In the midst of an appeal in one wrongful termination lawsuit from a former deputy, Loudoun Sheriff Michael Chapman has been hit with a second.
Former Loudoun deputy John Wayne Gregory, of Sterling, has sued Chapman and the county and Board of Supervisors collectively for $7.2 million, plus attorney’s fees.
Gregory made local headlines after a 2015 incident in which he was charged with assault after he removed a man he had arrested from the back of his cruiser at the Loudoun County Adult Detention Center, then body slammed the man to the ground.
Two months after that incident, the Virginia State Police filed a misdemeanor assault charge against Gregory. After a guilty finding by a judge in Loudoun County District Court, Gregory appealed to the Circuit Court, where a jury unanimously dismissed the charge. They agreed with Gregory’s arguments that he had no doubt the man was attacking him, and had to a make split-second decision.
But according to a lawsuit filed in Loudoun Circuit Court Wednesday, by the time that case was dismissed, the damage to Gregory’s career was already done—at least in part, he alleges, by Chapman.
“Chapman is deeply vested in public opinion and will go to great lengths, even deny his own employees due process, if it means currying favor in the public eye,” the lawsuit reads. “In this case, Sheriff Chapman unlawfully stripped Mr. Gregory, a former deputy sheriff of the LCSO, of his constitutional rights and breached an established Virginia public policy when Sheriff Chapman terminated Mr. Gregory on the basis of a legal fiction.”
According to the lawsuit, Chapman fired Gregory while the case was on appeal, citing a clause in the Loudoun County Human Resources Handbook that refers to “unlawful conduct that brings the employee’s suitability for his/her position into doubt and/or may bring the County Government into public disrepute.” Gregory’s attorneys argue that, as a matter of law, his conviction was nullified until the appeal had been decided.
A grievance panel was later assembled to review Gregory’s termination. It found that Gregory’s actions had been consistent with his LCSO training, that the LCSO failed to follow internal investigations procedure, and that Gregory’s grievance had merit, and recommended the department consider reinstating him. However, in May 2016, Chapman sent Gregory a letter informing him he had affirmed his decision to fire Gregory.
In November 2016, a jury found Gregory not guilty.
The lawsuit cites statements in the press, including in Loudoun Now, by Chapman during the lawsuit, calling a video of the incident at the adult detention center “very disturbing.”
“Sheriff Chapman’s public statements were made with the intention and effect of currying favor with the public at large and at the expense of Mr. Gregory, both personally and professionally,” the lawsuit argues. It goes on to recount Gregory’s difficulty finding work to help support his wife and child.
According to those filings, Gregory was rejected employment by more than 20 other law enforcement agencies, despite his qualifications, such as his 10 years with the Loudoun sheriff’s office and twice winning “field operations deputy of the month” in Loudoun. The lawsuit goes so far as to attribute his wife’s miscarriage to his ordeal, calling it “an incident which is believed to have occurred largely as a result from the stress inflicted by the events arising from this matter.”
Gregory eventually he found a job at a smaller police department earning less than half of what his salary had been in Loudoun.
“This case is about protecting our officers in Loudoun County, so that they can protect the people of Loudoun County,” said Gregory’s attorney, former assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Caleb A. Kershner of Leesburg-based Showers Simms LLP, in a prepared statement.
“Depriving officers of their rights directly impacts their ability to defeat crime,” stated partner Robert Showers.
The county is drawn into the lawsuit by the same cooperative agreement with the sheriff that involved in the county in former detective Mark McCaffrey’s lawsuit against the sheriff. That agreement extends the protections of county Human Resources policies to sheriff’s office employees.
The lawsuit also argues Gregory’s right to due process was violated.
Alongside the monetary damages, the lawsuit demands the sheriff’s office expunge his personnel file of contents that “refer, directly or indirectly, to Mr. Gregory having engaged in misconduct” in regard to the incident at the adult detention center.
The lawsuit states Chapman’s allegations of “unlawful conduct” by Gregory, since dismissed in the courts, remain in Gregory’s personnel file, which can be shared with other law enforcement agencies during hiring.
Chapman also faces a wrongful termination lawsuit in federal court from former Loudoun detective Mark McCaffrey, who filed a wrongful termination lawsuit alleging political retaliation, and that the sheriff tried to keep McCaffrey from finding law enforcement work elsewhere. That case was dismissed in federal district court, where the court found Chapman has the right to fire his deputies for political reasons. It has been appealed.
Sheriff’s Office spokesman Kraig Troxell said in an email, “the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) has not received official service of any lawsuit pertaining to Mr. John Gregory and it would be inappropriate to comment on pending civil matters.”
This is a developing story; more information will be published as it becomes available.