World News Copyright 2001 The Roanoke Times & World News Roanoke Times & World News January 24, 2001, Wednesday, Metro Edition
(VINTON, Va.) -- The special grand jury that investigated top officers of the Vinton Police Department turned in its report almost a year ago. The report's subjects, former Chief Ricky Foutz and former Lt. Bill Brown, left the town's employ three months before that.
But the saga drags on. And the public interest may yet be served; the report may yet be unsealed on a permanent basis.
On Monday, Roanoke County Circuit Court Judge Diane Strickland decided to make a federal case out of the report's fate. Since lawsuits against the town and town officials were filed by Foutz and Brown in federal court, Strickland ruled, there - not her court - is where the defendants' request to unseal the report should be answered.
Strickland saw sufficiently legitimate public interest in the report to open it for a three-hour peek on a Friday morning in January 2000 - but, unfortunately, no more that that. The report was then resealed and has remained closed since.
From the one-time-only look, the public did learn that the special grand jury found ample cause for supporting Town Council's decision to request Foutz's and Brown's resignations. While stopping short of recommending that criminal indictments be sought against Foutz and Brown (in Virginia, only a regular grand jury can actually hand up indictments), the report alleged that Foutz allowed or failed to note the mishandling of stolen guns, confiscated drugs and money under his watch.
An attempt by this newspaper to have the report opened permanently was unsuccessful. Foutz since has asked the Virginia Supreme Court to expunge the report, so it presumably would never be seen again.
But in suing for $10.4 million, claiming that town officials illegally searched his office and caused him emotional distress by slandering him, Foutz invites a reopening of what he seeks elsewhere to erase. Not unreasonably, the defendants to his lawsuit want the report unsealed so they can use it to help show why they showed him the door.
Most Vintonites, we suspect, have by now grown weary of the matter. The department, after all, is under new management; let the future occupy the community's attention. But maintaining the historical record is also important.
If the grand-jury report is reopened to the public as a result, then the lawsuits prolonging the story will yield at least one beneficial byproduct.