Dogwood Download: Things You Should Know For April 19

By Megan Schiffres

April 19, 2021

Virginia landlords must now accept vouchers, Fairfax officer’s bias leads to case dismissals, and someone is shooting turtles.

Daily Number

26 – That’s about the number of miles in the Boston Marathon, an amateur athletic competition that Bobbi Gibb crashed on this date in 1966. She had to crash the marathon because women could not participate until 1972. Until Gibb ran it, people thought women were not physically capable of running marathon distances. Until the ’70s, they could not compete in events longer than one and a half miles.

Virginia Landlords Must Now Accept Vouchers

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring issued a statement Thursday that highlighted changes to housing discrimination protections in Virginia. These changes include new protections against discrimination by landlords for people with Housing Choice Vouchers or who receive other governmental assistance. Now, landlord can’t turn people away due to the source of their income.

“Every Virginian has a right to a safe place to call home, but for far too long, low-income individuals faced unnecessary barriers to safe, affordable housing simply because they have some assistance to pay their rent,” said Attorney General Herring. “I am proud to have advocated for these important protections in Virginia’s fair housing laws and I’m pleased that this new guidance will help address some of the most common questions both tenants and landlords may have. Virginians should never fear being discriminated against when they try and get housing for themselves and their families because of their source of income. If you can pay the rent, you deserve a chance to qualify.”

The General Assembly protected tenants from discrimination on the basis of their source of income last year with the passage of the Virginia Fair Housing Act.

Protections for tenants on the basis of their income include making it illegal to charge higher rents, deposits, or other fees based on someone’s source of income. It also includes refusing to include a household member’s social security income when calculating eligibility for an apartment. Landlords also can not insist that a potential tenant provide proof of employment in order to apply for an apartment.

Fairfax Prosecutors Move to Dismiss 400 Convictions Due to Police Misconduct

Prosecutors in Fairfax County are moving to dismiss over 400 criminal convictions involving an officer accused of stealing drugs from police property and planting them on innocent people. That’s according to reporting by The Washington Post.

Former patrol officer Jonathan Freitag resigned from the Fairfax County Police Department in May of 2020. According to The Post, Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano says Freitag has been under investigation since 2019. He also says multiple people are accusing Freitag of misconduct.

The Post reports that Descano wrote in a brief supporting the release of someone incarcerated because of evidence provided by Freitag, that “in several cases handled by the officer, narcotics went missing from the property room. The officer repeatedly edited police reports in cases where the narcotics went missing, sometimes over 100 times in a single case.”

Prosecutors said a criminal investigation of Freitag is ongoing. However, he hasn’t officially been charged yet. Freitag denies all accusations of wrongdoing, according to The Post.

Virginia Conservation Police Investigate Turtles Shot

Two snapping turtles were found with bullet wounds in Virginia this season. That’s according to the Blue Ridge Wildlife Center, which reported the shootings on Facebook Thursday.

In a statement on social media, the center wrote, “snapping turtles are incredibly important to our ecosystems. Like other omnivorous scavengers, they consume the dead material that would otherwise pollute our waterways and create a healthier environment for others living in that habitat.”

Both turtles are recovering from their wounds. The first has already had surgery to remove the shot and repair the fracture, according to the center. The other turtle will have the bullets in its body removed once its stable enough for surgery.

“These metal fragments pose no significant risk to these turtles. But when they die, which all animals eventually will, that lead will be consumed by a scavenger, causing lead poisoning for another innocent creature,” the center wrote.

Most of the center’s calls for snapping turtles come from vehicle collisions, but gunshot wounds are particularly troublesome, the center says.

“These turtles will not chase you down to attack you. And their size makes them hard to miss. It is nearly impossible to accidentally shoot a 20+ pound turtle, especially in the head, where both of these animals were shot,” wrote the center.

Virginia’s Conservation Police are investigating both of these shootings. That’s because hunting turtles is illegal in Virginia, according to the center.

Virginians Suing Employment Commission

The Virginia Employment Commission is facing a lawsuit over its slow processing times.

According to reporting by ABC8 News, a class-action lawsuit is claiming that Virginia is the slowest state in the country at processing unemployment claims.

Reports by ABC8 News say that the U.S.Department of Labor ranked Virginia last of all states in the final quarter of 2020 for its ability to issue non-monetary benefits within 21 days.

Several legal aid groups filed the lawsuit on Thursday morning. Court documents describe five plaintiffs in this case. All of these cases are people who reported problems with the commission during the pandemic, ABC8 News reports.

Question of the Day: Creighton Court

Machicomoco Park Opens

Machicomoco, translated from the Native language Algonquian, means “a special meeting place.”

That’s hopefully what Machicomoco State Park will now represent to the thousands of Virginians who can begin enjoying it.

The park is in Gloucester County overlooking the York River. According to the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), Machicomoco State Park is the first state park in the Commonwealth dedicated to celebrating and honoring the history of Native Tribes in Virginia.

According to reporting by the Augusta Free Press, the park includes an interpretive area developed in close partnership with Virginia’s Indian tribes. This area highlights the history of the Virginia Indians with a timeline-walk and an educational trail. Also, an open-air structure featuring panels about life, land, community, and travel will be the site of future interpretive programs. The park includes a campground with traditional campsites as well as three yurts.

“One of the main objectives of the park is to tell the Virginia Indians’ story,” Chickahominy Tribe Chief Steve Adkins told the Augusta Free Press. “It is an opportunity we look forward to as tribal members, because, too often, we haven’t had a voice in telling our own history.”

Saturday’s Trivia Answer: Bears in Martinsville

The city may not encourage it, but a bear can legally walk down Main Street in Martinsville. That’s the answer to our trivia question over the weekend, when we asked readers to identify which bizarre Virginia law is fake. While that’s not illegal, it is illegal in Richmond to let a coin toss in a restaurant determine who will pay for coffee. Also, the only animal Virginians can legally hunt on Sundays are raccoons. 

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