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October 12, 2018

State police investigate Warrenton town cops

Photo/Lawrence Emerson
The Warrenton Police Department started an internal investigation before the commonwealth’s attorney asked the state police to find out what happened Wednesday night, Sept. 19, in the local bar.
We can’t allow our police force to be tarnished by one or two officers with inappropriate behavior.
— Mayor Carter Nevill
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
State police continue to investigate the actions of off-duty Warrenton cops in a local bar where a woman allegedly suffered a broken nose in an altercation with them.

The incident — involving six Warrenton police officers — took place Wednesday night, Sept. 19, at Fat Tuesday’s in the Warrenton Village Shopping Center, according to a letter from Commonwealth’s Attorney James P. Fisher to town officials and interviews with local authorities.

All off-duty, the officers reportedly started a retirement celebration at a bar in Gainesville and later came to Warrenton.

One version of the incident has an officer assaulting a woman in her early 20s and breaking her nose. The other version describes an accident involving horseplay.

That officer remains on “desk duty,” pending the outcome of the state police investigation.

In his three-page Oct. 3 letter to town officials, Mr. Fisher said he — as Fauquier’s chief prosecutor — immediately should have been contacted about the incident by “protocol.”

But, he learned about it when the woman’s lawyer contacted him Sept. 27 “with information that his client was assaulted at a local bar by an off-duty police officer and that several other off-duty police officers were witnesses to the incident,” Mr. Fisher said in his letter, a copy of which FauquierNow obtained this week.

“One version indicates a potential criminal assault, while another version indicates negligence or potentially gross negligence,” the prosecutor added. “All versions include public intoxication on the part of more than one officer as well as the woman injured in the matter.”

Mr. Fischer’s letter includes a photocopied Oct. 1 police department email that says another town officer arrived at the bar after the incident to give “rides home” to some of his colleagues. The next day, that officer notified department command staff members, according to the email.

Town Manager Brannon Godfrey said Friday he learned of the incident “either the next day or within a matter of days . . . . So, I was made aware of it certainly by Thursday or Friday.”

But, Mr. Godfrey did not immediately contact the town attorney or commonwealth’s attorney.

“It’s not been a procedure I’ve had to perform in the past,” the town manager said. “Thankfully, officer conduct with internal affairs is rare. I’m not making an excuse for not doing it . . . but haven’t had to do it since I’ve been here.”

Mayor Carter Nevill and town council members gradually heard about the incident, they said.

Mr. Nevill said he first learned about it in a discussion with Councilman Bob Kravetz (Ward 4), chairman of the Public Safety and Transportation Committee, who maintains close contact with the police department.

“The proper protocol should have been a memo sent to us from the town manager,” the mayor said. “It is a staff incident and he is head of staff . . . . That is potentially serious in nature, and we should be informed immediately.”

Mr. Nevill added: “I am disappointed in the way that the process was handled.”

A town police department internal investigation started Thursday, Sept. 20, the day after the incident, according to Mr. Godfrey.

“By Monday, October 1, 2018, my office had still not been contacted by any official with the Warrenton Police Department, so I asked my Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney (Jamey Cook) to make formal contact with a supervisor at the department who confirmed that there was an inquiry into the matter, but that an official internal affairs investigation had only recently opened,” Mr. Fisher wrote.

He added: “In short, I am more troubled by the delay and apparent lack of formal protocol in immediately invoking the protocols of the department’s rules and regulations. As a result, I am exercising my authority to ask the Virginia State Police to investigate this matter for any potential criminal liability.”

Mayor Nevill said Friday: “We need to have officers . . . to serve and protect. If they violate and dismiss that responsibility . . . they need to be dealt with.

“We can’t allow our police force to be tarnished by one or two officers with inappropriate behavior,” Mr. Nevill said.

“The matter is under investigation,” Mr. Fisher said in an interview Friday. “So at this point, it’s inappropriate for me to comment. We’ll have to let the process play out.”

In his letter, the prosecutor wrote that potential police misconduct could jeopardize any criminal case in which that officer made the arrest.

Town Attorney Whit Robinson had not learned about the incident as of Oct. 1, Mr. Fisher wrote. On Sept. 28, Mr. Robinson prosecuted misdemeanor cases involving at least two of the officers involved in the bar incident, according to the prosecutor.

“My office is attempting to discern if any felony cases are pending involving the officers in question,” Mr. Fisher wrote. “Again, we need this information to comply with our constitutional obligations to any defendants who may have been charged by officers involved in conduct that could be in violation of Virginia law.”

It remains unclear when the state police will complete the Sept. 19 incident investigation.

Contact Cassandra Brown at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 540-878-6007.
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JOHN REEVES · October 16, 2018 at 11:32 am
This is music to my ears about the WPD. They are suppose to set examples.
That's sure out the window now. They are a complete joke to the Town of Warrenton. Disgusting!!!!!
Amissville · October 16, 2018 at 8:36 am
All the emergency vehicles have GPS. The sheriff and chief know that deputies and officers speed routinely without their emergency lights on. There is nothing we can do besides look the other way as deputies and officers speed to the grocery store or the emergency meetings in 7-11. It’s a clear cut case of “Do as we say not as we do”.
graybeard · October 15, 2018 at 6:34 am
Whats missing in the article is how did the cops get from Gainesville to Warrenton? Certainly hope there were a few designated drivers. AS for the whole bar incident, its shameful that the affair tried to be washed over without the elected officials being notified of it. Stinks of police protecting their own.
Michael79 · October 13, 2018 at 9:36 am
FINALLY ! I am very hopeful we can have a complete, thorough, and legitimate investigation of the behavior of the WPD. They have been cavalier manipulators of the justice system for years. I sincerely hope that the City of Warrenton takes this situation seriously and does not allow this obvious violation of professional law enforcement service to continue. The citizens of this city are deserved a much better service than what we have been subjected to for the past decade. I implore the town council to get involved and get to the truth of what the WPD has been up to for far too long.
FalconDad · October 12, 2018 at 10:49 pm
I have personally watched the Town Police fall from grace since Chief Novak retired. Of course you know Chief Battle left, but I'm here to report that two other officers (one lieutenant and one patrol officer) have also recently left to work private security. I'm not saying the cleanup is complete, but it's a start. After reading Fisher's last two letters, I would like to see the Town Police completely disbanded and have the Fauquier Sheriffs office takeover. This HAS happened in other towns when the Police department goes awry. At least with the Fauquier Sheriff's department each new Sheriff comes in and cleans house.
Eric Cox · October 12, 2018 at 8:44 pm
Compare the common players here and compare the players in the Walker Drive Project...there is commonality...Follow the money...Think about those players and who they know, where they're from and how they got to where thy are...
Watchdog20186 · October 12, 2018 at 3:40 pm
Is it me or is Mr. Fisher trying to involve himself a little too much in police operations in town lately? First, he writes a letter trying to make his buddy FORMER chief battle out to be a hero for tazing an unarmed man. Then he writes a letter because he's butthurt that he wasnt included in the police chief hiring process. Now he writes another letter about this incident with the intoxicated officers. It is no secret that Fisher and the old chief are buddies. It is also no secret that bob Kravetz (councilman) and former chief are buddies. And right in the middle of all this is -- you guessed it - Whit Robinson the town attorney. The officers SHOULD be disciplined if found at fault, but look at the bigger picture, something stinks here. Seems like someone is working the puppet strings behind the scenes. Fisher, Kravetz, Robinson are the puppets. The puppetmaster is obvious and Fisher should have no say who the new chief is. He needs to stick to his job which is prosecutor and stay in his lane. The community needs to pay close attention to this mess and look at the common players.
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