Former Chapman Senior Officer Announces Campaign Challenge

Chris Harmison, 61, a longtime law enforcement officer and former second-in-command to Sheriff Mike Chapman, has announced that he will seek the Democratic nomination to challenge the two-term incumbent.

Harmison made the announcement Wednesday morning directly outside the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office off Sycolin Road, with about 30 people in attendance including County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large), Leesburg Mayor Kelly Burk and Forest Hayes, who will seek to replace Supervisor Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin) in the Catoctin District this fall.

“I am proud to be running as a Democrat in this election, but I think that we all would agree that law enforcement is not a place for partisan politics,” Harmison said. “Law enforcement is about protecting and serving the public.”

Retired from the Fairfax County Police Department, Harmison previously worked for the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office before running for sheriff as an independent in 2003. Harmison was later involved in Chapman’s campaign and was one of the first officers Chapman brought in when he was first elected in 2011. Chapman hired him as a lieutenant colonel, one of the office’s senior-most officers reporting directly to Chapman himself.

After the 2015 election, Harmison was among several officers who were not sworn in again, prompting talk of political retaliation by the sheriff and landing Chapman in an ongoing legal battle for wrongful termination.

Former detective Mark McCaffrey sued Chapman alleging his First Amendment rights were violated when he was not re-sworn because he had supported a different candidate in the Republican primary. A federal judge found that sheriffs have the right to fire any deputy for any reason—including political motivations—and dismissed the suit, which was then appealed and is still awaiting an appeals court ruling.

Harmison made sworn statements in McCaffrey’s lawsuit, alleging Chapman told him, “People challenge me. I’m going to crush them. They’ll never work in law enforcement.”

Harmison intentionally did not refer to Chapman by name on Wednesday, saying the Sheriff has a “poor record” working with the Board of Supervisors and his own employees. “He treats his staff and his deputies poorly,” he said.

In his campaign announcement, Harmison focused on what he would like to do as sheriff, saying his top priority is a commitment to community involvement and transparency. He promised a Citizens Advisory Council to advise the sheriff’s office and serve as a forum for interactions with the community.

“It will start with a basic step of posting the Sheriff’s Office General Orders where the public has access to them,” Harmison said. “We have nothing to hide about our operation because they are the public’s documents, not the incumbent’s personal possession.”

Harmison referred to an incident earlier this year, when a Freedom of Information Act request for the General Orders governing Loudoun deputies was met with a requirement from the Sheriff’s Office that the requestor pay $1,970.80 for them. Those General Orders have still not been released. Harmison said he will “personally deliver” a copy to the editor of Loudoun Now, which reported that story.

“I’m not going to charge him $2,000 for documents that belong to the public,” he said. “We’re not afraid to let you see how we operate.”

He also said he plans to staff up the sheriff’s office, filling vacant sworn deputy positions.

“Part of the problem, in my opinion, is that senior staff and sworn personnel, frustrated with the operation of the office and the way personnel are treated, are voting with their feet—retiring, or moving on to other law enforcement offices,” Harmison said. He said in hiring, he would put a focus on diversity,

He promised a “holistic approach” to drug addiction and mental health issues and recidivism, calling the Sheriff’s Office’s Crisis Intervention Team “a good first step.”

“The impact of individuals suffering from mental health issues continues to place a large demand on law enforcement and incarceration services,” Harmison said. “Incarceration, where the underlying causes of the arrestee’s action or behavior is associated with mental health, creates a financial burden to the Sheriff’s Office and taxpayers.”

Instead, he said, he would work with the Commonwealth’s Attorney and Loudoun County residents to divert some inmates into treatment programs. “We need to work and get them clean so they can be productive members of society,” he said.

Listening on, Randall nodded and said “absolutely.”

Harmison also said he is open to discussions of creating a Loudoun County police department.

“This is a complex area involving both operational and financial challenges, but I pledge to work on an open-minded and cooperative basis with the Board of Supervisors should the board wish to study the pros and cons of a county police department,” Harmison said. “It’s time to take a serious and hard look at that.”

He is not the first of Chapman’s 2012 appointments to try to unseat him as sheriff, nor is it the first time Chapman has faced pushback from within his department.

Eric Noble was promoted to major in command of the office’s administrative division in 2012. In 2015, Chapman narrowly beat back a primary challenge from Noble, amid accusations of mismanagement of department resources and a federal investigation into a deputy under Chapman’s command embezzling more than $250,000.

Harmison’s campaign director is Liz Mills, who also formerly worked for Chapman, both in the agency’s director of Media Relations and Communications and as Chapman’s 2011 campaign director.

After the 2015 election, Chapman also instituted a massive reorganization and two rounds of transfers within the department that police advocates said created an atmosphere of fear and retaliation in the office. Chapman’s office refused to release the memos detailing those transfers; obtained by other means, they show that, of the Loudoun County Sheriff Office’s 541 sworn officers at the time, 85 were transferred or promoted. That included reassigning the president and senior vice president of the Police Benevolent Association’s Loudoun chapter from automotive theft and robbery/homicide to nighttime field operations and jail duty, respectively.

Sean McGowan, executive director of the Virginia Police Benevolent Association, which declined to endorse Chapman’s re-election bid, said at the time many of the personnel changes appear to be retaliation against people who did not support him in the election.

Today, Harmison, who has worked in law enforcement since age 21, works for the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office, which operates that county’s jail, provides courthouse security and serves the civil law process. A Fairfax native, he lives in Leesburg with his wife Monica and their two children.

Harmison faces Army reserve intelligence officer Captain Justin Hannah in the Democratic primary.

In introducing Harmison at the announcement on Wednesday, Burk noted that “we are very, very lucky [to have Harmison as a candidate for sheriff].”

“I’m delighted to be here to show my support for Chris Harmison,” she said.

Find out more about Harmison’s campaign at harmisonforsheriff.com.

13 thoughts on “Former Chapman Senior Officer Announces Campaign Challenge

  • 2019-03-20 at 2:39 pm
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    “Harmison also said he is open to discussions of creating a Loudoun County police department.”

    Just another democrat who wants to disenfranchise voters and destroy the oversight which belongs to The People at-large, by giving control to politicians.

    Don’t buy into it folks. Our law enforcement is too important to be left to the BOS.

    • 2019-03-20 at 5:31 pm
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      You do realize the Sheriff is a politician right? Your post makes no sense.

    • 2019-03-21 at 8:02 am
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      Harmison is not “just another Democrat.” If you know Harmison you would know that. Obviously Mr Manthos you do not know Harmison.

      Don’t buy into it folks. Mr Manthos is just another keyboard warrior sounding off about people and topics he knows little to nothing about. All the proof you need is his comments here about Mr Harmison.

  • 2019-03-20 at 4:25 pm
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    A police department is totally under the voter’s control, who do you think elects the board that supervisors it. Perhaps we should stop civilian control of the military as well?
    I do not see this sheriff having a review board, a diversified management team, civil service for hires and promotions?
    If a Police Chief hired a convicted felon now facing 230 years in prison to be their media director our ELECTED officials would have a new Police Chief.
    I would rather leave the choice to the BOS then the Republican Committee back room.

  • 2019-03-20 at 11:31 pm
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    Randall, Burk and Umstattd simply don’t like an independent voice with public accountability making decisions. They want to put the sheriff under their thumb by transforming to a police department that serves their whims.

    This guy has no new ideas. He even notes that the task forces created by Chapman are working well. Feel sorry for him having to carry that message and lose.

  • 2019-03-21 at 6:44 am
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    I keep hearing what a bad sheriff Chapman is yet we feel safe when we go out in public.

  • 2019-03-21 at 9:42 am
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    The Sheriffs office won’t improve until the politicians are taken out of it… the statement of “I am proud to be running as a Democrat in this election, but I think that we all would agree that law enforcement is not a place for partisan politics,” Harmison said. “Law enforcement is about protecting and serving the public.” is absolutely true, so why run as a Democrat, or Republican, why not just run for the position to head law enforcement and run based on qualifications and ideas, not politics.

  • 2019-03-21 at 11:12 am
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    There is nothing in this article that would make me vote for Chris, who I have known for many years, but it’s a shame his relationship with Chapman soured and it’s come to this. Chris is no Dem. He was in attendance at numerous Loudoun County GOP meetings in the past. But crime is low in Loudoun and Mike Chapman deserves a third term. That being said, I really think it’s high time for Loudoun to do what every other major county in this state has done and have a police chief appointed by the County administrator, so politics and patronage do not interfere with the operations of law enforcement. In addition, the taxpayers will benefit as having an appointed chief means he cannot spend the money any way he wishes (which elected constitutional officers can do). It also means if the Board wants more action against illegals, it can do that. I recognize there is a cost involved , but given the tax money Loudoun has wasted on ERP (well over $30 million), local fixed route buses and the Silver Line connector bus ($4 million a year at least), the expense of transitioning the law enforcement people from brown to blue uniforms and pasting “police” over the “sheriff” logos on the vehicles, would be well worth it. Loudoun is the most populous county in Virginia and the DC area with an elected sheriff. The Board of Supervisors has the power to make the change, or, I believe they can put it to referendum, and I think there’s still time to do that for the fall if they are not willing to make that decision.

  • 2019-03-21 at 1:56 pm
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    Cop wife — The Office of the Sheriff belongs directly to, and is answerable only to one entity: The People at-large. Voters. People like me and you. A police chief works for the BOS. Do you really want another layer of politicians in between us and out top law enforcement officer?

    You’re right Jimmy, I don’t know this guy. But I do know that he’s standing there talking about taking the power of the vote away from The People of Loudoun and handing it to the BOS, while Party Boss Phyllis is nodding away. That’s enough for me to see he’s willing to become a stooge of the BOS, instead of standing up as an independent Constitutional Officer answerable only to The People.
    How about you come out from behind your keyboard Jimmy. I’ll meet you in front of the Sheriffs office, the courthouse steps, or in front of the LN offices, and me and you can debate this issue in public like reasonable people do. Let me know.

    Rino, Loudoun elected a long time ranking Fairfax officer as Sheriff once. It didn’t work out, and he was replaced by The People of Loudoun. That’s exactly the way it should be. I don’t care of our Sheriff is D or R, or I. What I care about is the choice of a strong Sheriff, belongs to The People, and no one else. “Civilians” already control the Sheriff’s Office.

    Mr, Reid, I respect you. You always call it like you see it. But on this issue, you are flat out wrong. It’s disappointing you’d support stealing the oversight of our day to day LE away from The People, and hand even more power to the BOS.

    I remind all, it’s only in the fairly recent past that The People have been able to elect School Board members. That’s a positive. How odd you support the regressive disenfranchisement of voters from choosing our top law enforcement officer. Law Enforcement is too important to be left to the BOS.

  • 2019-03-21 at 9:52 pm
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    It’s not handing power to the Supervisors but the County administrator who appoints the chief of police. Fairfax, Prince William, and most major counties and cities in Virginia have a civil servant who is chief of police and the sheriff handles the courts and jail. It works well there, as it does in Leesburg, which has always had an appointed police chief who reports to the town manager. The supervisors (as the town councils) control the budget, but cannot hire or fire the chief, nor be involved in cases and investigations. So, if anything, having a civil servant as police chief gives more power to the people.

  • 2019-03-22 at 11:08 am
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    Who does the county administrator work for? Fairfax, Prince William, or any other jurisdiction doesn’t have better law enforcement than Loudoun. They just have more unaccountable bureaucrats. The bottom line is Mr. Reid, you support taking the decision making process away from The People of Loudoun and creating a un-elected authority who works for another un-elected official. And that somehow “gives more power to the the people?” That sounds like a weak jedi mind trick.

    The Sheriffs Office is the ultimate civil servant, answerable only to The People, just as it was intended to be. Anything less is giving in to more unaccountable government control over our lives. Tell me Mr. Reid, should we also go backwards and appoint school boards, or can The People be trusted with that decision?

  • 2019-03-26 at 5:17 pm
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    Chris Harmison is the right person to be our next Sheriff. Decades of experience, including four years as Chief Deputy. He knows the office inside out, and is respected by the deputies and colleagues in the Office. The current Sheriff has a history of mistreating his people. Sure, the courts have found that he can fire people right and left for political reasons but that doesn’t make it right. I like what he says in this article about his campaign announcement, and plan on voting for him.

  • 2019-04-19 at 5:57 pm
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    You got my vote!! Chapman acts like a tyrant and i’m tired of him kicking around our public servants and threatening their jobs/firing them if they don’t support his politics.

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