Purcellville Council Ratifies 2 Settlements from Flawed Investigation

The Town of Purcellville could be just one step away from distancing itself more than ever from the nearly three-year-old botched investigation into its police chief.

The Town Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to ratify two settlement agreements of undisclosed amounts related to a $16 million lawsuit brought against the town by Police Chief Cynthia McAlister and another legal dispute brought by a separate Police Department employee. A final outstanding lawsuit against the town, brought by Police Cpl. Kristopher Fraley, seeks $17.2 million for bodily, emotional and reputational harm resulting from his nearly 10-month suspension from October 2017 toAugust2018. Once that’s settled—if it is settled before it goes to court—the town will make public the expenses it incurred to settle all three disputes, according to the motion the council voted to approve.

Councilman Joel Grewe said that while he understands the concern over the Town Council having frequently met in executive sessions to discuss those legal matters, there are “good reasons” for those closed-door meetings. He emphasized that the town can’t disclose the amount of money it has spent on legal matters “yet,” but that it would as soon as it settles the Fraley lawsuit.

“By the end of the day, this is seen because it is public money,” he said.

Mayor Kwasi Fraser echoed those comments.

“We want full transparency on this but when it comes to legal matters there is that vanity of transparency versus the prudency of transparency,” he said. “Where in that realm of prudency is it prudent enough?”

On Jan. 3, aCircuit Court judge dismissed McAlister’sJuly 22, 2019case at the request of her attorneys. The town has not revealed how much of McAlister’s sought $16 million it paid out.

The identity of the other Police Department employee who pressed the town for financial relief has also not been revealed, nor has the settlement amount.

Fraley’s lawsuit could move to federal court, seeing that Vanegas—one of the defendants—requested that move on Dec. 31 because Fraley’s lawsuit asserts violations of two amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

In August 2017, then-interim town manager Alex Vanegas initiated an investigation into now discredited allegations of misconduct against McAlister. The investigation ended in a Nov. 1, 2017 Town Councilvote of “no confidence”in the chief. Although Vanegas fired McAlister the next day, McAlisterwas reinstated Aug. 1, 2018after other investigations found that Vanegas mismanaged the original investigation and was involved in an inappropriate relationship with the human resources consultant he hired to help lead the investigation—Georgia Nuckolls. Vanegas was placed on administrative leave in November 2017 and fired less than five months later.

According to aMarch 4, 2019 expenditure summary,the town has spent $901,166.41 on costs associated with the multiple investigations, not including costs associated with the recent settlements.

pszabo@loudounnow.com

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