Alexandria, VA

Alexandria Police Officer Jonathan Griffin has been charged with assault and battery for an unjustified use of force against a handcuffed resident in January, according to the city.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter said that 32-year-old, who was dismissed from the department after the incident, was charged with one count of assault and battery. The charge is a Class 1 misdemeanor and the maximum penalty is a year in prison and a $2,500 fine.

The incident occurred on January 27, and Griffin arrested the victim for a health evaluation, according to a city release. Griffin joined the department in 2012 and was assigned to the Community Oriented Policing Unit.

“While escorting the individual in handcuffs, Officer Griffin used force to take the individual to the ground. The individual sustained multiple injuries on the front of his body as a result of the action,” the city said. “A subsequent investigation found that no force was necessary or justified.”

Griffin was placed on administrative leave on June 3 and was notified on June 26 that he was going to be fired and his case had been sent to Porter’s office, according to the city. His termination is expected to be finalized this month. Additionally, three supervisors who “failed to investigate the use of force promptly enough have also been disciplined,” the city noted.

Griffin was booked at the Alexandria Jail and was released pending his arraignment at the Alexandria Courthouse on August 4.

This is no surprise to us that these occurrences are happening in our city. We continue to demand to Alexandria City…

Posted by Tenants and Workers United – Inquilinos y Trabajadores Unidos on Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Photo via Alexandria Sheriff’s Office

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Representatives of Alexandria’s law enforcement community, in a Monday night Zoom meeting, said they welcomed a closer look in order to eradicate systemic racism in their respective departments.

Police Chief Michael Brown and Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Shelbert Williams discussed the work that their departments have done over the years and in the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police. Mayor Justin Wilson also chimed into the conversation, which was moderated by city’s racial and social equity officer Jaqueline Tucker.

The meeting was requested by activist Tiffany Flowers, who tweeted to Mayor Justin Wilson about opening an online conversation regarding policing in the city.

“I felt like protesting wasn’t just enough,” Flowers said. “I felt like the best way to go about getting this reform that we’re seeking is to start reaching out to our city officials, and I just want to thank the city of Alexandria for being so helpful.”

Earlier this month, the city council unanimously passed a proposal by Councilman Mo Seifeldein to create a police review board.

“I think time will only be test of this, but what I sense is the courage in the community to deal with some of these issues,” Wilson said, adding that new laws going into effect on July 1 will add more equity to arrests made. “Those are changes that relate to marijuana, those are changes as it relates to shoplifting that really add more equity and will change the way that public safety addresses these crimes. I think these are long overdue changes and will help address in some ways some of the disparities that we see.”

A recent report from the Alexandria Gazette, for instance, found that Black males in Alexandria are arrested far more frequently than anyone else.

Brown said the department is looking at its data to find any elements of bias.

“Clearly, with the anger and the voices being heard across the country, including this city, we have to look at what we’re doing to make sure we’re doing it right and treating people with respect,” Brown said.

Williams, who is African American, said that it’s understandable that the community is angry.

“It’s tough to convince people that we’re doing what we need to do as law enforcement officers, to be fair, to understand that everyone’s human beings, and we should be treated with that same respect that we ask,” he said. “And with our officers, we’ve done that, in my opinion.”

Brown said that his department is currently 20.4% female, and the staff are 66% white, 18% African American, 5% Asian, 12% Hispanic and 2% other. He added that police are using tactics to deescalate situations, like a recent barricade situation in Potomac Yard, where a African American woman allegedly fired a handgun at officers from her home.

“Our folks used considerable restraint… in allowing the person eventually to get to the point where they fell asleep and were taken into protective custody without issue,” Brown said.

Staff photo by James Cullum

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Morning Notes

The Del Ray Vintage and Flea Market is Happening — “We are BEYOND excited about having our July Del Ray Vintage & Flea Market AND we are hosting the MV Big Flea! The best of both worlds … come safely shop the flea market, see our new vendors and help support Mount Vernon Community School when you purchase from the MV Big Flea booth! Saturday, July 11th from 9am-1pm.” [Facebook]

New Driving Laws Take Effect July 1 — “On Wednesday, July 1, a new law takes effect in Virginia requiring drivers to stop for pedestrians. Further, the driver may not move until the person walking in their lane has passed safely.” [Zebra]

Marijuana Decriminalized July 1 — “ON JULY 1, VIRGINIA JOINS 26 states and Washington, D.C. in ceasing to jail people for possessing small amounts of cannabis. Gov. Ralph Northam signed SB 2 into law in May. Possession of up to an ounce of marijuana will be punishable by a civil fine of up to $25 instead of a criminal charge that could mean up to 30 days in jail and up to a $500 fine. The bill prohibits employers from requiring applicants to disclose marijuana possession charges.” [Gazette]

Report: More Parents Considering Homeschooling for Their Kids — “The number of families considering homeschooling is skyrocketing according to Anne Miller, executive director of Home Educators Association of Virginia. Miller said their office has been flooded with calls from parents interested in homeschooling, and their Facebook group Homeschooling in Virginia has welcomed nearly 3,500 new members since the virus hit.” [Alexandria Living]

Sheriff’s Deputy Retires — “Our heartfelt thanks and best wishes to Master Deputy Saeed Shakoor! He is retiring after more than 26 years of dedicated service to ASO and the people of Alexandria. We’re sure going to miss you, Deputy Shakoor!” [Facebook]

Lorton Community Action Center Donates to ALIVE! — “This 788 pounds combined with other produce supports 220 food-insecure seniors in the City of Alexandria.” [Facebook]

Port City Brewing Co. Re-Releases Derecho Lager — “Derecho Lager® is named after a violent storm that barreled through the DC Metro region on June 29th, 2012, leaving the brewery without power for five days. Unable to control fermentation temperatures, a tank of freshly brewed pilsner was at risk of being lost. Realizing the beer would not meet the guidelines of a Bohemian Pilsner, we decided to experiment with the beer – keeping fermentation temperatures on the warmer side, and dry-hopping with Centennial hops. These non-traditional techniques paid off, and the result was the creation of our first American Lager!” [Facebook]

New Job: Wax Center Manager — “European Wax Center in Alexandria is currently seeking a sensational Center Manager with passion, determination and a commitment to excellence that will help take our center to new heights.” [Indeed]

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Creative writing nonprofit Heard is still finding ways to make noise. The three-year-old nonprofit had to shut down a number of its creative writing and art classes for the homeless, domestic violence survivors, and the incarcerated because of the pandemic. Now inmates at the Alexandria Detention Center will soon have back their creative outlet with Zoom classes.

“The jail did contact me and said they are in the process of getting more access to televisions and Zoom capabilities,” Collins told ALXnow. “And they asked me to put a proposal in so we could continue to offer creative writing poetry and visual arts classes.”

Heard now has a dozen community partners, including the Alexandria Domestic Violence Shelter, Community Lodgings, the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Center and the Arlington County Detention Center. It’s also in the process of adding Casa Chirilagua to its mix of clients.

Instructors include former Alexandria Poet Laureate Wendi Kaplan, former Baltimore Ravens cheerleader Tina Kantiano, and TV journalist Alexandra Rockey Fleming.

Heard sponsors an annual writing contest at the Alexandria and Arlington Jails, and also teaches creative writing, journalism, poetry, visual arts, improvisation, etiquette, dance and public speaking.

Collins, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, said she is inspired by the level of creativity exhibited by Heard’s students.

“I always thought their stories were valid, that marginalized communities needed a platform and deserve to be heard,” she said. “There is no commonality among people in detention centers, aside from the fact that they’re incarcerated. There are people with advanced degrees, people who never made it through high school. They are some of the cleverest people I’ve ever gone across, and I base that on reading their written work.”

The untitled piece below the jump was written in August 2019 by Stephen Y. in the Alexandria Jail.

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Morning Notes

Alexandria Enters Phase 2 of Reopening Economy — “Under phase two, the maximum number of people allowed to gather increases from 10 to 50. Restaurants can open indoor dining at 50 percent capacity, and fitness centers can open at 30 percent capacity.” [Alex Times]

Del. Herring Supports Criminal Justice Reform — “As legislators there is a lot of work ahead of ahead of us. This piece was originally published in 2018 & updated. From policing to solitary confinement this is worth reading & then acting.” [Twitter]

Sheriff and Staff Congratulate T.C. Williams High School Graduates — “You’ve handled it with true Titan spirit — responsibly, creatively and boldly! We’re so proud of you and we will always remember the 2020 Titans!” [Facebook]

Locals Create Face Mask Company — “The masks sell for only $5.00 apiece in packs of 3/$15 for a very breathable fleece, and 3/$20 for the scuba knit. They also have adorable children’s masks, in colorful fabrics, sized appropriately.” [Zebra]

Old Town Books Closed Sunday in Recognition of Black Lives Matter Protestors — “Our storefront will be CLOSED this Sunday, June 14 to stand in solidarity with protestors in Old Town. We’ve also extended our donations from the antiracist reading list on our homepage, with 20% of sales from those books going toward the Black Lives Matter movement. A lot of the books on the list are in high demand right now and are taking a bit longer than usual to receive, so we appreciate your patience as we continue to fulfill all your orders!” [Facebook]

fibre space Staying Closed Until Next Week — “While northern VA will begin phase 2 tomorrow, we will remain closed to the public for in store shopping until some time next week. This will allow us to monitor Nova cases of covid as well as figure out a schedule for the team that balances processing web orders with hosting customers in the shop. More details to come. See you soon.” [Facebook]

Bishop Ireton High School Raises $70K for Annual Fund — “We did it! Thanks to YOU and your generosity, we met our goal of getting a donation from every state (and DC) during our 2020 Annual Fund Day of Giving. We raised more than $70,000 with a number of first time donors. Thank you for supporting Bishop Ireton, our current students and faculty and the future of our school.” [Facebook]

New Job: Event Manager — “The Individual will be responsible managing part and full time employees in operations, logistics, and events. The position requires a strong Project Management background to ensure the continued success of our various events offered throughout the country.” [Indeed]

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Kamryn Powell is tired of feeling scared when she goes outside in Alexandria. The T.C. Williams senior says that recent killings of black Americans at the hands of the police around the country have made her fearful for her safety.

“Honestly, it’s completely heartbreaking,” Powell said in a virtual meeting with community leaders on Tuesday. “It makes me feel unsafe in my own country. For me to have to wake up and say, ‘I hope I make it back home today,’ is not something I should have to say. It’s not something my brother should have to say, it’s not something my sister should have to say, and for me to even think that is appalling.”

Powell’s comments were echoed by a number of leaders representing the city, including U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, City Councilman John Taylor Chapman, Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr., Police Chief Michael Brown and the city’s Racial and Social Equity Officer Jacqueline Tucker.

Warner said he wanted to listen and learn, and that it is a frustrating time to be in Congress. He also criticized the president for ordering a recent use of force against protestors outside the White House.

“I used to be governor, but I’m also a fellow Alexandrian and I’m really proud of the voices I’ve heard tonight,” Warner said. “Our system doesn’t always work, God knows. I work in the U.S. Senate right now. I have to watch what happens down at the White House on a regular basis. I can assure you it is extraordinarily frustrating… when the President the United States uses tear gas to break up protesters so he could go over and hold a Bible in front of a church for a photo op. That is not who we are as Virginians, and Americans.”

Addressing Inequities

Tucker said the average income for African American households is $55,800, which is well below the median family income of $118,000.

“One in 10 Alexandria residents are living in poverty, and one in five children in Alexandria are living in poverty,” Tucker said. “58% of our ACPS students are eligible for free or reduced lunch, and in some schools, over 90% of the student population are eligible for free and reduced lunch.” Read More

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As protests continue nationwide for victims of racial violence, Alexandria community organizers are planning to conduct a peaceful vigil in honor of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor on Thursday.

The vigil is scheduled to be held at Charles Houston Recreation Center (901 Wythe Street) from 7-8:30 p.m.

The recent incidents prompted open letters and messages from Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson, Sheriff Dana Lawhorne and Police Chief Mike Brown.

Participants are scheduled to gather in the recreation center parking lot and walk to the front of the building where there will be a moment of silence, prayers and statements from community leaders.

The vigil is being organized Boyd Walker and Marianne Anderson.

“Expressing anger through violence is not welcome here,” notes the event announcement. “Anger will have to channeled into a prayer or meditation and constructive action to help others.”

Staff photo by James Cullum

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Morning Notes

Sheriff Makes Statement on Death of George Floyd — “This event is a tragic reminder that we, as a law enforcement officers, must do more to hold each other to the high standard of conduct that is expected and demanded by those we serve. We cannot stand by and remain silent when unacceptable conduct by our peers occurs, no matter how minor or major it is.  We must be better for ourselves and our community as lives depend on it.” [City of Alexandria]

Beyer Says Trump Unfit for Office — “The President is inciting violence against the journalists who are showing everyone what is happening at significant personal risk, and against Americans broadly. Trump is unfit for office, and his divisive words make this situation more dangerous.” [Twitter]

ALIVE! Provides Food for 1,060 Families — “We sent 1060 families home with produce eggs and shelf stable groceries today because of your support!” [Facebook]

ACPS Hires Three Principals — “Today Alexandria City Public Schools announced the hiring of three new principals for the 2020-2021 school year. Dr. John McCain will be the new Head of School at Jefferson-Houston, Mr. Loren Brody will be the new principal at Charles Barrett, and Ms. Penny Hairston will be the new principal at Douglas MacArthur. Learn more about them by clicking the links in the comments below.” [Facebook]

DASH Distances from Wraps2Go After Owner Makes Racist Tweet — “We do not support any ideals that promote division, discrimination or racism. We can confirm that we have no ongoing projects with Wraps2Go and will not be doing business with them in the future.” [Facebook]

Fire Chief Congratulates New Firefighters — “Recruit School 50 officially completed their initial training and will begin reporting to their assigned stations tomorrow. Because their graduation ceremony has been postponed, Fire Chief Corey Smedley visited to take questions and give them words of encouragement.” [Facebook]

Tenants and Workers United Advises Arlandria Residents on Rent — “Today we were meeting carefully with more than 100 members of Presidential Greens and New Brookside to follow the next steps to get justice in their homes in their apartment complex in these times of crisis we are in.” [Facebook]

New Job: Part Time Concierge — ” The Concierge will be greeting potential residents, families, visitors, managing both external and internal calls, taking and communicating messages. The Concierge provides an overview of community information to those inquiries in support of the marketing and sales efforts.” [Indeed]

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The following Letter to the Editor was written by Adriana Gomez Schellhaas, executive director of Casa Chirilagua, a Christian nonprofit in the Chirilagua/Arlandria neighborhood that provides help for local low-income families. 

“When will we go back to normal?”

Like me, I’m sure you’ve asked yourself this question since this crisis started.

What was normal to you, pre-pandemic? For me, normal was spending time with friends and happily not social distancing, going to work without having to wear a mask and being able to work for eight+ hours a day because my toddler twins were spending the day with our lovely babysitter.

Before COVID-19, normal for many of our neighbors in Chirilagua was spending any free time working a second or third job to ensure bills were paid and food was on the table. Normal for many others was an accustomed reality of food insecurity, joblessness, and lack of medical care. The normalcy of the economic disparities that exist in this vibrant community where we, Casa Chirilagua, have spent the last 13 years building long-term relationships with neighbors has caused it to be one of the hardest hit areas of COVID-19 in Northern Virginia.

Since COVID-19, normal has turned upside down for Casa Chirilagua and our neighborhood. The squeals and excitement of our Kids Club students during the afternoons have been replaced by a donation pantry bursting at the seams with vital food and essential items for Casa families, thanks to the outpour of generosity from city residents and folks all the way from Rockville, Maryland.

Our parking lot is not filled with cars of dedicated volunteers coming to spend time to read and tutor students, but has been turned into a COVID-19 testing site thanks to our wonderful partnership with Neighborhood Health.

Our regular fundraising pattern for this time of year isn’t the normal lull we experience after Spring2ACTion but has changed drastically as we continue to see donation after donation from kind individuals, church partners, and organizations like the Del Ray Business Association and Hume Springs Civic Association, all wanting to support the mission of Casa Chirilagua and make sure Casa families have the necessary resources to survive this pandemic.

This is not normal. But what if it was?

What if this outpouring of generosity lasted all year round, year after year, ensuring that our most vulnerable neighbors in Arlandria have what they need? What if vital health screenings were readily available week after week to neighbors who could not afford them or do not have access to a doctor?

What would it look like to truly love our neighbor as ourselves?

This crisis has caused the “normal” negative issues which plague our community to rear their ugly heads even more. However, it has also resulted in generosity, camaraderie and empathy to shine ever so brightly. Business owner Jason Yates sent us a donation of 100 handmade masks. Sheriff Lawhorne and his deputies did not hesitate for one second when I asked for their assistance in directing traffic during our donation hours. City residents like Marcia Call organized her own donation drive, delivering to us the biggest haul of donations we have seen to date.

There are countless others, like Rosa Landeros, the parent liaison at Mount Vernon Community School, who said to me, “Anything this community needs, please call me.”

The ways that many in our city have loved our neighbors in Chirilagua during this crisis is emotionally overwhelming for me in a beautiful way. When this is over, my prayer is that these gestures of love and kindness will not cease but increase, making it the new normal for us and our city.

ALXnow.com occasionally publishes thoughtful letters to the editor about issues of local interest. To submit a letter to the editor for consideration, please email it to [email protected] Letters may be edited for content and brevity, at our discretion.

Staff photo by James Cullum

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Morning Notes

City Urges Residents to Use Caution Outside — “The City and the Alexandria Health Department urge everyone to follow Governor Northam’s order to #stayhome except for essential trips such as food purchases and medical care, and maintain physical distancing when possible.” [Twitter]

Beyer Lashes Out Against Senate Republicans — “Senate Republicans are refusing to consider more help for the American people during pandemic. Instead they are now prioritizing investigations of the President’s political rivals. They previously said they didn’t have time to hear from witnesses during the impeachment trial.” [Twitter]

Alexandria Wants Parental Feedback on Summer Camp — “The City of Alexandria Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities (RPCA) is asking parents in a survey to “tell us how modified summer programs will meet your family’s needs for a safe and enjoyable summer.” Options include half day camps, full day camps and a yes/no question on whether parents are interested in online or virtual camps.” [Alexandria Living]

Story Time: Alexandria Sheriff’s Deputy Reads ‘The Lorax’ — “Time for a classic from Dr. Seuss! Learn a lesson from “The Lorax” with Lieutenant Sean Casey.” [Facebook]

West End Business Association Happy Hour at 4 p.m. — “Each person will be able to give their one-minute introduction, and should also answer two questions: What Business-to-Business efforts have worked for you these past two months? What will be on your grill this weekend for Memorial Day?” [WEBA]

Old Town Artist Todd Healy Packs it Up — “It is with a heavy heart we share the news that after 40 years of making Alexandria his muse, our treasured Alexandria Legend Todd Healy is packing up his paints and canvases.” [Facebook]

ACPS Early Childhood Center has Message on Littering — “We’ve been learning all about Reduce, Reuse, Recycle at the ECC, and today we’re learning all about littering! Go on a walk with Bo and see if he can find any litter in his neighborhood!” [Facebook]

The Hard Times Cafe Horse is Wearing a Face Mask — “Thanks to the folks at Hard Times for letting us have some fun today! Mask from Mission Masks by KH Giving. Get one through the link below and you’ll be entered to win great prizes that KH Giving has bought from Alexandria businesses!” [Facebook]

Bishop Ireton High School Thanks Longtime Educator — “Congratulations to Mr. Sean Casey, winner of the inaugural Peter G. Davey Service Award, for his service as the president of the athletic boosters club. Under Mr. Casey’s leadership the past two years, a number of facilities and team improvements were made, highlighted by the new press box installed on Fannon Field.” [Facebook]

New Job: Toastique Team Member — “Toastique in Old Town, Alexandria and is seeking team members to help create smoothies, gourmet toasts, and run the POS system. Employees will be joining a team to create a fun, clean, fresh environment for a gourmet toast and juice bar in bustling Old Town! No specific skills or experience needed, but applicant must be excited to interact with customers and serve healthy, fresh food to the community.” [Indeed]

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Morning Notes

Beyer Co-Sponsors COVID-19 Testing Legislation — “NEW: today I introduced bipartisan legislation to boost innovation for COVID-19 testing with my @HouseScience colleague @RepAGonzalez.” [Twitter]

Chamber of Commerce Hosting Virtual General Assembly Breakfast Thursday — “Please join us on May 21st for a timely virtual conversation with our General Assembly delegation.  The delegation will discuss the 2020 session, Virginia’s COVID-19 response and the challenges currently facing the Commonwealth.” [Chamber of Commerce]

Sheriff’s Deputy Recognizes Memorial Day, Virtually Colors With Kids — “With Memorial Day approaching, Deputy Smith talks about the role and responsibilities of the U.S. military and what it means to be a service member.” [Facebook]

Police Recognize Peace Officer Memorial Day — “This past Friday was Peace Officer Memorial Day. Sgt. Harrington took a quiet moment alone at the Alexandria Police Fallen Officers Memorial to record a message. We remember and honor all those across the country that have died in the line of duty.” [Twitter]

Trinity United Methodist Church Collecting Food Today — “Reminder that Trinity United Methodist Church will be collecting non-perishable goods in our parking lot each Wednesday from 4 to 7 p.m. near the food trucks. The food is delivered to Rising Hope United Methodist Church to support their food pantry for the homeless and low-income families in this time of need.” [Rising Hope UMC]

United Community Pantry Sees 500% Increase Since February — “This mobile food distribution program is critical to help our neighbors in need – many of whom simply cannot reach us at our food pantry.” [Zebra]

Dog-Themed Del Ray T-Shirt Helps Restaurants — “All sales of the $25 t-shirt which are available in purple and green are going toward the employee funds at Del Ray restaurants.” [Zebra]

New Job: Direct Response Copywriter — “We’re looking for Copywriters of all experience levels, be it 2 years of experience or 30; if you can write compelling copy that can inspire anyone to do anything, this role is for you.” [Indeed]

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Inmates at the Alexandria Jail have also had to adapt to the coronavirus, and with visitation limited are now having weekly 10 minute-long Zoom meetings with family members.

There are 210 inmates in the jail (well below capacity at 338 inmates) and currently none are infected with COVID-19, according the Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Amy Bertsch. Inmates are required to move around common areas with face masks and observe social distancing.

The new visitation rules were enacted last week, and visitation hours are between 7:30 a.m. and 3:45 p.m. and  8 to 10 p.m.

“We want them to be connected to their family and friends,” Bertsch told ALXnow. “We want them to be engaged, and so the video visitation is one effort to do that.”

Deputy Jacquelyn Olson was tasked by the sheriff to organize the effort, and said that visitations are hooked up to smart TVs in six separate locations around the jail. Inmates sign up on a schedule and Olson reaches out to family members and books the meetings, which are held in the presence of a single deputy.

“Hopefully as things start to get a little bit smoother we can increase it a little bit, but everybody gets 10 minutes for now,” Olson said, adding that the visitations are a morale booster. “We’ve had a super positive impact so far. I’ve seen people crying, people who get to see their kids. They get to see their pets. They’ve got family overseas and in other countries or on the other side of the country and they finally get to see them for the first time in who knows how long.”

The sheriff’s office reportedly starting preparing for the virus in February, and most staff are essential personnel, and are still coming into work. Staff and inmates have also “tripled” cleaning efforts, Sheriff Dana Lawhorne told ALXnow in March, who added that his office is also conducting a thorough intake screening process.

“If somebody is diagnosed with the coronavirus and they happen to be get arrested for some reason, our screening processes for them are much different. If that person gets committed to the jail then we have measures in place to contain that,” he said.

Photo via City of Alexandria

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