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Crime

New website aims to help untangle Virginia’s unsolved mysteries

The website, maintained by the State Police, is the result of a bill the General Assembly passed in 2020 at the request of Del. Danica Roem, D-Prince William, a former journalist who says she pushed for it out of a belief in “aggressive” public outreach and transparency.

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In 1982, Virginia Department of Corrections administrator Rodolfo Felix Guillen was shot to death one morning right after getting to his office in Suffolk. The shooting occurred just as other employees started to arrive at the building, but there were no signs anyone had broken in.

In 1984, off-duty Virginia State Police trooper Johnny Rush Bowman was killed after being stabbed 45 times in Prince William County, with the unknown assailant leaving behind a hardhat and a wig.

In 2003, then 20-year-old Rachel Nicole Good drove off in her Dodge Neon from a parking lot near a Shenandoah Valley laundromat, never to be seen again.

All three stories are among the dozens of unsolved murder and missing-person investigations listed in Virginia’s newly launched public database of cold cases.

The website, maintained by the State Police, is the result of a bill the General Assembly passed in 2020 at the request of Del. Danica Roem, D-Prince William, a former journalist who says she pushed for it out of a belief in “aggressive” public outreach and transparency.

“The cold case database will only work as intended if the public uses it, if the public shares it, if the public is engaged with it,” Roem said in an interview. “I am imploring people at large from all across the commonwealth and really across the country… to please give this thing a look over. See if there’s a story in your community that you know something about.”

The new site currently lists several dozen State Police cases, but it’s expected to grow once more information is gathered from local law enforcement agencies. 

The legislation creating the database passed unanimously two years ago after Roem told her colleagues the only thing it would do is potentially solve murders.

“These are people,” Roem said of the names and faces listed in the database. “People whose killers were never brought to justice, who had remains without a name attached to them, who went missing and haven’t been found. These are human beings. Let’s treat ’em like that. Let’s bump up some of these stories the public has forgotten about.”

A note on the website says cases are displayed randomly “to ensure all victims are publicized equally.” The legislation defined “cold case” as “an investigation into a homicide, missing person, or unidentified person case that has remained unsolved for at least five years.” The page for each case includes contact details showing how people who might have useful information can contact investigators.

“Because of the public accessibility of this,” Roem said, “you are quite literally empowering the public to help solve these crimes.”

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Community

Richmond Police Officer Arrested Charged with Rape and Aggravated Sexual Battery

Yesterday Richmond Police Officer Jean Assad was arrested after the Multi-Jurisdictional Grand Jury issued two true bills of indictment for two felony charges.

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From RPD:

Yesterday Richmond Police Officer Jean Assad was arrested after the Multi-Jurisdictional Grand Jury issued two true bills of indictment for the following felony charges: 1) one count of Rape and 2) one count of Aggravated Sexual Battery.

Presently, Assad is being held without bond. His arraignment is scheduled for 9:00 a.m. Friday morning in Richmond Circuit Court.

Assad has been with the Richmond Police Department since June 2017.

Assad remains in a leave without pay status as the Department continues its administrative process.

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Crime

Richmond Police identify 83-year-old victim struck and killed by vehicle outside Libbie Market

The driver of the vehicle, an adult male, remained on scene.

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From Richmond Police:

The Richmond Police Crash Team has identified the individual who died after being injured in a collision in a parking lot on Libbie Avenue as John Busch, 83, of Richmond.

At approximately 8:15 a.m., officers were called to the 400 block of Libbie Avenue, in the parking lot of Libbie Market, for the report of a person struck by a vehicle. Officers arrived and found a male, Busch, down and injured in the parking lot of a business after having been struck by a vehicle in the lot. He was transported to a local hospital where he succumbed to his injury.

The driver of the vehicle, an adult male, remained on scene.

The RPD Crash Team responded to the scene and interviewed the driver and witnesses. The investigation is ongoing. Investigators have not placed charges at this time.

Anyone with further information about this collision is asked to contact RPD Crash Team Sergeant D. Cuffley at (804) 646-3135.

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Crime

New VCU study directly connects derelict properties to risk of violence in Richmond neighborhoods

Negligent landlords — those who allow their properties to become dilapidated despite having tenants — are a significant predictor of violence in Richmond neighborhoods, even more than personal property tax delinquency, population density, income levels and other factors, according to a new study by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University.

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By Brian McNeill, VCU News

Negligent landlords — those who allow their properties to become dilapidated despite having tenants — are a significant predictor of violence in Richmond neighborhoods, even more than personal property tax delinquency, population density, income levels and other factors, according to a new study by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University.

“Negligent landlords contribute significantly to violence in Richmond neighborhoods via the environment,” said lead author Samuel West, Ph.D., an alum of the Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences and an assistant professor of psychology at Virginia State University. “This impact was above and beyond the impact of those who live in these neighborhoods in terms of the state of their respective properties.”

West and other researchers at VCU collected data on violence events, tax delinquency of company-owned properties (such as rental homes and apartments), tax delinquency of personal properties, population density, race, income, food stamps and alcohol outlets for each of Richmond’s 148 neighborhoods.

Tax delinquency of company-owned properties was the only variable that predicted violence in all but four of Richmond’s 148 neighborhoods.

The researchers replicated the analysis using violence data for a different time period and found the same result.

“The key finding here was that the company delinquency was a stronger or more important correlate of violence than personal delinquency,” said West, who initiated the project while serving as a postdoctoral researcher with the Injury and Violence Prevention Program at VCU Health.

The study, “Comparing Forms of Neighborhood Instability as Predictors of Violence in Richmond, VA,” was published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS One.

In addition to West, the study was authored by Diane L. Bishop, an instructor in the Division of Epidemiology in the Department of Family Medicine and Population Health in the School of Medicine; Derek Chapman, Ph.D., interim director for research at the VCU Center on Society and Health and an assistant professor in the Division of Epidemiology in the Department of Family Medicine and Population Health; and Nicholas Thomson, Ph.D., director of research for the Injury and Violence Prevention Program at VCU Health Trauma Center.

The findings are consistent with previous research that suggests “slumlord buyout programs” are tied to reduced violence in cities, West said. For example, a program in Philadelphia purchased neglected properties in the East Liberty neighborhood and provided them to community residents to renovate and rehabilitate. It led to a decline in violence over a sustained period of time, West said.

“Although we acknowledge this would be a massive effort, the data do support the use of such programs to curb violence among other social difficulties,” West said. “I believe that Richmond is a perfect place to attempt a program like this at a larger scale than was done in Philadelphia (i.e., a single neighborhood).”

There are no laws in Virginia protecting tenants from eviction if their landlord loses their rental property to state property auction, West said. In Richmond, along with most medium to large cities, delinquent properties are seized and auctioned off to recoup costs, he said.

“When this happens, the winners of the auction are typically given carte blanche to decide what to do with the tenants as they no longer have a valid contractual agreement,” he said. “This aspect greatly endangers the residential stability of our neighborhoods.”

West was inspired to explore this topic through his observation of dilapidated buildings next to new construction in Richmond.

“Given the preponderance of real estate development and the aggressive housing market in Richmond, it seemed important to better understand how these seemingly inane facets of our society may impact some of our deepest problems,” he said.

The researchers hope their findings will contribute to a growing perspective by scholars that research should break away from the traditional view that members of a community hold the majority of the blame for violence that occurs there.

“Our work, along with other recent research, emphasizes that we need to be examining and addressing the impacts of forces from outside high-violence communities that carry such major consequences,” West said.

He added, however, that individual autonomy might also be considered a key factor.

“Social psychologists place a major emphasis on autonomy as a psychological need. In the case of a negligent landlord, the tenant(s) may live in a constant state of highly salient violations of their own autonomy which may further undermine attempts to improve the conditions of their own communities,” he said. “As evinced by the East Liberty project from Philadelphia, when this autonomy is restored, it is used in a productive fashion such that it improves the quality of life and safety of all in their communities through restoring their collective efficacy.”

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