Why the University of Virginia denied a CBS 6 public records request about fatal campus shooting

Posted at 11:27 AM, Nov 02, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-17 13:57:49-05

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- The University of Virginia denied a CBS 6 public records request for two reports that detail the external review of a November 2022 campus shooting that killed three students and injured two others.

UVA student Christopher Jones Jr., a former member of the school’s football team, fatally shot three former teammates on a charter bus as the group returned to campus from a field trip to Washington D.C., according to investigators.

Two other students were injured, one of them also a football player.

The violence that erupted near a parking garage set off panic and a 12-hour campus lockdown until the suspect was arrested in Henrico County.

Within days of the shooting, university leaders asked for an outside review to investigate UVA’s safety policies and procedures, its response to the violence, and its prior efforts to assess the potential threat of the student who was eventually charged.

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School officials acknowledged Jones previously had been on the radar of the university's threat-assessment team.

UVA requested Attorney General Jason Miyares (R - Virginia) initiate the external review, and he appointed outside counsel to conduct the probe.

In its response to CBS 6’s FOIA request, the University said it “may exercise its discretion to withhold records in accordance with a specific FOIA exemption.”

In other words, UVA is not required to withhold the records under the exemptions, but they can do so at their choosing.

The University’s FOIA officer cited four portions of the code in the denial of CBS 6’s request.

“Records responsive to this request constitute the written advice of legal counsel and other information protected by the attorney-client privilege pursuant to Va. Code § 2.2-3705.1(2) and legal memoranda and other work product pursuant to Va. Code §2.2-3705.1(3), and also contain scholastic records pursuant to Va. Code § 2.2-3705.4(A)(1), and operational plans or protocols pursuant to Va. Code § 2.2-3705.2(14)(c) and are therefore withheld.”

UVA’s decision to withhold the records comes nearly two weeks after Miyares announced the review was complete and had been sent to the University.

Miyares' office — which provides legal advice to state higher-education institutions —said the office could not release it to the public due to “attorney-client ethical rules.”

However, UVA said in a statement made on X, formerly known as Twitter, on October 20 that the university would “share the report publicly with a goal of doing so by early November.”

But first, UVA said “University leadership is currently reviewing the report to ensure factual accuracy, as well as the report’s recommendations. We will also discuss the recommendations with the board of visitors and with those who are most directly affected by this terrible tragedy, including the families of the students who were killed on November 13, 2022.”

Megan Rhyne with the Virginia Coalition for Open Government said she disagrees “with both the university and the AG’s refusal to release the report.”

She wrote her argument for why in this blog post.

UVA Suspect Shooter Father Chris Jones SENIOR.jpg

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