Tonya Chapman, chair of the Virginia Parole Board, filed a defamation lawsuit on March 29th in the Circuit Court for the City of Richmond against CBS affiliate WTVR-TV and reporter Jonathan Burkett. She is seeking $7 million in compensatory and punitive damages.
The lawsuit stems from Burkett’s reporting on a draft report from the Office of the State Inspector General (OSIG) that allegedly implicated Chapman’s involvement in the early release of a prisoner.
OSIG opened an investigation into the granting of parole to Vincent L. Martin after receiving complaints from some lawmakers and members of law enforcement. Martin served 40 years in prison for killing a Richmond police officer in 1979, and was granted parole by the Virginia Parole Board in April 2020.
While the final six-page report from OSIG was released last summer, a 13-page draft report was allegedly obtained by reporter Burkett. It is unknown whether the 13-page draft report was written by the Inspector General or a staff member.
According to Chapman’s complaint, Burkett characterized the 13-page draft report as the “original report,” and said it was “loaded with details about violations of parole board policy and the law.”
In an article posted on the television station’s website, Burkett wrote that “the inspector general determined that Bennett and current chair Chapman, both violated multiple state codes and policies and violated the constitution of Virginia.”
In her complaint, Chapman claims that Burkett failed to provide a source corroborating that this was, in fact, the finding of the Inspector General’s investigation. Chapman further claims that Burkett did not provide WTVR-TV viewers and site readers with access to the full 13-page report.
Chapman alleges four counts of defamation per se, asserting in the complaint that “the defendants knew the statements to be false or acted so recklessly as to amount to a willful disregard of the truth.”