The Town of Purcellville has another lawsuit on its hands—again stemming from the 2017 management scandal that resulted in unfounded misconduct allegations against the police chief and the firing of the acting town manager.
Former police officer Kristopher Fraley on Aug. 4 filed a lawsuit in Loudoun County Circuit Court alleging that town employees caused him to suffer physically, emotionally, personally and professionally during his 10-month suspension in 2017 and 2018 and were negligent in delaying his return to work. He is seeking $1 million in compensatory damages for each of the seven counts listed in the lawsuit and $350,000 in punitive damages for six counts. He is seeking a jury trial in the case.
The lawsuit also names as defendants former interim town manager Alex Vanegas, former town human resources consultant Georgia Nuckolls, former acting police chief Joe Schroeck, former police officer Clark McDaniel, and Darryl DeBow and his Northern Virginia Pre-Employment and Polygraph Services business.
The suit details events that happened three years ago when, Fraley claims, an investigation into now-discredited claims of misconduct against Police Chief Cynthia McAlister was prompted by a few disgruntled officers who didn’t like that she began to modernize and professionalize the department. Fraley alleges McAlister was met with resistance from several officers, including Schroeck and McDaniel, who “embarked upon a campaign to rid the PPD of McAlister [and] replace her with Schroeck” by circulating complaints and rumors about the chief.
Fraley asserts that Vanegas was promised to be named permanent town manager if he removed McAlister from the police department, which, Fraley claims, is why Vanegas coordinated the filing of official complaints against her and hired Nuckolls to lead the “sham” investigation, which he began Aug. 28, 2017 after placing McAlister on administrative leave.
Fraley alleges that when he informed Nuckolls that McDaniel was circulating a rumor that McAlister was having an affair with another police officer, he was ordered to sit for a polygraph test in October 2017 administered by DeBow—a test Fraley claims was rigged to show that Fraley was lying. He was ultimately suspended from duty.
Although Schroeck requested that Vanegas fire Fraley, Vanegas didn’t get the chance, because, Fraley claims, the investigation into McAlister—which ended in her temporary termination—had become suspect, as the town learned that Nuckolls and Vanegas were involved in a romantic relationship.
Eventually, after subsequent reviews by outside investigators , the law firm of Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker concluded there were serious flaws in Vanegas’ and Nuckolls’ actions and Vanegas was fired. Fraley and McAlister were both reinstated Aug. 1, 2018.
But Fraley claims town officials became aware that his suspension was unwarranted in April 2018 and that they were grossly negligent in not reinstating him at that point in time.
He claims to have suffered emotional and physical injuries and suffered professionally and personally. The lawsuit claims that Fraley’s ability to obtain employment with other law enforcement agencies has been hindered; that he suffered from high blood pressure, insomnia, nightmares, depression, suicidal ideations and alcoholism; and that he sometimes lashed out at his children, which threatened his marriage, he claims.
Fraley’s lawsuit lists seven counts against the defendants—negligent contracting and retention of Nuckolls; common law conspiracy; tortious interference with employment contract; violation of a Virginia code that makes it unlawful for a government agency to discriminate or retaliate against an employee of that agency if a complaint is made against another agency employee in good faith; intentional infliction of emotional distress; negligence; and false imprisonment.
According to an Aug. 12 town statement, the town denies Fraley’s allegations and “will vigorously defend this new lawsuit.”
This is the second lawsuit Fraley has brought against the town. He initially sued the town on Sept. 19, 2019 and, less than a month later, amended that lawsuit to include additional complaints. That lawsuit included similar allegations. In it, Fraley sought $1 million in compensatory damages in each of the suit’s 13 claims and $350,000 in punitive damages in 12 of them.
Because the lawsuit included complaints of violations of the Fourth and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, Vanegas on Dec. 31 requested to move the case from the county Circuit Court to federal court.
While United States District Court Judge Liam O’Grady on May 22 dismissed the case, Fraley filed an amended lawsuit within 30 days, which he dropped on Aug. 3, according to a town statement. He filed the new lawsuit in Loudoun’s Circuit Court the following day.
In January, the town settled a similar lawsuit filed against the town by McAlister. In that suit, the chief alleged that Vanegas, Nuckolls, the town and police officers conspired to defame her and take her job and that Vanegas ignored normal requirements for hiring contractors so he could hire his girlfriend, Nuckolls, to control the outcome of the investigation. She sought $2 million by pushing for judgement in one of eight separate claims.
On Jan. 3, Circuit Court Judge Douglas L Fleming, Jr. ordered the case be dismissed with prejudice after a settlement, following McAlister’s Dec. 23 motion for the court to do so. The settlement has not been made public.
A third legal dispute brought against the town by an unnamed police department employee also has been resolved.