Purcellville leaders faced a hefty price in the potential $9 million payout sought in a recently filed civil lawsuit by one of its police offers, but that price just went up.
Purcellville Police Cpl. Kristopher Fraley’s $9.1 million civil lawsuit filed against the town on Sept. 19 initially claimed that the town, through the actions of several employees and contractors, conspired against him when he reported alleged misconduct by his superior. Fraley asserts in the suit that by suspending him, those defendants harmed his body, emotions and reputation. But less than a month after filing, Fraley amended his complaint to include six additional allegations, which now have him seeking an extra $8.1 million in relief.
The suit details events that happened more than two years ago, when seven town police officers approached then-interim town manager Alex Vanegas with claims of misconduct against Police Chief Cynthia McAlister in August 2017. Vanegas hired human resources consultant Georgia Nuckolls to lead an investigation into the chief.
Around the same time, Fraley reported to Vanegas and Nuckolls that former Sgt. Clark McDaniel had attempted to spread a rumor that McAlister was having an extramarital affair with a town employee. According to his lawsuit, Fraley was unaware that Vanegas and Nuckolls were participants in the alleged conspiracy to unseat McAlister, along with some Town Council members and police officers.
Less than a week after Vanegas, Nuckolls and former acting police chief Joseph Schroeck opened an investigation into Fraley, Northern Virginia Pre-Employment & Polygraph Services owner and operator Daryll DeBow conducted a lie-detector test on Fraley that was rigged to ensure the results would show signs of deception, the lawsuit alleges. Fraley was subsequently suspended from duty and, when the investigation concluded, a unanimous Town Council vote of no confidence in McAlister led to her firing in November 2017.
A few weeks later, the Town Council learned that Nuckolls and Vanegas were involved in a personal relationship. The council then placed Vanegas on administrative leave as it investigated the investigation he and Nuckolls had conducted on McAlister.
Even as Nuckolls’ work on the investigation was called into question, Fraley remained on leave for nearly 10 months. He was reinstated to the force Aug. 1, 2018, the day after theWilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker LLPlaw firm concluded there were serious flaws in Vanegas’ and Nuckolls’ original investigation. McAlister was also reinstated that day.
In July, McAlister filed a $16 million civil lawsuit against the town, Vanegas, Nuckolls and six police officers. Fraley followed in September with his $9.1 million lawsuit against the town government, Vanegas, Nuckolls, Schroeck, McDaniel and DeBow and his company.
The lawsuit originally included seven complaints against the defendants—the neglectful hiring and retention of Nuckolls, against the town and Vanegas; statutory conspiracy, against all defendants; common law conspiracy, against all defendants; tortious interference with an employment contract, against all defendants except the town; a violation of a Virginia law that makes it unlawful for a government agency to discriminate or retaliate against one of its employees if they file a complaint in good faith, against the town; intentional infliction of emotional distress, against all defendants; and gross negligence, against DeBow and his polygraph company.
There are now six new complaints. Those are for false imprisonment, against all defendants; three violations of the 14th Amendment that resulted in bodily injury, harm to Fraley’s reputation and the denial of due process, against all defendants; a violation of the Fourth Amendment, or illegal search and seizure, against all defendants; and municipal/supervisory liability against Vanegas and Schroeck in relation to their responsibility for Nuckolls’, McDaniel’s and Debow’s actions, and against the town in relation to its responsibility for Vanegas’ and Schroeck’s actions.
The suit seeks $1 million in compensatory damages for each of the 13 complaints. All complaints also seek $350,000 in punitive damages, excluding the complaint involving the violation of the Virginia law regarding good faith reports.
The town has not filed responses to either lawsuit. Combined, the Town of Purcellville faces a payment of up to $33.2 million in damages.
In all, the town has spent $901,166.41 on costs associated with the multiple investigations, according to aMarch 4 expenditure summary.