Did officials destroy documents to cover up illegal activities; PETA suit seeks answers

VIRGINIA BEACH --People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Tuesday sued City Manager James K. Spore and Virginia Marine Science Museum Director C. Mac Rawls Tuesday for violating a court agreement reached in March for disclosure of public records.

The suit alleges that Rawls and his personnel destroyed thousands of documents before selecting the ones they did turn over in compliance with a court ruling.

The court ordered the city in March to turn over all documents relating to the proposed $55 million fish tank to house five (5) captive dolphins. Rawls destroyed the documents he didn't want to give up Watergate style.

The suit was filed after former VMSM Director of Development Paul Seigel, who resigned in June, said in his affidavit that he considered the action unethical and possibly illegal activities by Rawls and others in violation of the court order. 

PETA and others opposed the fish tank project, but the issue exploded on the media scene when it was revealed police had an undercover agent infiltrate Dolphin Liberty, a group of mostly genteel, old family Virginia Beach residents.

Police and city officials said the 'spying' was done for security purposes in case animal rights activists became involved and threatened safety of the city.

The Virginia News Source, in its inaugural issue reported, that Spore, in cahoots with Rawls, abrasive and arrogant toward anyone challenging his authority, ordered the domestic spying for political purposes so they could effectively combat public opposition to the project. See spying

In his 'conscience cleansing' revelations, Seigel has said that the undercover agent, policewoman Susan Douglas McDaniels, even attended at least two (2) planning meetings with museum and city staff.  She also was married last November and held her wedding reception in the museum.

After the court case last March, but before complying with its ruling, Seigel said he witnessed mass destruction of 'thousands of documents.'  The documents were removed in bags left in the office of Museum Deputy Director Lynn Clements.

Seigel also said that Rawls conspired with the city clerk's office to 'rig' the order of speakers at a public hearing on Feb. 7, 2001 so supporters of the fish tank would speak first, giving the false appearance to media and attendees that more people supported it than actually did.  The 'phony' public hearing rules were established by Rawls and Mayor Meyera Oberndorf, one of the projects biggest cheerleaders.

Kevin Martingayle, PETA's lawyer, said, "I find it very disheartening that the city appears to have a hard time complying with the law.  If you can't expect the government to act in a lawful manner, how can you expect others to?  

"We have done everything possible since the March settlement to avoid having to go to court.  We've tired to  resolve issues through negotiations.  Over time, it has become crystal clear the city despises the FOIA statue is not going to comply with it and get away with it until a court says it can't," Martingayle said.

A hearing on the suit will be held in Virginia Beach Circuit Court in August