The “Treasures of Ancient Egypt: Sunken Cities” ticketed exhibit will be on display Saturday when the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts reopens. Other museums in Richmond are also welcoming visitors back this week with social distancing and other rules. (Details, Page A4.)
With evictions allowed to resume Monday in Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration has released details on a rent and mortgage relief program created to help residents struggling financially.
Nonprofit organizations and local governments will administer the program, receiving money up front to distribute to eligible households, Northam’s office said Monday.
Northam announced last week, without detailing eligibility requirements or administration plans, that the state will use $50 million of its Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds for the program, which is aimed at helping people facing evictions or foreclosure because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Virginia Supreme Court’s ban on evictions expired Sunday and the Northam administration did not ask for it to be continued, instead calling on chief circuit court judges around the state to institute an evictions freeze.
“Expanding access to safe, affordable housing has been and will continue to be a top priority of my administration, during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond,” Northam said Monday. “The Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief Program will help Virginians experiencing financial instability as a result of this unprecedented health crisis by preventing evictions and foreclosures and keeping Virginia families safely in their homes as we battle this virus.”
More than 12,000 households face eviction in the state, which has a 5.12% eviction rate, representing the number of evictions per 100 rented homes. That’s above the national average, according to 2016 research from the Eviction Lab at Princeton University.
To be eligible, a household must show that it has an inability to pay rent or mortgage during the pandemic (a layoff, reduction in hours, or the loss of child or spousal support, among other things). That rent or mortgage payment must be at or below 150% of Fair Market Rent, which is determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Eligible households must also have a gross income at or below 80% of the area’s median income. For a family of four in Richmond, that’s $71,500, according to the Virginia Housing Development Authority.
The program will give priority to households without other federal and state eviction or foreclosure protections, according to a Northam news release. It will also give precedence until July 20 to households with gross incomes at or below 50% of the area’s median income, which is $44,700 in the city.
After July 20, the program will include the families making at or up to 80% of AMI. Top consideration will be given to households that have an eviction action dated before June 8.
Erik Johnston, the head of the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, said in an interview Monday that initial applications are one-time money, but people can apply again if they continue to face financial issues related to the pandemic and there’s money left.
The two main scenarios for applicants, Johnston said, are people struggling to pay their July rent or mortgage, and people who have back rent or mortgage payments they’ve been unable to pay.
People receiving the money will also be connected with housing counseling, according to Northam’s office.
“Safe, stable housing is essential for public health,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “As we continue to secure funding for rent and mortgage assistance, this $50 million investment will serve the most vulnerable Virginians while providing a road map for future relief.”
Housing advocates urged the governor to seek an extension to the eviction freeze, which he had successfully done earlier this month.
The heads of the Virginia Poverty Law Center, Legal Aid Justice Center and New Virginia Majority said the program rolled out Monday is not ready and is not enough.
“The Department of Housing and Community Development, the very agency attempting to implement this program, requested $200 Million for this program, even then, knowing that this will likely not be sufficient to truly stem the tide of housing instability in Virginia,” the leaders said in a joint letter last week. “This program must be properly funded to be effective — otherwise it will be depleted within a very short period of time, and mass evictions will overtake the courts.”
They added: “Moreover, implementation will take longer than we have before courts reopen. It will take a while to educate tenants and others about the different rules. Local programs administering rent relief need time to do outreach to tenants and landlords, and tenants and landlords need time to apply.”
The advocates warned that it could take until late July or August before money is paid to satisfy tenants’ rent.
Jean-Jacques Bakery, the European-style bakery that has operated in the heart of Carytown for more than 36 years, has closed after the husband-wife owners died this month within a day of each other.
A notice on the store in the Cary Court Park & Shop said the bakery is permanently closed. Another note said Jozef Bindas, who had worked there since it opened, and his wife, Emmanuelle Bindas, both had died.
Jozef Bindas, the bakery’s master chef when it opened in December 1983 who bought the shop in 2006, died on June 16, according to a GoFundMe page set up to raise money for his two adult daughters, Liliana Bindas and Claudia Muth, to help pay for funeral and memorial service expenses. He was in his mid-60s at the time of his death.
Emmanuelle Bindas, 41, died on June 17, according to funeral home J.T. Morriss & Son’s website.
No cause of death was listed on the GoFundMe page or on the funeral home’s website.
His daughters, through a family friend, have asked for privacy at this time.
Jean-Jacques Bakery was well known for its pastries, breads, Italian specialties, specialty cakes and wedding cakes.
The popular bakery carried more than a dozen kinds of breads including French baguettes. Wedding cakes represented about 40% of the bakery’s business in 2014.
Clement Denicourt opened the bakery in 1983 with aid from the owners of Bread Oven, a restaurant and bakery on Dupont Circle in Washington. Denicourt took full ownership of Jean-Jacques in 1987.
In 2006, Denicourt sold Jean-Jacques to Jozef Bindas.
“It will be the same quality and the same atmosphere,” Denicourt said in a 2006 Richmond Times-Dispatch article. “The legacy will continue.”
Bindas said in the same article that no changes were planned. “My thing is being in the back and producing things to make sure everything stays the same.”
Bindas, who started training as a pastry chef in his native Belgium in the mid-1960s, said at the time that he had always wanted to own his own bakery.
“At the young age of 13, after an apprenticeship under a French master baker, he fell in love with the art of pastry and bread making. Jozef traveled the world learning from the best,” the GoFundMe page said. “He truly loved making beautiful and delicious treats for his local Richmond community to enjoy.”
After finishing culinary school, Jozef Bindas worked as a master chef in Belgium and Germany. He began working at Jean-Jacques the same year he moved to the U.S.
The couple married in 2011.
The notice saying the bakery is permanently closed was posted Sunday afternoon and said the business is part of the estate of Emmanuelle Bindas. James C. Yule, an accountant with Don Anderson & Associates, a Colonial Heights tax and accounting firm, said he is the administrator for her estate and he is the executor for Jozef Bindas’ estate.
“It is a very sad situation ... having a husband and wife pass away at the same time,” Yule said Monday.
At some point in recent years, Emmanuelle Bindas became the sole owner of the bakery, Yule said.
It had closed temporarily in March because of the coronavirus pandemic and was preparing to reopen, he said.
Emmanuelle Bindas had worked for an Italian food distributor and was a caterer before moving to Richmond. The New Jersey native was working for the food distributor Sysco in 2008 when she met Jozef Bindas. Before they were married, she was known as Emmanuelle Minoli.
Jozef Bindas’ oldest daughter, Liliana, followed in her father’s footsteps and is a professional baker and pastry chef at the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond’s executive dining room. The youngest daughter, Claudia, specializes in wine and beverage sales.
“As a close friend of the family, and a fellow Carytown business owner, I am asking our friends, family, and local community to please help his daughters during this extremely difficult time by donating,” Aisha Eqbal, the manager of the Ten Thousand Villages store, wrote on the GoFundMe campaign website.
“The cost of funeral expenses and preparation of a memorial service is a cumbersome financial struggle, on top of the emotional distress that they are currently going through,” she wrote.
Liliana Bindas said on GoFundMe that she and her sister have offered to give a percentage of the donations back to the Carytown community. “We would like to give back to Carytown. That place was like a second home to us, just as much as it was his.”
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The Virginia Department of Education inadequately oversees special education complaints made against local school systems, a new federal report says.
The report from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs criticized the state agency’s lack of procedures in responding to and monitoring complaints related to special education programs.
The state is contesting some of the findings, but K-12 schools chief James Lane said the state Education Department is “fully committed to addressing any areas of noncompliance.”
The U.S. Department of Education has given the state 90 days to send a written plan to meet the federal requirements, including establishing new supervision and monitoring procedures. The state must also notify school districts and parent advocacy groups, among others, that the agency is revisiting its policies.
Advocates said the report validates concerns they’ve heard from parents of students with disabilities, a population that makes up 13.5% of the state’s K-12 enrollment.
Officials from the U.S. Department of Education conducted a monitoring visit in May 2019 to examine the state’s compliance with part of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The federal visit came after officials received an “unusually high number of customer service communications from parents, advocates, and other stakeholders” in the state.
In interviews with state officials, according to the report, the federal agency found that Virginia does not have procedures in place, outside of formal disputes, to find out if a local school district did not comply with IDEA, even when the state was given “credible information about potential noncompliance.”
The federal law guarantees a “free appropriate public education” to students with disabilities.
“Completely ignoring credible allegations of noncompliance is not a reasonable method of exercising the State’s general supervisory responsibilities,” the report says.
The federal report, which The Virginia Mercury first reported, offers two examples of the state’s lack of oversight.
In one situation, a complaint was filed to the state alleging “systemic noncompliance” by a local school system. The school district was not conducting timely evaluations, was not giving special education students sufficient access to the general education curriculum, and falsified documentation related to students’ individualized education programs (IEP), according to the report.
The Virginia Department of Education declined an offer from parents to give more information on the situation and dismissed the complaint “because the allegations occurred more than one year from the day that the complaint was filed,” the federal report said, but the parents told investigators that they had tried to contact the state and asked VDOE to address the issues outside of the complaint process.
In the other situation, VDOE staff members were copied on emails between a parent and school staff members where the parent said staff from a high school were not providing the services outlined in a student’s IEP.
“The parent made numerous requests for the State to intervene with the [local school district], but the State took no action, and redirected the parent to the [district],” the report said.
According to the report, VDOE conducts on-site monitoring of between 3% and 4.5% of the state’s 132 school districts each year.
“The State’s current monitoring system does not appear sufficiently comprehensive to ameliorate the practice of ignoring credible allegations of LEA noncompliance,” the report states.
Virginia Department of Education spokesman Charles Pyle said the timing of the June 23 letter indicates that the federal Education Department “did not fully consider the information and corrections” that the state submitted on June 19.
That letter, Pyle said, pointed out factual inaccuracies and findings in the federal agency’s draft “that did not reflect the comprehensive nature of VDOE’s work to improve outcomes for students with disabilities and ensure that they receive all of the services that they are entitled to under federal and state laws and regulations.”
The state agency said it is reviewing the federal government’s findings.
“The equitable provision of special education services is a core priority of the Virginia Department of Education and we take our responsibilities to serve students with disabilities, equip parents and advocates, and to hold local education agencies accountable to the provisions of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act very seriously,” said Lane, Virginia’s superintendent of public instruction, in a statement.
“We are reviewing the letter and are fully committed to addressing any areas of noncompliance and continuing our strong service to serve students with disabilities throughout the commonwealth.”
He added: “VDOE fully intends to take prompt action to strengthen the areas of concern and looks forward to doing so in collaboration with Virginia and federal stakeholders.”
Rachael Deane, legal director of the JustChildren program at the Legal Aid Justice Center, said the federal investigation leaves her and other advocates “feeling vindicated.”
“We are not surprised by any of the revelations in the report,” Deane said. “We’re ultimately really concerned about if there will be a meaningful process to address special education concerns at the state level.”
“Education is a human right. Period,” said special education advocate Kandise Lucas, who did not return an email Monday, in an email last week. “The [Virginia Department of Education] is charged with protecting this right, not violating it.”
Last year, Virginia earned the U.S. Department of Education’s highest rating, along with 19 other states, in complying with IDEA and for improving outcomes for students with disabilities. It was the seventh straight year the state earned the designation.
A Richmond judge is considering an emergency request to stop city and state police from using chemical irritants, explosives and similar devices to disperse peaceful protesters, after hearing arguments Monday from attorneys on both sides.
Lawyers for the ACLU of Virginia on Monday told Circuit Judge Beverly W. Snukals that city and state police used an overly broad interpretation of state law to employ tear gas and other forceful means to disperse a peaceful teach-in demonstration outside City Hall on the night of June 22-23.
The ACLU filed a complaint last Friday on behalf of youth organizers who are part of the Virginia Student Power Network.
They contend that under the law, a protest can only be an unlawful assembly if there are “acts of unlawful force or violence,” which they argue were not present that night at City Hall. As a result, they say, the police violated the protesters’ constitutional rights to speech, assembly and protest.
Andrew Chang, a co-counsel for the ACLU, told Snukals that Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney had apologized to protesters for violating their rights after an earlier incident in which tear gas was used.
Lawyers with the Virginia Attorney General’s Office and the city disagreed with the ACLU on Monday.
Richard Hill, senior assistant city attorney, told the judge that the emergency temporary injunction the plaintiffs are seeking is “an extraordinary remedy ... against hypothetical, speculative future actions.”
If approved, the request would micromanage police and tie their hands while attempting to perform their jobs and protect public safety, Hill argued.
Hill, along with Blaire O’Brien and Erin McNeill of the Virginia Attorney General’s Office, contend that blocking a roadway — which is what happened that night at City Hall — clearly constituted the use of force under the state unlawful assembly law.
O’Brien told Snukals that the protesters are not facing a “Hobson’s choice” and can still peacefully assemble, speak and protest. She said there have been “any number” of peaceful protests in the city recently in which the police did not interfere.
“We live in dynamic times,” said O’Brien. She asked Snukals not to preclude law enforcement officials from taking legal actions when necessary.
In declaring the teach-in at City Hall an unlawful assembly last week, Richmond police said on Twitter that it was due to “conditions of activity such as sit-ins, sit-downs, blocking traffic, blocking entrances or exits of buildings that impact public safety or infrastructure.”
In court papers the ACLU argues that the “conditions of activity” cited by the police are not even close to being the “acts of unlawful force or violence” required for an unlawful assembly.
Similar requests have been approved by courts in cities such as Denver, Seattle, Oakland and Charlotte, said the ACLU.
The injunction is being sought, the ACLU said, to protect the protesters’ rights to peaceably assemble and protest without being subjected to the risk of serious injury or having their rights denied.
The ACLU is asking Snukals to bar the use of “chemical munitions, irritants, explosives, stun weapons, and physical-impact weapons against peaceful protesters.”
They also want it ordered that such force only be used if there is clear and present danger of imminent violent conduct by three or more people; the violence cannot be controlled by removing individual perpetrators; alternative control measures have been exhausted; and it has been determined that the use of chemical agents and other means is the only way to protect lives.
The ACLU also argues that there must be clear, loud and continuous orders issued prior to the use of irritants; exits must be available for the protesters; and dispersal orders must be reasonably limited in time and geographic area.
Police and protesters reported injuries from last week’s use of tear gas and other projectiles. Police say they have been hit with rocks, bricks and other objects.
The sit-in outside City Hall a week ago was attended by 150 people who intended to stay overnight and teach those in attendance about police violence and community advocacy.
At around 12:42 a.m., police declared an unlawful assembly and fired tear gas, flash bangs and other projectiles and arrested a dozen people. The use of tear gas led to calls from two City Council members and a group of doctors for police to stop using it.
At the end of Monday’s brief hearing, Snukals said she would reach a decision “promptly.”
The Henrico County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office will soon add a deputy prosecutor in charge of overseeing complaints against police officers.
Shannon Taylor, the county’s elected prosecutor, announced the creation of the position Monday after receiving permission from the county manager to unfreeze a vacant position in her office.
In an interview after the announcement, Taylor said she proposed the idea after considering how her team can contribute to improving police accountability in response to the nationwide protests against racial injustice and police brutality.
“I would hope that it gives the community a sense of my level of dedication to the changes that will be happening,” said Taylor, who is exploring a run for attorney general of Virginia next year.
“I recognize police have a role to play in public safety but they must do that in a lawful, respectful manner, without regard to the race, sex, age or immigration status of anyone involved,” she said in the news release announcing the new position in her office.
A job description attached to Monday’s release says the new deputy commonwealth’s attorney for police integrity and compliance will review allegations of police misconduct and determine whether charges should be filed or referred to the police department’s internal affairs office.
Also, the deputy would provide legal training to the police department’s officers.
Qualified candidates for the position, according to the job description, must have a law school degree and at least 15 years of experience practicing criminal law. Taylor said the annual salary for the new attorney would range from $102,828 to $189,157.
While the job has yet to be filled, Taylor’s office has created an email account (CitizenCA@henrico.us) where people can file complaints against officers.
Taylor said those complaints will be thoroughly investigated and considered public information.
The police department currently has its own complaint intake process through its internal affairs division. But Taylor said those investigators have no obligation to contact her office about the complaints.
Taylor said citizens have always been able to direct concerns to her office. On Monday, she was unsure how many complaints her office has received about police misconduct.
“Presumably, this new position will be able to monitor these numbers,” she said.
Out of 122 complaints filed to the police department in 2019, investigators determined that 89 of them were unjustified, according to data on the county’s website.
It’s unclear from the records online what disciplinary measures were taken for the 28 complaints that were sustained or justified last year. (Five cases were still pending at the end of 2019.)
In response to a request for comment, Henrico Police Chief Humberto Cardounel, who recently announced his plans to retire this summer, said he has not talked to Taylor about the new deputy prosecutor position, according to department spokesman Matt Pecka. Cardounel did not comment any further, Pecka said.
Taylor’s announcement of the new position comes after a monthlong series of protests that have been largely concentrated in Richmond but have spilled over into the surrounding suburban counties.
In response to the amplified calls for police accountability and reform, Henrico officials are reviewing the possible creation of a civilian review board that would oversee the police department.
Tyrone Nelson, who represents the majority-Black Varina District on the county’s Board of Supervisors, initially proposed the idea in an email to his colleagues earlier this month.
While the exact details of who will serve on the civilian review board and what authority it would have remain subject to debate, Taylor said the new deputy prosecutor could be an important liaison.
Nelson has said he would prefer the civilian review board to not include any police officials in order to keep it independent, but was unsure Monday whether the board should have anyone from the prosecutor’s office.
“I haven’t talked to her about it, but I would not want any spaces taken up on the review board that would minimize Henrico County citizens being on it,” he said.
In a separate news release Monday, the county asked for public feedback on Nelson’s proposal. Comments should be submitted by email to civilianreview email@example.com.
The county news release said the Board of Supervisors is not expected to act on the creation of a civilian review board until after the General Assembly reconvenes in August for a special session in which statewide police reforms will be discussed.
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