A massive reorganization within Sheriff Michael Chapman’s department has created what police advocates are calling an atmosphere of fear and retaliation in the state’s largest sheriff’s office.
Chapman, who was elected to a second term last November, said the changes resulted from a meeting with his seven-member executive team which includes his two lieutenant colonels and the heads of all five divisions in the department.
“We had a retreat for a couple of days to kind of go over how we can better serve the community,” Chapman said. “How we can better align our staff to meet the agency to put the right people in the right place.”
However, the executive director of the Police Benevolent Association, which declined to endorse Chapman’s re-election bid, said many of the personnel changes appear to be retaliation against people who did not support him in the election.
“We can’t say for sure, but certainly the appearance is that it’s retaliation against political activity and activity within the Police Benevolent Association,” said PBA Executive Director Sean McGowan.
The PBA is a union of law enforcement officers offering members legal and disciplinary representation and accidental death benefits. The Virginia chapter also lobbies in the General Assembly. McGowan said it has about 4,000 members across Virginia, and 349 members in the Loudoun sheriff’s office.
The sheriff’s office staff changes were announced in a pair of memos circulated through the department. Loudoun Now initially attempted to obtain the memos through a Freedom of Information Act request, but the sheriff’s office and the office of County Attorney Leo Rogers declined to release them. The two offices cited an exemption in FOIA law that allows—but does not require—the sheriff’s office to withhold some personnel records.
The memos, obtained through other sources, show that, of the Loudoun County Sheriff Department’s 541 sworn officers, 85 have been transferred or promoted. Those changes came after Chapman released five senior personnel who were not resworn in December.
“I can tell you, in about 18 years of law enforcement, I’ve never seen that many moves,” said Joe Woloszyn, president of the PBA’s Fairfax chapter.
Among those reassigned by Chapman were the president and senior vice president of the PBA’s Loudoun chapter.
Loudoun PBA President Detective Sean Dikeman was transferred from automotive theft investigations to nighttime field operations. Senior Vice President Sergeant Jay Conner—who was given a Commendation Award during the sheriff’s sixth annual Awards and Recognition Ceremony on Feb. 19, a week before the memo announcing his transfer—was moved from robbery/homicide investigations to the Adult Detention Center. Both declined to comment for this article.
Other transfers were similarly stark. One sergeant was transferred from the Rapid Response Unit—Loudoun’s SWAT team—to nighttime field operations. Sergeant Jeffery Hunt, a Loudoun PBA board member, was transferred from investigating financial crimes to daytime field operations.
The more recent shakeup follows the release of senior officers in December, including a top administrator, ranked second only to the sheriff, and the office’s lead major crimes investigator, who will be a key witness in a major murder trial scheduled for next month.
That investigator supported Chapman’s opponent in the Republican party’s nomination process and was let go Dec. 31. Both the administrator and investigator also declined to comment for this article. Other current and former employees of the office have also declined to go on the record, citing fears of retaliation.
In an interview Tuesday, Chapman said mixing up career tracks and cross-training personnel improves the department as a whole.
“A lot of folks think if you get one assignment, then you’re supposed to have it for a career,” Chapman said. “It’s not advantageous in a lot of ways. They may get very proficient in that area, but they kind of lose perspective of the agency as a whole. You become more valuable when you understand the agency as a whole, rather than one element of the agency.”
He denies that any of the moves were for political reasons or even having knowledge which of his staff members hold PBA memberships.
“I don’t know—other than maybe a couple people—I don’t even know who’s on that,” Chapman said. “I really don’t. I don’t keep up with that.”
“I don’t buy the argument that it’s for training purposes,” McGowan said. “All of these guys were functioning at a high level in specialized jobs, and had been trained. Pulling them out of these specialized positions seems to me to be counterproductive, and now the taxpayer’s going to have to foot the bill for training the new people.”
Chapman pointed out that law enforcement officers are already required to complete 40 hours of in-service training every two years to maintain their certification with the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services. Retraining for the new positions, he pointed out, can count toward those hours.
He also said bringing officers in new departments not only improves those officers—it improves those departments.
“They actually bring that experience with them where they go next,” Chapman said. “For example, if you’ve been an investigator for, say, 15 years, you’re going to bring that knowledge with you.”
Sheriff’s Office Public Information Office Kraig Troxell highlighted new training that Chapman initiated in his administration, including an 80-hour online ethical leadership class and new supervisor orientation.
McGowan rejects that logic.
“You won’t get anybody’s intention until you point it out for what it is, which is, by these transfers, he’s taking that institutional knowledge and expertise out of those positions for no reason, and he’s having a direct impact on public safety,” McGowan said. “That’s what it boils down to. If you want to pay a deputy to transport prisoners at $110,000 a year, that’s fine, but don’t fool yourself that you’re doing it for efficiency.”
“If somebody’s coming in brand new, you’re not really giving them a chance to learn,” said Woloszyn, president of the PBA’s Fairfax chapter. “You’re just sort of putting them in the hot seat, and that doesn’t benefit anyone.”
As sheriff, Chapman has broad authority to transfer, promote, or dismiss deputies at-will. A clause in Virginia state code specifically excludes sheriff’s offices from the protections afforded under the Law-Enforcement Officers Procedural Guarantee Act. That act provides minimum rights for law enforcement officers across the state who are disciplined, demoted, suspended, or transferred as punishment. The PBA has lobbied against that clause in the past.
“They’re at-will employees, so this is kind of the way it works with constitutional officers,” Chapman said, adding that other constitutional officers have also released employees at the start of a new term, and that “as the organizational leaders, I have the right to put people in the position where I think they’re going to perform best for the agency and for the citizens, and that’s what’s paramount to me.”
Chapman said he advocates for his deputies, pointing to a retirement multiplier, extra overtime pay, and raises for deputies during his administration.
The sheriff’s Memorandum of Understanding with the county government excludes deputies from the county grievance procedures and gives the sheriff ultimate discretion in his office’s workplace appeals.
McGowan says the Virginia code section points to a good reason to replace sheriffs, who are elected, with police chiefs, who are hired by county government.
“It appears that anybody who participated in the political process or attended any political events were penalized for doing so,” McGowan said. “Chapman was an endorsed candidate when he ran against Simpson the first time, and we endorsed him, and this is exactly the type of thing in that endorsement process that he promised us he was not going to do.”