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Crooked Virginia police detective’s cases to be reviewed by UVA School of Law

Crystal Graham
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A former Norfolk Police detective who was involved in multiple wrongful convictions will have all of his case files reviewed to reveal potential misconduct.

Robert Glenn Ford was convicted in federal court in 2010 for receiving bribes from criminal suspects among other charges.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Ramin Fatehi announced Friday a conviction integrity review of all closed prosecution files connected to the investigative work of Ford through a partnership with the University of Virginia School of Law Professor Deirdre M. Enright and the Project for Informed Reform Clinic.

The partnership allows for a long-overdue, transparent and objective examination of these cases.

On Oct. 27, 2010, a federal jury at the U.S. District Court in Norfolk found Ford guilty of conspiring to commit extortion under color of official right, extortion and providing false statements to the FBI. Federal prosecutors proved that Ford, while working as a Norfolk Police Department homicide investigator, had taken bribes from criminal defendants, falsely represented to the office that those defendants were assisting in the investigation of homicide cases, and, thereby, secured the release of those defendants on bogus cooperation agreements.

In February 2011, Ford was sentenced to 12 years and six months in prison for those crimes. Ford has served his sentence and has since been released.

Ford is known to have extracted false confessions from suspects in multiple high-profile criminal cases including from three innocent juveniles regarding the 1990 murder of a Norfolk restaurant owner and from four innocent Navy sailors regarding the 1998 rape and murder of a Norfolk woman.

The sailors later became known as the Norfolk Four and were exonerated following a national effort to demonstrate their innocence. Governor Tim Kaine granted the Norfolk Four conditional pardons in 2009, and Governor Terry McAuliffe granted them absolute pardons in 2017.

Four other innocent defendants from unrelated cases handled by Ford have also had their convictions overturned.

“Our justice system is only as strong as people’s faith in its ability to deliver honest justice and show that the right people are in prison for the right reasons,” said Fatehi. “In the 13 years since Robert Glenn Ford’s federal conviction, there has never been a comprehensive review of then-detective Ford’s cases to determine whether his misdeeds extended beyond those that federal investigators and prosecutors as well as diligent innocence lawyers have already uncovered.

“For many, then-detective Ford’s misdeeds remain an open wound, undermining the confidence in the convictions of the people whose cases he touched. The time has come for us to try to clean that wound as best we can through an evenhanded review of our files. I am grateful to Prof. Enright, UVA Law School, and the students and staff of the Project for Informed Reform Clinic for assisting us in this important duty.”

This conviction integrity review will be the first comprehensive examination of the prosecution files which the office, defense or innocence lawyers, and the public have identified as being associated with then-detective Ford.

Thus far, the office and Enright have identified more than 90 cases known to have involved then-detective Ford, and 90 additional cases that may have involved him.

An employee of the clinic has spent the last few months in the office digitizing the paper prosecution files from the 1990s and 2000s and loading those files into the office case-management system, where they become available for review by the lawyers, law students and staff at UVA Law, pursuant to a confidentiality agreement. The digitization process would have been impossible for the office to do on its own, and the digitization and review services come at no cost to the office or the City of Norfolk.

The file reviews will take place in Charlottesville under the supervision of Enright, who serves as the clinic director. UVA Law students and staff will review the files for any irregularities that would suggest that the defendant was innocent or that the constitutional rights of the defendant were violated. If the review returns any findings that merit further litigation, clinic personnel will inform the Commonwealth’s Attorney and other involved parties. The office will then conduct a second review of any findings to determine what next steps to take, if any.

“Chief Justice Warren Burger once cautioned that confidence in the courts could be destroyed if ‘people who have long been exploited in the smaller transactions of daily life come to believe that courts cannot vindicate their legal rights from fraud and over-reaching.’ Fraud and overreaching were just two of the many ways that Robert Glenn Ford exploited and abused the Norfolk community, wrongfully convicting and imprisoning untold numbers with deception, threats, violence and more,” said Enright. “Righting the many wrongs of Mr. Ford’s perversion of justice is nothing more or less than the essential next step toward restoring confidence in the courts. My students and staff are eager to begin.”

This partnership will last as long as necessary to review all files identified as being related to Ford.

“We may never know the full extent of Robert Glenn Ford’s wrongdoing,” said Fatehi. “But for the sake of victims, inmates, the community, and justice, we must turn over the stones we have, and we will, no matter what. If we ask witnesses to pick up the phone and report crimes — and then to come to court and testify — we have a duty to give them a justice system equal to their efforts.”

Anyone who believes that Ford was involved in their or their loved one’s criminal case and who would like to add their case to this review should contact the Project for Informed Reform Clinic at (434) 924-3732 or [email protected].

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.