UPDATE: Purcellville has technically reinstated McAlister to her position as police chief as of November 22, after being terminated. McAlister remains on administrative leave pending review of the original investigation.
Reinstating McAlister was in response to the town’s review of the original investigation where there were questions of integrity as well as allegations surrounding the interim town manager and independent human resources consultant conducting the investigation.
The reinstatement action has unwound the investigation back to its original beginnings but no statements have been made whether any of the original findings against McAlister, which were already reviewed by independent counsel prior to the town council’s vote of no confidence and subsequent termination of McAlister, are in question.
One element which makes the “termination” of McAlister more difficult is the fact that McAlister and the town negotiated that her employment would not be an “appointment” as all prior chiefs. McAlister was hired as any other employee and as such has an abundance of rights which would not be afforded to an appointee.
On November 1st, the Tribune reported on the town council’s unanimous vote of no confidence and the interim town manager’s decision to terminate then Chief of Police Cynthia McAlister the following day.
At the same time, sources close to the investigation and on the council itself, informed the Tribune that due to the former long-time town manager, Robert Lohr, being removed from office, many other current and former town employees and contractors were coming forward, and helping to expose a great deal of recent and longtime town corruption.
As this was outside of the scope of the McAlister investigation, both the State Police and FBI were informed of the mounting evidence being uncovered.
In fact, sources confirmed that the FBI is currently in possession of Lohr’s work computer as Lohr’s work files were apparently deleted. As a government figure, all government files, especially at his level, must be retained to preserve the integrity of the office. It is not clear if the computer was manipulated by Lohr as he was terminated or by other staff with access.
As a result, Mayor Kwaisi Fraiser, interim town manager Alex Vanegas and town council members, most of whom were tired of the corruption, were determined to clean house.
Only two council members were known to fight against any house cleaning measures; Bledsoe and McCullum.
As nearly every political or government based story of corruption becomes public, from federal down to small towns, there seems to be an escalation of unsupported allegations and smear campaigns. Purcellville is no different.
Those about to be called out, forced to go with the majority, or on the heels of termination, turn to these tactics. Here, Vanegas calls the recent tactics a “smear campaign.”
The purpose of a smear campaign in this context would be to discredit those placed in fact-finding positions so the evidence they are uncovering slows, stops, or is swept under the rug. Equally, it sends a message that the drive to clean house should end or fade into the wind before each person becomes a target.
This is very typical when those in power fall under scrutiny or those who want power need a way in: false accusations, use and manipulation of media to sensationalize headlines and advance credibility, etc.
Let’s shed some light on facts and debunk a few allegations.
It seems unfathomable for anyone to read that a police chief, praised and welcomed by everyone, can self-destruct enough after just two years that she earns a unanimous vote of no confidence by an entire town council, and then terminated the following day.
In the case of McAlister, now the former police chief of Purcellville, the evidence demonstrates and overall abuse of power and authority.
Gaming the System
One of the complaints lodged against McAlister’s by her staff (8 of the 17 staff members filed complaints) regarded McAlister hiring a civilian to be the department’s “Business Manager,” then swearing him in as a law enforcement official.
Against town policy and without any approval, McAlister ordered the swearing in of this civilian as a police officer; granting a badge, gun, uniform and leasing him a new cruiser along with addressing him as “Detective” (the town has no detectives on staff). Moreover, she defended his “power” over and above other sworn staff, conspired with him to do harm to other staff and other questionable actions. All against town policy. To cap that, fraudulently signing off for this civilian to obtain “law enforcement” retirement benefits.
Underlying, McAlister’s action placed the town in jeopardy on many levels. While that civilian was former LCSO deputy Berry Dufek, a well-qualified person for nearly any position under McAlister, Dufek was simply hired as a civilian business manager–he was no longer a law enforcement officer. Dufek did not apply for, and was not hired to be, a law enforcement officer. He relinquished his credentials when he left the LCSO. Dufek was a civilian just like any other person.
In a township, under a Mayor and town council structure of government, McAlister could not simply swear-in a civilian to work as a full-time law enforcement officer without many hiring and operational procedures being followed.
Outside of those deliberate administrative violations, McAlister also faces a much worse violation which could be interpreted as fraud. McAlister signed for Dufek to be considered a full time “law enforcement officer,” for retirement purposes. In other words, Dufek’s former law enforcement retirement is only continued and vested if he has a continuing qualified position of 20 years or better under the Virginia Retirement System. This is supplemental retirement pay based on being in a hazardous duty position and amounts to over $13K additional for life in retirement. The title of “Business manager” doesn’t cut it, but swearing Dufek in as an officer would.
While this seems like a nice gesture, not only is there a fraudulent aspect but it can be foreseen that pulling Dufek in as a “business manager” was a planned charade to manipulate or game the system. A Chief of Police or any town staff member with authority cannot fraudulently sign that a civilian is in a position for which they were not hired and not paid for. It is only through an abuse of power and fraud where that employee obtains a certain financial benefit.
Dufek’s swearing-in was also a lawsuit waiting to happen.
Dufek himself would be open to civil liability with nearly any claim against him acting as a law enforcement officer. Worse, McAlister placed the town in a position of grave civil liability by having Dufek in a duplicitous role. One shooting, arrest, investigation, accident, insurance claim or internal liability claim where it was found he was only a “business manager” playing cop–taxpayers would be paying heavily for McAlister’s deliberate circumvention of policy.
Not to mention the tension created between veteran Purcellville police officers and this civilian with otherwise fake credentials being bolstered and protected by the Chief. This was just one of many complaints against McAlister.
In addition, reviewing several emails obtained by the Tribune authored by then Chief McAlister, McAlister displayed little to no confidence or respect for her staff. In an email dated April 1, 2017, McAlister wrote to former town staff member Daniel Davis and former town manager Lohr, indicating that her second in command, Lt. Schroeck, along with Sgt Wagner, Sgt Owens, Sgt McDaniel, “should be extremely solid on police operations and they are not.”
McAlister was addressing her justification of Dufek taking control and authority as a law enforcement officer at a Purcellville crime scene because she claimed her veteran staff did not do so properly.
In that same email, attempting to justify Dufek’s actions, McAlister wrote, “I also had Lt. Schroeck lie to a reporter yesterday morning by telling her LCSO was handling this case, only because he did not want to speak to the media as he didn’t know what to say. A prime example of my many frustrations!”
“We all start with a presumption of veracity, however, once the presumption is lost it cannot be regained and undermines the credibility and competency of the agency. I had to repair the damage he caused yesterday afternoon by explaining to the reporter, Major Poland and Kraig Troxell,” wrote McAlister.
Staff Terminations/Forced Resignations
McAlister demonstrated a very open and known dislike and disrespect for many of her staff members.
Two staff members were caught in McAlister’s cross-hairs.
One was Purcellville Police Sgt. Guy Dinkins, who was erroneously held under internal investigation by McAlister through knowingly false statements made by Officer Kristopher Fraley. Fraley, a fairly new officer, was very close to Dinkins but Dinkins was forced by circumstances to write up Fraley for failing to place a perpetrator’s wallet in evidence, instead, taking it home with him for the weekend. Once Dinkins wrote him up, the relationship changed and Fraley retaliated, saying that Dinkins had spoken to him with foul language and remarks. McAlister capitalized on this through an internal affairs investigation instructing Fraley to make a formal complaint which stated he felt harassed and bullied by Dinkins.
Setting aside the actions of Fraley for a moment, McAlister assigned herself as lead internal investigator for nearly 45 days and only assigned another officer because she was going on vacation. McAlister again violated general orders by assigning an officer lower than the rank of Sergeant to replace herself as lead investigator. Sources indicate this was a standard practice if McAlister had the staff member in her crosshairs. Dinkins complained but to no avail. By doing so, she allowed herself to still run point and manipulate the investigation. It was found McAlister, not the assigned officer, conducted most of the interviews and, even though the assigned officer recommended just a few days of administrative leave, McAlister stepped in and informed Dinkins directly that he could either resign or he would be terminated.
McAlister was essentially judge, jury, and executioner. If terminated, Dinkins’ potential to obtain another law enforcement related job would be severely diminished—next to impossible. Dinkins chose the path of least resistance and resigned under duress. In the process of finding another job, Dinkins lost his home, was forced to file bankruptcy, lost his retirement and now works in construction.
McAlister pushed internal investigations of other officers as well, most later closed as unfounded.
The Human Resources Investigation
Once an investigation into McAlister occurred, complaints of wrongful terminations were front and center.
Dinkins’ forced resignation inspired an independent polygraph of Fraley.
The polygraph, occurring on or about October 12, 2017, began with the opportunity for Fraley to give his account of the incident(s) with Dinkins.
After the interview and a number of questions, the polygraph examiner noted, “Deception Indicated.”
Once the polygraph found Fraley to be lying, Fraley back peddled, admitting to the polygraph examiner that “when the remarks were made, the Sergeant was just kidding around.”
Fraley also stated to the examiner that Chief McAlister instructed him to make a formal written complaint against Sgt. Dinkins, which he did.
The polygraph examiner concluded, “It is this Examiner’s position that the Examinee [Fraley] did provide false information when filing the formal complaint against Sgt. Dinkins and in the internal affairs investigation by taking the various statements out of context and implying the comments were all made in a serious supervision setting, which in his own admissions they were not.”
The Tribune verified Fraley was on administrative leave after the polygraph results.
Multiple sources supported that McAlister grew to have little respect for her staff and wanted to push them out, set them up, get rid of or terminate those who she felt were not falling into place under her thumb. Many officers were jockeying to switch to the night shift to avoid working around or getting in McAlister’s crosshairs.
A similar kangaroo court and another wrongful termination effort by McAlister occurred with Officer Tim Hood. This time, however, McAlister never gave Hood notice of an internal affair (IA) investigation and was found to have violated Hood’s Garrity Rights prior to terminating him. Law enforcement officers will understand the implications of this but in sum, once an IA investigation begins, notice must be given to the targeted officer. Officers also have rights under a landmark 1967 Supreme Court case, Garrity v New Jersey.
Garrity Rights protect public employees from being compelled to incriminate themselves during investigatory interviews conducted by their employers. This protection stems from the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which declares that the government cannot compel a person to be a witness against him/herself as well as the Fourteenth Amendment for equal protection.
For a public employee, the employer is the government itself. When questioned by their employer, they are being questioned by the government.
Note: Both staff members are now considering legal action against the town for wrongful termination, intimidation and other civil and potentially criminal acts.
And, There Was More
The pattern of deception and manipulation continued when the investigation addressed an improperly filed workman’s comp claim. Multiple sources who knew the results of the investigation alleged that McAlister had two workman comp claims; one properly filed through town personnel; and a second which “claimed” certain problems caused by a town councilwoman, assistant town manager, police staff and town directors, which lead to medical situations. The claim itself was not the cause of concern, it was the fact that the insurance company confirmed McAlister circumvented town procedures and self-reported the claim which was against policy and/or general orders. Then when confronted during the investigation, McAlister lied stating that she did not self-report the claim.
Sources stated that the town confirmed with the insurance company that a company staff member helped McAlister self-report the claim, confirming McAlister was again lying.
The claim itself was denied sources said.
The question is why McAlister, having demonstrated knowledge of how to file a claim properly, would attempt to circumvent the second one and then, when confronted, lie about it.
(Normally the Tribune would avoid passing along anything related to personal information; but sources insist McAlister was submitting a false report, naming particular town staff, in an attempt to set the foundation for leverage or a future lawsuit against the town.)
By no means are the examples above even a quarter of the complaints and evidence against McAlister. Yet the simplest assessment that can be made as to why this occurred–by multiple accounts of council members, town staff, officers and other sources, McAlister quickly acquired a power trip where her attitude became increasingly aggressive and abusive toward the same. Abuse of power, manipulation, lying all lead to a justified overall mistrust for her ability to continue as Chief. McAlister was past any semblance of restoration once the totality of evidence and incidents was compiled and brought to the council’s attention.
McAlister was the first of several in the town’s house cleaning plans. Next up, according to multiple sources was town attorney, Sally Hankins.
Hankins, although paid a six-figure salary to be the town’s attorney, repeatedly forced the town to retain outside counsel, often her former high-priced employer in Tysons Corner, Reed Smith; creating additional legal costs for the town and taxpayers. Some council members have had intense discussions with Hankins questioning her worth alleging she continually pawns off many legal tasks instead assessing the town’s needs and handling more in-house–the job she is paid to do.
(The Tribune will be requesting information on all outside counsel hired, including fees, while Hankins was the town attorney.)
The fact that Hankins allowed, as the town’s attorney, McAlister to place Dufek in a duplicitous role whereby placing the town in a position of grave potential liability is but one of many concerns town council has expressed.
THE TOWN’S SMEAR CAMPAIGN
Recently, the town seems to have back peddled on its initiative to clean house, falling prey to and embracing a smear campaign through unsubstantiated allegations.
One such allegation involved interim town manager, Alex Vanegas.
Vanegas was hand selected by the town council for the interim role after the council removed former town manager, Robert Lohr. Vanegas oversaw the McAlister investigation and helped recommend how to clean house.
Venagas however, was immediately disliked by many town staff members previously under Lohr. Simple things such as Vanegas implementing a universal rule of attendance and requiring specific work performance and accountability. The loose way Lohr ran the town staff was no longer tolerated by Vanegas.
In the attempt to both discredit Vanegas and unwind the McAlister investigation, “unverifiable” emails were sent to town staff alleging that Vanegas had an intimate relationship with the contracted human resources investigator, Georgia Nuckolls, and as such their investigation was corrupt or tainted.
In a statement to the Tribune, Vanegas pointedly denied the allegations.
“Emails authored from two individuals, upon further review, appear to be fraudulent as they have made accusations about me and my staff. Ms. Nuckolls and I maintained a professional relationship, while we did develop a friendship during the period, these allegations of ongoing intimacy are part of a smear campaign,” stated Vanegas.
Another erroneous allegation “leaked” to another media outlet was that Vanegas had received threatening voicemails and emails from Nuckolls and that he had taken them to Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Plowman for review.
“I never provided Jim Plowman [with] voicemails indicating any direct threats from Ms. Nuckolls,” stated Vanegas.
Based on allegations used to discredit the McAlister investigation, despite already having third-party attorney Patrice Clair review all the evidence and the final report as well as make changes to the final report; the town is retaining yet another third party to review the McAlister report and substantiating evidence. Source say, due to the thoroughness of the report, there is little to no opportunity for any recommendation other than McAlister’s termination.
Vanegas, however, does express concern that Hankins is still involved.
Hankins, although the town attorney, was not allowed to be in the final closed session with town council when determining McAlister’s fate November 1st, because Hankins was named several times in that investigation and ultimately being considered for termination herself.
“Letting Sally Hankins spearhead this witch hunt is a conflict of interest as she was named in the original investigation,” stated Vanegas.
Vanegas has a stellar work history with the town in his 12-year history before being hand-selected as the interim town manager; however, as a target of the smear campaign had retained counsel prior to being put on administrative leave in light of the allegations.
Nuckolls is a highly qualified international HR consultant with a masters degree who has held positions in large and small corporations over the past 20 years, has held a security clearance and has also retained counsel due to this smear campaign.
McAlister has purportedly filed an appeal to get her job back but in light of a massive amount of evidence, sources are confident her efforts internally or legally will fail.
Today, Purcellville Mayor Kwasi Fraser, formally tossed in a towel so to speak, asking for help and intervention from the County concerning management and the police department.
The Tribune will be filing its own FOIA requests to review many leads of continued corruption. This is a developing story.