One day after a three-hour closed meeting by the Purcellville Town Council, the town on Sunday morning announced that the integrity of the investigation that resulted in the firing of Police Chief Cynthia McAlister has been called into question.
The concerns involve the prior criminal history of the special consultant hired by Interim Town Manager Alex Vanegas who helped lead the investigation of complaints made against McAlister by former Council Member Kelli Grim and seven officers of the department. Last week, the town staff became aware that the consultant, Georgia Nuckolls, “had a relationship with an employee involved with the investigation,” according to the town’s statement.
According to several town sources, that relationship was with Vanegas.
The relationship was discovered in “emails from persons outside the Town which contained allegations of employee wrongdoing and statements of potentially criminal threats,” the statement said. After the emails were disclosed, Town Attorney Sally Hankins commenced an investigation and informed Town Council —prompting Saturday’s emergency meeting. Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Plowman also attended that closed-door session.
The town has confirmed that Nuckolls had “multiple old, but serious, criminal convictions,” according to the statement. Loudoun Now has confirmed at least one prior conviction against Nuckolls for financial credit card fraud in 1997 in Onslow County, NC. On Saturday, Plowman briefed the council on more than a dozen prior charges against Nuckolls.
Concerns about the prior criminal history surfaced about two weeks ago. In an interview Nov. 10, Vanegas told Loudoun Now that he was aware of information that Nuckolls may have had prior felony convictions, but he was nevertheless confident in the finding of the investigation of McAlister’s conduct.
“I don’t know that there is any verity to that,” Vanegas said when asked about Nuckolls’ criminal history on Nov. 10. “It is up to you guys to do your due diligence.”
“I know that in looking at the information that was provided that she did have security clearance recently,” he added.
“Someone said that was 20-something or 22 years ago. I’m sure that if I dug in to everyone’s past I would find something,” Vanegas said during the Nov. 10 interview. “We don’t go do a thorough vetting of every individual. We didn’t do it with our police chief. Maybe that brings up opportunities moving forward to do those kind of things.”
In that interview, Vanegas also denied having any personal relationship with Nuckolls. He acknowledged they were friends on Facebook, but then said he has 5,000 people on that list. “I’ve known of her,” he said.
When asked specifically whether he shared a personal relationship with Nuckolls, Vanegas said, “We are not close friends.”
The new allegation that Nuckolls had an intimate relationship with Vanegas further clouded the probe of the police chief. Sources said Vanegas had received threatening voicemails and emails from Nuckolls and that he had taken them to Plowman for review.
“With this knowledge, the Town recognizes that the integrity of this investigation may be called into question, and will promptly hire an outside independent firm to audit and review the investigation,” the statement said.
The council emerged from its closed session without taking any formal action.
Vanegas was not placed on leave.
“The employee involved in the relationship will be disciplined in accordance with the Town’s personnel manual and procedures. Further, the Town will implement measures that will govern all future contract awards, designed to prevent the recurrence of these issues,” the statement said.
McAlister was fired Nov. 3, after the investigation “substantiated” allegations that she acted outside of the scope as chief of police; engaged in selective enforcement; violated General Orders concerning internal affairs investigations; practiced employee intimidation; had been untruthful; and violated town and police procedural policies, according to a statement from the town.
McAlister has formally appealed her termination. Under the town’s grievance procedures, her first appeal would be heard by Vanegas, although it was unclear how the town would proceed under the circumstances.
[This is an evolving story and will be updated as more information becomes available.]