by James A. Bacon
The University of Virginia will delay a release of an external investigation into the Nov. 13, 2022, mass shooting that resulted in three deaths and two woundings until after the trial of Christopher Jones, the UVa student charged with the crime.
“After conferring with counselors and Albemarle County Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Hingeley, we have decided that we need to wait until after the criminal proceedings to release further information,” President James Ryan said in a statement appearing Friday on UVa Today. “Making the reports public at this time, or even releasing a summary of their findings and recommendations, could have an impact on the criminal trial of the accused, either by disrupting the case being prepared by the Albemarle County Commonwealth’s Attorney, or by interfering with the defendant’s right to a fair trial before an impartial jury.”
Rector Robert Hardie supported the delay. Speaking for the Board of Visitors, he said, “We agree that we should postpone the release of further information until the criminal prosecution is complete to avoid interfering with or complicating the proceedings.”
“This development is disappointing,” responded Tom Neale, president of the Jefferson Council. “The quintuple shooting is one of the most traumatic events to ever occur at UVa, and the university community has a right to know what went wrong. What assurance do we have that the actions the University has taken to improve safety actually address the problems identified in the report? How do we know a similar breakdown won’t occur again?”
Jones faces 13 indictments in the Albemarle County court case. He is alleged to have shot five fellow passengers on a bus returning from a class field trip in Washington, D.C. Following Jones’ arrest, it was revealed that, two months before the shooting, he had been reported to the University’s Office of Student Affairs for possession of a firearm in violation of university policy. Student Affairs turned over the report to a Threat Assessment Team. Jones’ behavior had raised numerous red flags, including multiple attempts to purchase guns and carrying a weapon without a permit. Student Affairs moved “to escalate his case for disciplinary action,” but the incident was never forwarded to the University Judiciary Committee.
Given the abundant warning signs, questions arose about UVa’s failure to intervene in a timely manner.
On Nov. 18, 2022, Ryan and then-Rector Whitt Clement asked Miyares to appoint outside counsel to conduct an independent review of the University’s response to the shootings “as well as the efforts the University undertook in the period before the tragedy to assess the potential threat Mr. Jones posed to our community.” The request included a review of University policies and procedures” along with recommendations for improvement.
“Understandably, there are many questions about the events that led to the tragedy at University of Virginia,” wrote Attorney General Jason Miyares when announcing his decision Dec. 8, 2022, to hire the Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan law firm to conduct an investigation into events. “At the appropriate time, a report will be released to the public to help answer those questions.”
On July 21, 2023, seven months into the investigation, UVa announced the departure of Robyn Hadley, dean of student affairs, after two years on the job. The Ryan administration said nice things about her in the press release but provided no explanation for her leaving. Hadley provided no happy-face quotes, as is customary when a high-ranking official leaves on good terms. The University had no permanent replacement lined up for her. Was the mysterious exit of one of UVa’s highest-ranking administrators tied to findings from the investigation? Outside of UVa’s inner leadership circle, nobody knows.
On October 20, Miyares announced the conclusion of the review, noting that he had transmitted the report to the University of Virginia. The Attorney General provided two versions — a complete version and a redacted version to comply with federal privacy laws. At that time, the UVa administration said it was committed to sharing the report. UVA Spokesperson Brian Coy was quoted by media as saying, “The University will share the report publicly, with a goal of doing so by early November.”
A week later, October 26, the Board of Visitors convened for more than four hours in closed session to “consult with legal counsel and receive legal advice” about legal matters stemming from the mass shooting incident and to “discuss plans for improving public safety” in and around the grounds. The minutes provide no details of the discussion.
The Board met again Nov. 2 in closed session to discuss legal matters relating to the Nov. 14, 2022, mass shooting. Again, the minutes provide no details.
Three days ago, Nov. 17, Ryan and Hardie announced the decision to delay release of the report. It is not clear who made the decision. The prepared statement attributes the decision to Ryan, Hardie and unnamed “other university officials.” Hardie implied that the Board of Visitors was in accord with the move, saying, as quoted in UVA Today:
“Over the past year, the Board of Visitors has kept a close eye on the University’s response to the tragedy of Nov. 13, 2022, and on the external review into the events surrounding the shooting,” Hardie said. “We agree that we should postpone the release of further information until the criminal prosecution is complete to avoid interfering with or complicating the proceedings.
If the entire Board had voted on such a motion during the Nov. 2 session, however, the minutes make no mention of it.
Hardie’s account, as spun in the administration’s house news organ UVA Today, said the delay did not mean the University was “standing still.” The University had taken many steps since Nov. 13, 2022, to ensure safety on the grounds. UVA Today listed 12 distinct initiatives, including the dedication of additional resources for the UVa Threat Assessment Team, requiring immediate notification of reports to University Police of firearms on grounds, expanding access to mental health counseling, and adjusting case-management practices to triage student cases more effectively to cite only four.
It is not known if these changes address specific issues raised in the Quinn Immanuel report, nor if the Quinn Immanuel report raised issues that UVa has not yet addressed.
Answers will not be forthcoming for months, if then. “The University will release a final redacted report from the external review once the criminal proceedings have concluded,” says UVA Today. Jones won’t appear in court until Feb. 5, 2024, at which time the trial date might be set. It is unclear when that date might be, how long the trial would take, or if resolution of the case could be dragged out through appeals.