Muzzling A Watchdog: Virginia Investigator Looking at Deeds’ Case Resigns In Protest


Virginians with mental illnesses are losing a powerful voice.

G. Douglas Bevelacqua, director of the Office of the State Inspector General’s division of health and developmental services, submitted his resignation to the governor March 1st, citing differences with his boss, Michael F.A. Morehart. News of his resignation was released today.

As documented several times in this blog, Bevelacqua has been a tireless advocate for mental health reform in Virginia. His resignation is a real kick in the gut to those of us who want to see Virginia’s system improved.

In his resignation letter, Bevelacqua said an investigation that he had undertaken into the attack on State Senator R. Creigh Deeds by his son,  Austin R. “Gus” Deeds, who later killed himself, was being santized by Morehart, a former FBI agent. That investigative report has yet to be released.

Bevelacqua announced that he was investigating the Deeds case almost immediatelly after the tragedy happened last November. Sen. Deeds had taken his son to a hospital but was turned away because there were no local psychiatric beds available. The next day, Gus Deeds attacked his father and committed suicide.


G. Douglas Bevelacqua

Some two years earlier, Bevelacqua had warned the state that bed shortages had become so common in Virginia that Hampton Roads mental health workers had coined the term “streeting” in their weekly reports to describe how they were turning away patients who needed to be admitted but weren’t because of a lack of beds.

Citing that earlier report, Bevelacqua claimed the Deeds tragedy could have been avoided if the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services had  implemented his 2012 recommendations. In his resignation letter, Bevelacqua said his investigation into the Deeds tragedy had caused him to reach that same conclusion — the Deeds incident shouldn’t have happened and could have been avoided.

In other words, it was preventable!

But he said Morehart found that conclusion too speculative and in a series of re-writes demanded that Bevelacqua’s wording be toned down to simply state that the department had not taken any action after the 2012 report was released.

While subtle, Bevelacqua felt Morehart’s edit and others that he ordered were letting the department off the hook. To date, no one at the state mental health department has explained why it ignored the 2012 recommendations, admitted any wrongdoing, or  apologized for the Deeds tragedy. Nor has anyone in the department been censored or disciplined. Worse yet, after the Deeds tragedy, the Department issued an update to the 2012 recommendations carefully crafted to give the impression that the state had actually taken action on the 2012 report — when it hadn’t.

Morehart has not issued a statement.

Deeds told Richmond Times Dispatch reporter Michael Martz that “it would be a grave disappointment to me if the investigation were sanitized.”

Bevelacqua has been a vocal advocate for mental health reform since his appointment as an inspector general in 2010. From day one, he has issued a series of investigative reports that exposed weaknesses in the state’s system, usually to the displeasure of state mental health officials and the state mental health department secretary. In July 2012, his office was consolidated into the Office of State Inspector General headed by Morehart and, insiders say, the former FBI accountant grew increasingly uncomfortable with how Bevelacqua reported his headline making findings.

In his resignation, Bevelacqua said Morehart’s edits to the Deeds findings “will diminish the report’s usefulness as policy makers consider changes to the commonwealth’s emergency response system.”

That’s a polite way of saying that Morehart cut the heart out of Bevelacqua’s findings so that it would not ruffle feathers or blame anyone.

I thought Inspector General’s were supposed to issue biting reports, not hand out pacifiers.

“I regret this resignation more than I can put into words,” Bevelacqua wrote, “but I feel that I can no longer be an authentic, independent voice of accountability for the citizens of Virginia on matters of behavioral health and developmental services, and that I must move on.”

Here’s an idea. Let Bevelacqua “move on” by breaking his office free from Morehart’s thumb and allow Bevelacqua to do what he does best — continue to be a real watchdog, not a toothless one. Bevelacqua has spent most of his career dealing with mental health issues. He knows more about mental health than Morehead and the people of Virginia will be better served if he continues to do his job — without a muzzle.

Governor Terry McAuliffe would be wise to reject Bevelacqua’s resignation.

About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.