RPS chooses law firm for third-party review of graduation mass shooting

The Richmond School Board is moving ahead with a third-party review of the deadly mass shooting outside the Altria Theater.
Published: Oct. 2, 2023 at 11:11 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) -The Richmond School Board is moving ahead with a third-party review of the deadly mass shooting outside the Altria Theater.

The board picked the Sands Anderson law firm to lead the investigation.

At the Oct. 2 meeting, board members emphasized that this specific investigation is not about the criminal acts that happened in June, as the Richmond Police Department is handling that.

Sands Anderson is being hired to see whether there are gaps within RPS that let an incident like this slip through.

“Did we, as a school district, make some serious errors and judgment and or missteps that perhaps were part of what culminated in that tragedy?” board member Jonathan Young said.

The board is moving forward with Sands Anderson to find those answers. Young was the first member to suggest that firm over Michie Hamlett Attorneys At Law during the meeting. He says Sands Anderson has experience working with other divisions in high-profile investigations, and it is local to Richmond.

Michie Hamlett is based out of Charlottesville and Roanoke. Young says Sands Anderson recently worked with Fairfax Public Schools.

“A firm that has a reputation here in town, pertinent to, among other things, providing independent review, and have as recently as just this year been contracted by other school divisions, large prominent school divisions, to lead independent reviews and or investigations of school board processes,” Young said.

The price tag will be around $22,000, depending on the total hours required for the work. Right now, the firm estimates it will take approximately 50 hours. Some board members say that it is money that should be there.

“We can find the funds to also pay for the investigation. We cannot use a summary to dictate how our operations did or did not fail,” board member Shonda Harris-Muhammed said.

The firm will produce a full report on what happened before, during and after the Huguenot High School graduation ceremony, including notes from people there.

However, not everyone is on board with the third-party review. During the meeting, Board members Cheryl Burke and Dawn Page voted no to Sands Anderson.

“I have some concerns. How is this different than what the police, who have expertise in investigations such as this matter?” Page said.

The mother of Shawn Jackson, the graduate killed in the shooting, is also against the motion. She had a letter read by Charles Willis with United Communities Against Crime on her behalf.

She asks the division to let them grieve and keep her son out of it. But the board says it’s not about that.

“We’re not trying to relive it, and I definitely don’t want to relive it. But I just would like to know do we have the correct security protocols in place now, collaboration, and do we have policies in place,” board member Mariah White said. “State of mind for RPS. We don’t want this to happen again.”

Young says Sands Anderson will start this work immediately, as the division wants the findings in a document sometime this fall.

Young says the goal is for their report to be made public.

Board member Kenya Gibson says she wants the board to meet with the firm soon.