A special prosecutor has cleared Loudoun Sheriff Mike Chapman of allegations of criminal misconduct brought by political opponents before last fall’s election.
Alexandria Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter (D) was appointed last September by Circuit Court Judge Jeanette Irby to investigate claims made by Steve Simpson, a former sheriff running as an independent in the sheriff’s race, and Ron Speakman, who challenged Chapman in 2011.
Simpson’s complaint alleged Chapman’s campaign failed to adequately disclose donors by improperly identifying corporate contributions as coming from individuals. Speakman alleged Chapman illegally used his office’s investigative powers to obtain emails from the Fairfax County government involving plans by one of his senior officers to campaign against him.
At the time Bryan was appointed to the investigation he was preparing to prosecute the triple-murder case of Charles Severance and stated he would not make a ruling before the election.
Chapman was challenged in the race by one of his top administrators, Eric Noble, who unsuccessfully challenged the incumbent sheriff for the Republican nomination. On the ballot, he faced Simpson and Democrat Brian Allman.
In a four-page letter dated Friday to Loudoun Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Plowman (R), who recused himself from the case, Porter said no criminal violations were found.
“I write to inform you that the investigation failed to reveal evidence establishing that Sheriff Chapman committed any criminal offense. Therefore, I decline to initiate any prosecution of Sheriff Chapman,” Porter wrote.
“That was obvious, I think, from the start,” Chapman said this morning after learning of the findings from a Twitter post. As he did in September, Chapman called the allegations
“false and frivolous.”
“The citizens of Loudoun County were smart enough to know it was politically motivated,” said Chapman, who garnered more than 60 percent of the vote to win a second four-year term in November. “Apparently, the public saw right through it.”
In reviewing the complaint involving Chapman’s campaign finance disclosure reports, Porter noted that such infractions are punished as civil offenses until they are found to be criminally willful. Porter ruled that Chapman adequately disclosed the source of the contributions by naming the director or employee of the company, but also disclosing the name of the company and the type of business in the reports.
“On the facts, it is impossible to discern any intent to deceive or to commit a willful criminal act on the part of Sheriff Chapman,” Porter wrote.
On Speakman’s allegations that Chapman violated computer trespass laws in obtaining and then publishing emails between Noble and a former sheriff’s office employee who was working for Fairfax County, Porter also found no criminal action.
The investigation revealed that upon learning of the content of the former employee’s communication with his supervisory deputy, Sheriff Chapman dispatched one of his internal affairs
investigators to obtain copies of the email communications,” Porter wrote. The internal affairs investigator made a written request to Fairfax County requesting the emails. The investigator stated that he was investigating “collusion against the Sheriff.”
However, Porter said the investigator made it clear that the records were requested under the Freedom of Information Act. The emails were released two days later.
“I find that Sheriff Chapman’s investigator obtained these emails via a written FOIA request and that he was therefore in compliance with the Code of Virginia. The investigator did not access any computer, computer account or computer network to obtain the information. “He simply made a written FOIA request that Fairfax County elected to honor,” Porter wrote. “Therefore, there is no evidence that Sheriff Chapman or his agent committed any crime in obtaining the emails.”
Chapman’s use of the emails on political flyers also was not a criminal violation, but protected political speech, Porter wrote.
“I note that as a special prosecutor, my only responsibility in this matter is to determine whether any criminal violations occurred. I am not tasked with determining whether Sheriff Chapman’s decisions or actions were prudent or well-conceived,” Porter concluded. “The fact that I find no evidence that a crime was committed should not be seen as my endorsement of any particular practice or action undertaken by Sheriff Chapman.”