner’s growing commercial real estate brokerage and a property management business.
The credit union also has a growing home mortgage operation, Stone said.
“Our focus is we want to help members in the area achieve homeownership,” Stone said. “By combining with them and the synergies created, we are able to go out and offer to their clients a Virginia Credit Union mortgage as long as they are a member or become a member.”
Doing so helps potential homebuyers with an additional choice for financing options, he said.
The deal for the Virginia Credit Union to buy a real estate firm is somewhat unusual, banking experts said.
Some credit unions across the country own real estate firms as federal law permits them and state-chartered community banks to engage in real estate brokerage activities to a limited extent. But large national banks are prohibited from doing so since no statutory authority exists.
With the acquisition, Joyner might open offices in space where the Virginia Credit Union has offices in the Richmond region and beyond. “In some of the locations, there is room with a separate entrance. That is a possibility,” White said.
Joyner has operations in the Richmond area, but White said it could expand to other parts of the state given the Virginia Credit Union’s growing footprint.
“They have offices in Charlottesville and Fredericksburg, for instance, and we don’t have any offices there. We don’t have any immediate plans for that at this point but we have thoughts about it,” White said.
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Three former teachers at a Richmond elementary school accused last year of scheming to help students on state accountability tests are suing the city School Board and superintendent.
Betty Alexis, Stephanie Burgess and Chireda Cotman filed complaints Tuesday in federal court accusing Superintendent Jason Kamras and the Richmond School Board of defaming them and violating their due process rights.
The three were all teachers at George W. Carver Elementary School last year when a state investigation found a cheating ring at the school had improperly helped students on those tests. Some teachers would help students if they raised their hand or would give indications to students of whether items were correct or incorrect, among other things, according to the Virginia Department of Education report.
Kamras criticized the teachers publicly and said the day after the report’s release that the district was recommending they be fired and their licenses revoked.
“The actions of a few adults here were so unconscionable,” Kamras said then. “What happened here is so disturbing.”
In their complaints, the three teachers raised issue with Kamras’ comments.
“He had already decided that the persons in the Report were guilty as charged and needed to be expelled from RPS,” they said.
The school district said in a statement that it couldn’t comment on pending legal action. The three lawsuits seek $2.35 million each in damages.
The report was issued July 30, 2018 — exactly a year before the lawsuits were filed. Eleven Carver educators were named in the report. Most of them resigned in the immediate aftermath, and the principal was removed. Carver is now being led by Tiawana Giles, who served as its interim principal last school year.
Carver had been a National Blue Ribbon school for its strong performance on state accountability tests, but the U.S. Department of Education rescinded the school’s Blue Ribbon status because of the irregularities.
Richard Hawkins, the Richmond-based lawyer representing all three, said they waited to file the complaints, which are nearly identical to one another, until the state had decided to allow Alexis, Burgess and Cotman to keep their teaching licenses.
“We were always planning on it,” Hawkins said Wednesday of filing the lawsuits.
The 34-page state report accused Alexis, a proctor during last year’s testing, of helping students by giving hints to them.
“If I get stuck, I ask Ms. Alexis what does it mean,” one student told state investigators. “She gives me examples. Sometimes she helps me decide which paragraph to read. After I answered the question, she asked me, ‘Did it say they did that?’ She tells me to go back to check to see.”
Another student said: “She [Ms. Alexis] gives hints. She says think again but can’t give you the answer.”
Her complaint said Alexis did not “provide any inappropriate assistance, including any answers to test questions or any hints, to any of the students at Carver.”
Alexis, who resigned in August 2018, had been with the district for 17 years and was a compliance coordinator at Carver.
The VDOE report said Burgess also helped students on their tests.
“I was stuck on one, and Ms. Burgess showed me how to do it,” one student told state investigators.
According to the lawsuit, Burgess didn’t participate in the testing last spring and she said in the complaint that she didn’t inappropriately help students.
Burgess, according to the complaint, was put on paid leave for the start of the 2018-19 school year before being assigned to a different elementary school in the city, G.H. Reid.
A districtwide staff directory still lists her as a teacher in the school system.
A student told the state that Cotman, a floating proctor during last year’s testing, would check the work of students.
“If I got it right, she said go to the next one,” another student said.
Cotman, like the other two, said she didn’t inappropriately help students. She resigned in August 2018 after seven years in the school district.
Preliminary site work on a new headquarters and distribution center for the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority is set to begin this fall following the completion of an $8 million land deal in Hanover County.
State officials finalized buying approximately 40 acres from Riverstone Properties, the real estate arm of local businessman William H. Goodwin Jr.’s Riverstone Group, in July. The company is planning to build a mix of industrial and retail buildings on 120 acres near the Interstate 295 and Pole Green Road interchange.
The state liquor monopoly plans to leave its current nerve center in 2021, a move that will make room for Virginia Commonwealth University to acquire the state property off Arthur Ashe Boulevard and potentially partner with the Richmond Flying Squirrels to build a new baseball stadium.
Though VCU’s plans have not been solidified, the minor league baseball team is expected to renew a lease with the city to continue playing at The Diamond through the 2022 season. A draft agreement the Richmond City Council endorsed in July also gives an option to renew the lease for two additional one-year terms.
ABC spokeswoman Dawn Eischen said the new facilities in Hanover will replace a “dated” warehouse and central office in Richmond that are currently over capacity. She said a project team a few years ago decided the state should find a developer to provide a “turnkey solution,” building the facilities for them.
In addition to Hanover, that group examined potential sites in Richmond, Petersburg and the counties of Henrico and Chesterfield, weighing employee drive time, nearby amenities, crime statistics, freight costs and proximity to interstates.
Dena Potter, a spokeswoman for the Department of General Services, said the $8 million land deal finalized in July does not include construction costs the state is expected to cover. She declined to provide an estimate for construction.
Plans submitted to Hanover’s Planning Department earlier this year show a three-story, 95,000-square-foot office building and a 315,000-square-foot warehouse that could be expanded an additional 84,000 square feet.
With ABC expected to occupy those buildings, Riverstone is also looking to build three additional warehouses amounting to about 475,000 square feet, a gas station, a fast food restaurant and a 25,000-square-foot retail center along Pole Green Road, according to site plans submitted to the county.
The Hanover Board of Supervisors approved a rezoning request needed to move forward in May after several county officials questioned the potential impact the development could have on the often-congested Pole Green Road corridor.
County planning staff members asked Riverstone for $1.3 million to mitigate the expected impact on traffic but later agreed to an $800,000 payment, an amount based on the developer paying $20,000 per acre of state-owned property at the site that will not generate local tax revenue because of its tax-exempt status.
Jim Theobald, a lawyer representing Riverstone, said the rest of the development will generate about $700,000 in annual tax receipts for the county. He said Riverstone is also contributing about $3 million to build road improvements detailed in its site plan for the development.