Purcellville, McAlister Settle Lawsuit; Vanegas Requests Move to Federal Court

The Town of Purcellville and Police Chief Cynthia McAlister have settled the $16 million lawsuit she filed against the town claiming that its employees conspired to defame and remove her during a misconduct investigation that was later discredited.

On Jan. 3, Circuit Court Judge Douglas L Fleming, Jr., at the request of McAlister’s attorneys, dismissed the case with prejudice. According to that motion, “the parties have reached an amicable resolution of all claims.”

While Town Manager David Mekarski would not say how much the two parties settled for, he said the settlement closes the book on a controversy that has stirred in town for more than a year.

“I think it moves us ahead toward a good year,” he said following a meeting with McAlister on Tuesday. “I was confident from day one that this was going to be solved equitably. … We’re stronger than ever.”

McAlister could not be reached for this story, but Mekarski said McAlister re-iterated the same sentiment—that the lawsuit was satisfactorily resolved for her and the town. Mekarski noted that he’s confident the town will work out the remaining issues related to the controversial incidents of 2017.

On July 22, 2019, McAlister filed the $16 million lawsuit against nine parties—the town; former interim town manager Alex Vanegas; Georgia Nuckolls, the human resources consultant Vanegas hired to help lead an August 2017 investigation into now-discredited claims of misconduct against McAlister; and six police officers.Her lawsuit alleged that Vanegas, Nuckolls, the town and the police officers conspired to defame her and take her job andthat Vanegas ignored normal requirements for hiring contractors so he could hire his girlfriend, Nuckolls, to control the outcome of the investigation.

In August 2017, Vanegas initiated an investigation into allegations of misconduct against McAlister, after being confronted by seven town police officers. That investigation ended in a Nov. 1, 2017, Town Council vote of “no confidence” in McAlister. Vanegas fired McAlister the next day, but she was reinstated Aug. 1, 2018 after other investigations found that Vanegas mismanaged the investigation and was involved in an inappropriate relationship with Nuckolls. Vanegas was placed on administrative leave Nov. 21, 2017 and fired April 10, 2018.

Just prior to the settlement, McAlister requested that Cpl. Paul Kakol and Sgt. Robert Wagner—the only two town police officers named in the suit still employed by the town—be removed as defendants in the case.

Another lawsuit against the town is still pending.

On Sept. 19, 2019, Cpl. Kristopher Fraley filed a $9.1 million lawsuit against the town, claiming that it,through the actions of several employees and contractors, conspired against him when he reported alleged misconduct by his superior. His lawsuit also lists Vanegas, Nuckolls, former Sgt. Joe Schroeck, former Sgt. Clark McDaniel and Northern Virginia Pre-Employment & Polygraph Services owner and operator Daryll DeBow and his company as defendants.Less than a month later, Fraley amended his complaint to include six additional allegations and an extra $8.1 million in damages.

Fraley asserts in the suit that all defendants violated his Fourth and 14th Amendment rights, whichprotect citizens from unlawful searches and seizures and provide citizens equal protection of the laws, respectively.

On Dec. 31, Vanegas requested the court move Fraley’s case from the Loudoun County Circuit Court to the United States District Court. According to Vanegas’ request, he wants the case moved to federal court because Fraley’s amended lawsuit asserts violations of two amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Vanegas’ request establishes that Nuckolls, McDaniel and DeBow all consent to the request to move the case to federal court.

Fraley’s lawsuit asserts that Nuckolls hired DeBow toconduct a lie-detector test on Fraley that was rigged to ensure the results would show signs of deception—results that got Fraley suspended from duty. The suit also includes surveillance video images showing Nuckolls and DeBow kissing in a Town Hallelevator.

In a Dec. 20 motion to dismiss the case, Nuckolls claimed that she and DeBow were strictly friends, writing that the interaction involved an “innocent and quick” hug and a “very innocent kiss on the cheek.”

She also wrote that Fraley “spoofed” many of the inappropriate emails included within the documents of his lawsuit.

In an Oct. 15, 2017, email to Vanegas, Nuckolls wrote, “You were in a personal relationship with me starting in JULY!! You defrauded the TOWN and awarded the HR Contract to me because you were DATING ME. Regardless of my skills- you wanted me close. And you used our relationship to gain this sick power/control over me.”

In the email, Nuckolls stated she built an “iron clad” case against McAlister “that you NEVER had to begin with.”

In her motion to dismiss, Nuckolls calls Fraley’s character into question.

“Officer Kristopher Fraley unfortunately has a disturbing reputation for behaving in an unethical, unprofessional and dishonest manner,” she wrote, adding that, according to her, multiple complaints have been filed by residents and other police officers against Fraley claiming sexual harassment, intimidation, false complaints and theft. “Fraley is attempting to get revenge on the individuals who participated in his disciplinary action and secure a quick and undeserved ‘pay day.’”

McAlister’s settlement marks the second time the town has settled with an employee affected by the 2017 investigation. According to sources within the town, another town employee recently settled out of court before a formal lawsuit was filed.

pszabo@loudounnow.com

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