A second wrongful termination lawsuit against Sheriff Michael Chapman by a former employee has been dismissed in federal court.
Former Loudoun deputy John Wayne Gregory, of Sterling, sued Chapman and the county government and Board of Supervisors, collectively, for $7.2 million, plus attorney’s fees. His lawsuit followed that of former detective Mark McCaffrey, whose $6.3 million lawsuit was dismissed in federal court in October 2017 and immediately appealed.
Gregory made headlines in 2015 when he was charged with assault on a man he had arrested. He removed the handcuffed drunk in public suspect 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 reason to believe the man was attacking him, and had to a make split-second decision.
Between the initial conviction, on Nov. 17, 2015, and the time a jury overturned that conviction a year later, Chapman fired Gregory. His case was at the time on appeal. A grievance panel reviewed Chapman’s action, recommending Gregory be reinstated, but Chapman decided to stick to his original decision.
Chapman publicly called the incident at the detention center “very disturbing.” Gregory’s lawsuit argued Chapman made those statements publicly and in the press “with the intention and effect of currying favor with the public at large and at the expense of Mr. Gregory, both personally and professionally.” It described Gregory’s difficulty finding work to support his wife and child, attributing his wife’s miscarriage to the ordeal.
In a judgment entered April 4, Judge Liam O’Grady agreed with motions from the Sheriff’s Office and Board of Supervisors to dismiss the case, finding that Chapman’s statements in the press did not meet the legal standard of defamation. O’Grady also agreed with the defendants that Gregory’s case did not establish a breach of contract, and Chapman was within his rights to fire Gregory, since deputies are at-will employees whose contract ends with each election for sheriff. Additionally, Gregory’s contract, the court found, was with the previous sheriff, Stephen O. Simpson.
The court found Chapman is also protected by the doctrine of qualified immunity, which allows constitutional officers to fire employees in policymaking positions for political reasons. Previous court rulings have found that deputies are effectively in policymaking positions.
“This case was without merit and I’m not surprised it was dismissed,” Chapman said in an emailed statement. “The judgment by the U.S. District Court speaks for itself.”
Alongside the monetary damages, the lawsuit demanded 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.
McCaffrey’s lawsuit against Chapman continues in federal appeals court.
The law firm representing Gregory has not yet responded to a request for comment. The judge’s decision was entered April 4; no notice of appeal has yet been filed.