In UVA shooting, Virginia attorney general to appoint special counsel

The office of Virginia’s state attorney general said Thursday that it will name a special counsel to review how University of Virginia officials assessed the potential threat that Christopher Darnell Jones Jr. posed to the campus in the weeks before he was allegedly shot and killed three of his fellow students.

At the same time, authorities announced that Virginia State Police would take over the criminal investigation of the shooting this week that left three football players dead and two other students injured.

The twin developments will bring the state’s oversight to a multi-track probe into the violence that rocked the prestigious public university on Sunday. Authorities have arrested and charged Jones as the suspected shooter. But U-Va. officials, who asked for a special counsel, acknowledged in a letter to state Attorney General Jason S. Miyares (R) that there are issues beyond the criminal inquiry.

“As that investigation proceeds, there are many valid questions about the shooting that have yet to be answered and are unlikely to be answered in the course of criminal proceedings,” U-Va.’s rector, Whittington W. Clement, and president, James E. Ryan, wrote to Miyares. “Accordingly, we wrote today to request that you exercise your authority under Virginia law to appoint outside special counsel with expertise in these matters to conduct an independent review of the University’s response to the shooting, 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.”

Miyares spokeswoman Victoria LaCivita wrote in an email that the office will appoint an outside counsel to conduct the probe. LaCivita said officials will identify qualified candidates and confer with U-Va’s governing Board of Visitors before making a final decision. Clement, as rector, chairs the governing board.

“A public report will be shared with students, families, the larger UVA community, and government officials at the appropriate time,” LaCivita said. “The Attorney General will work with deliberate speed while ensuring that all necessary resources remain devoted to the criminal investigation being conducted by the state and local authorities.”

The university’s police department had been handling the high-profile probe into the slayings that occurred on a charter bus, as a group of about 25 students returned from a field trip in Washington on Sunday night. But U-Va. sought to transfer leadership of the criminal probe to the state police.

“Due to the investigation’s expansion across multiple jurisdictions, VSP is able to bring additional resources and personnel to this active and complex investigation,” the state police said in a statement.

State police have been involved in the investigation of the shootings since its early stages, the university said. The U-Va. police department will remain involved in the probe, along with the Albemarle County Police Department, the Charlottesville Police Department, the Virginia Attorney General’s Office, federal prosecutors, the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Jones Jr., 23, is facing three counts of second-degree murder for the slayings of Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D’Sean Perry, as well as other charges.

U-Va. shooter fired at football player as he slept, prosecutor says

In his initial court appearance Wednesday, Albemarle County Commonwealth’s Attorney James Hingeley said a witness told investigators Jones seemed to be targeting certain people when he opened fire on the bus. Hingeley said one of the victims was shot in his sleep.

A judge ordered Jones held on no bond until his next court appearance Dec. 8. The motive for shooting remains under investigation.

State police expect to provide an update on the case later Thursday.

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