The Purcellville Town Council voted last night 6 to 1 to retain McLean-based powerhouse law firm, Wilson Elser, to work alongside a new independent veteran criminal investigator and weed through the town’s recent set of embarrassing and costly situations.
The main objective is to “audit” the original investigation into allegations against Purcellville Chief of Police Cynthia McAlister and ascertain whether the previously supported charges placing McAlister on extended administrative leave and potentially terminate her employment, are sustainable under hard scrutiny. The original investigation supported her termination for abuse of authority to tampering with I/A investigations, violations of general orders, intimidation, selective enforcement and wrongful termination. Details of that investigation can be found here.
If sustainable, McAlister will likely be terminated upon the conclusion of the audit which the council hopes is by the end of January.
Sources close to the investigation and current law enforcement have reviewed the investigation’s written summary state the evidence against McAlister is far too damaging and conclusive to be overturned.
If unsustainable, the fate of McAlister is still in question because the investigation originated from eight officers, including all of the command staff (upper staff) working under McAlister. Considering McAlister’s staff only consisted of 17 total staff members, sources state the majority of those officers are willing to resign and using this lag time to search for other positions in case McAlister returns.
The town also has to contend with the potential civil suits from two officers McAlister ousted, which is part of the original investigation, both with potential wrongful termination claims against the town.
Leading the investigation will be a veteran law enforcement officer, former Chesterfield County Virginia Police Chief Thierry Dupuis, pronounced Terry Dupree. Dupuis recently retired in September after a 40-year law enforcement career. Dupuis notably worked his way up in the Chesterfield department holding every rank within the department before making Chief in 2007.
Similar to the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office, Dupuis oversaw a staff of 614 sworn officers a budget of over $61 million to operate a full-service agency in a population of 339,000 residents. Dupuis is well versed in all aspects of law enforcement and running a high-profile large agency. Town council members have confidence that reviewing, investigating and performing an “audit” on allegations and evidence against McAlister in the Purcellville setting will be an easy task for Dupuis.
In addition to the McAlister investigation audit, Dupruis and the Wilson Elser law firm will be investigating collateral allegations against interim Town Manager Alex Vanegas, town attorney Sally Hankins and other related claims.
The town council allocated a total of $80,000 to cover costs related to Dupruis, Wilson Elser and other expenses.
During last night’s session, councilman Doug McCollum abstained from the vote as he was in favor of retaining a law firm which had some local ties and knows at least some of the people involved, a firm which has at least worked at the county level in the past. This proposal was quickly shot down by the rest of the council members to remove any public perception that an independent investigation would have ties or dotted lines back to the investigation, town staff or contracts.
Recently appointed Councilman Ted Greenly addressed the council from a taxpayer point of view, stating that he would rather spend a little more now and, “As a taxpayer, [get] this done right.”
While the cost of this independent investigation seems extreme, McAlister has retained counsel to pursue a former appeal of actions against her, filing a formal grievance and potentially a wrongful termination civil lawsuit herself. At the same time, the cost of losing staff members under McAlister and/or any potential legal claims from other town staff members could far exceed this expenditure if left unchecked.
Mayor Kwasi Fraser gave the following statement at the conclusion of the vote.
“No organization is perfect. Within our town’s administration, we have systemic issues, some of which have been long-standing, and recent events have shed light upon them. Having expressed their concerns about these issues, senior staff have asked for help to fix them, and we are reviewing their concerns to move Purcellville forward.
This Mayor and town council acknowledge to our citizens that we own these issues and take full responsibility for resolving them in a timely and appropriate manner.
In tonight’s meeting we decided which firms to hire to address the current issues.
In the meanwhile, our staff and management team continue to deliver excellent service to the community as per usual.”