More than a year since the first arguments were filed in the latest round of former Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office Detective Mark McCaffrey’s legal battle against Sheriff Michael Chapman, a divided federal appeals bench has dismissed McCaffrey’s wrongful termination suit.
Two of three panel judges ruled that federal District Court Judge Anthony Trenga was right to dismiss McCaffrey’s $6.3 million lawsuit. One appeals judge dissented, arguing his colleagues had gone too far, expanding a sheriff’s ability to fire any deputy for political reasons.
McCaffrey has requested a re-hearing with the entire Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals bench, a request the Southern States Police Benevolent Association has filed arguments to support.
In 2017, McCaffrey sued Chapman and the county government after he was not re-sworn for supporting a different candidate in the 2015 Republican primary election for sheriff. Deputies are routinely re-sworn at the beginning of each sheriff’s term; McCaffrey was one of a handful of employees not re-sworn at the beginning of Chapman’s second term. McCaffrey alleged his right to freedom of expression had been violated, but in October, Judge Anthony Trenga dismissed the suit.
Trenga cited court precedent giving public officials broad authority to fire people in policymaking positions for political reasons, and a 1997 case in North Carolina that found deputies are in effect policymakers. McCaffrey appealed the decision that same day.
McCaffrey’s case alleges “a dynamic of intimidation generated by rudeness, lies, and insulting behavior towards his colleagues, punctuated by screaming and fits of rage, capped by campaigns of unrelenting retaliation, by any means, against the perpetrators of every perceived slight or difference of opinion.”
It also dragged in Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Plowman, who said Chapman made “untrue” statements to the court. In a sworn affidavit, Chapman asserted Plowman had said McCaffrey “might have problems getting hired by the [Leesburg Police Department] because he would have to take a polygraph examination.”
Plowman said that is untrue, writing in a court filing: “At no time did I suggest that Mr. McCaffrey might have problems getting hired because he had to take a polygraph. I would have no reason to suggest that, and would have no reason to believe that Mr. McCaffrey would have any issue with polygraphs or any results therefrom.”
During oral arguments, Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III said McCaffrey’s complaint “reads like a political soundbite.” Chapman’s attorney, Alexander Francuzenko of Cook Craig & Francuzenko PLLC in Fairfax said “to drag the elected official through the discovery process, which is a continuing political smear—which I would argue, that’s the underlying motivation in this case—is completely inappropriate, and it really has an impact on the sheriff and his ability to run this organization.”
The Southern States Police Benevolent Association filed an amicus brief supporting McCaffrey’s request for a hearing before the entire circuit bench.
“Chapman’s practices fit the mold of what often happens when a Sheriff implements a patronage scheme to attempt to extort reelection and personal graft: resulting public corruption and undermined law enforcement,” the PBA wrote. “These old-fashioned Sheriffs’ political patronage schemes still thrive and breed a broad range of corruption and catastrophe for police families.”
The PBA cited the dissenting judge’s opinion, in which Judge Robert Bruce King wrote “merely by performing ‘law enforcement activities,’ any beat cop in our bailiwick can now be fired for not having the right political association.”
Wilkinson also ruled with the majority in the 1997 case in North Carolina, Jenkins v. Medford. The defendant in that case, former Buncombe County, NC Sheriff Bobby Lee Medford, is serving a 15-year sentence for conspiracy, obstruction of justice and money laundering tied to an illegal gambling ring.
McCaffrey received glowing evaluations during his time in Loudoun, and led some of Loudoun’s most high-profile investigations, including Michelle Castillo’s murder and staged suicide by her husband Braulio M. Castillo.