The Town of Purcellville and some of the people involved in the months of scandal and investigations that plagued the town hall and police department in 2017 and 2018 have been hit with yet another lawsuit, as police officer Kristopher Fraley has filed a $9.1 million civil claim.
Fraley is the second law enforcement professional to sue the town, followed by Police Chief Cynthia McAlister, who was briefly out a job after a shakeup in Town Hall and an internal investigation that has since been itself investigated. McAlister has sued for $16 million.
After longtime Purcellville Town Manager Rob Lohr announced he would resign—among arguments that the Town Council was pushing him out—the Town council appointed Alex Vanegas, then the Public Works director, to an interim post over then-Assistant Town Manager Danny Davis, in May 2017. Davis has since gone on to work as the Town of Middleburg’s town administrator.
Vanegas hired a human resources consultant, Georgia Nuckolls, to lead an investigation into McAlister, which led to a confidential report and a unanimous vote of no confidence in McAlister by the Purcellville Town Council and her firing in November 2017. Only a few weeks later, Vanegas himself was placed on administrative leave as the town investigated that investigation, finding Nuckolls “had a relationship with an employee involved with the investigation” and more than a dozen previous criminal convictions, including felony convictions, such as for credit card fraud. An external audit found serious flaws in Nuckolls’s and Vanegas’s investigation and McAlister was reinstated.
McAlister’s lawsuit includes as evidence an email from Nuckolls to Vanegas saying Vanegas was in a relationship with her, defrauded the town and hired Nuckolls because they were dating, did “inappropriate things in your office” and that she built an “iron clad” case against McAlister that Vanegas did not have before. The new lawsuit also includes an email from Nuckolls to the Town Council six days later denying a relationship between the two.
The new lawsuit tells a story of a young, low-ranking police officer caught up in a conspiracy among Vanegas, Nuckolls, Town Council members and police officers to unseat McAlister. It seeks judgment against the town government, Vanegas, Nuckolls, former acting chief Joseph Schroeck, former Purcellville police officer Clark McDaniel, and polygraph contractor Daryll DeBow.
It alleges Fraley, who supported McAlister’s reform efforts within the department, attempted to report attempts by his superior, Sgt. Clark McDaniel, to spread a rumor that McAlister was in an extramarital affair with another town employee. According to the lawsuit, Fraley, unaware that Vanegas and Nuckolls were part of the same conspiracy, arranged a meeting with them to report McDaniel’s actions. Immediately thereafter, Vanegas, Nuckolls and Acting Chief Joe Schroek opened an internal affairs investigation into Fraley. Emails from Nuckolls to Schroeck encouraged him to “pull these documents together discretely as we don’t want to raise any suspicions or peak [sic] anyone’s curiosity.”
According to the lawsuit, six days later—and two days after his grandmother died—Fraley was called into a meeting with Nuckolls and Vanegas, he thought to follow up on his report about McDaniel. Vanegas had already arranged to have surveillance footage from that meeting restricted. Meanwhile, Nuckolls hired DeBow, owner and operator of Northern Virginia Pre-Employment & Polygraph Services, with, the lawsuit alleges, the pre-determined agreement to make sure a test of Fraley would result in signs of deception. The lawsuit argues that was “in part, aquid pro quobyproduct of a sexual relationship he had with Ms. Nuckolls.”
When he came to the meeting, Fraley was informed of an internal affairs investigation against him and was subjected to a polygraph exam, suspended from duty, and relieved of his badge and gun. Surveillance video images submitted as evidence in the case appear to show Nuckolls and DeBow kissing in an elevator minutes after that meeting.
From there, cases prepared with the help of Fraley’s police work were called into question amid rumors about his honesty, often being dropped by prosecutors. Fraley found the suspension and rumors made it difficult to find police work again. Even as questions were raised publicly about Nuckolls’s investigation and as the town launched an inquiry into her work, Fraley remained on leave for months. He was reinstated Aug. 1, 2018, the day after the law firm that audited Nuckolls and Vanegas’s investigation released its final report documenting serious flaws in the town’s work.
Although not named as a defendant, Sheriff Michael Chapman is also drawn into Fraley’s lawsuit, which alleges the people conspiring to force McAlister out of her job consulted with Chapman on how to do it. An email presented as evidence and dated Sept. 22, 2017, apparently from Nuckolls to Vanegas included with the lawsuit, with the subject line “Chapman,” reads “Alex, Briefly spoke with Chapman, he’s on board with everything. When you have a min to catch-up this afternoon please call me so I can fill you in. I have a lot to cover with you.”
The lawsuit also alleges Vanegas and four unnamed members of the Town Council agreed they would ultimately hire Nuckolls as the town’s new Human Resources Manager after McAlister was gone. It also alleges violations of public procurement law to hire Nuckolls and DeBow.
The lawsuit was filed Sept. 19 in Loudoun County Circuit Court. No further action has been scheduled.