Purcellville Claims Sovereign Immunity in Former Police Officer’s New Lawsuit

The Town of Purcellville is claiming sovereign immunity as justification for the court to throw out a lawsuit alleging the town was negligent in suspending a former police officer for nearly a year.

On Aug. 4, former police officer Kristopher Fraley filed a lawsuit against the town, three of its employees and two contractors alleging they were negligent in suspending him from duty for 10 months in 2017 and 2018, among six other allegations for which he is seeking $1 million in damages. Fraley claims the suspension caused him to suffer physically, emotionally, personally and professionally.

On October 14, the town requested the court dismiss the case with prejudice, claiming that sovereign immunity—a doctrine that provides municipalities protection against civil legal liability—protects it from Fraley’s claims. The town also claims it is immune from liability arising out of negligence or intentional torts committed by town employees in performing duties in relation to the police force.

Also included as defendants in Fraley’s lawsuit are 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 Northern Virginia Pre-Employment and Polygraph Services owner Darryl DeBow.

All five parties last month requested the court dismiss the case.

Additionally, Vanegas, McDaniel and DeBow in mid-October requested the court dismiss the case specifically because Fraley’s claims have exceeded the statute of limitations.

Vanegas, DeBow and McDaniel claim that a one-year statute of limitations exists for the allegations against them for common law conspiracy to defame Fraley, and a two-year statute of limitations exists for the allegations of common law conspiracy to commit any other tort, for intentional infliction of emotional distress, and for false imprisonment.

Vanegas also claims a two-year statute of limitations exists for the allegation against him that he negligently contracted and retained Nuckolls.

All of the allegations Fraley asserts in his lawsuit stem from events that happened in October 2017.

Fraley claims he was harmed by the actions of a few town employees and contractors in attempting to push the police chief out and secure the interim town manager’s place in town.

He asserts 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 McAlister was modernizing and professionalizing the department. Fraley alleges McAlister was met with resistance from multiple officers who “embarked upon a campaign to rid the PPD of McAlister [and] replace her with Schroeck” by circulating complaints and rumors about her.

Fraley claims 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 McAlister and hired Nuckolls to lead the “sham” investigation, which Vanegas began on Aug. 28, 2017 after placing McAlister on administrative leave.

Fraley alleges that Vanegas and Nuckolls conspired with DeBow to rig an October 2017 polygraph test to show that he was lying no matter how he answered.

He claims that when he told Nuckolls that McDaniel was circulating a rumor that McAlister was having an affair with another police officer, he was ordered to sit for that test—the falsified results of which led to his suspension and near termination. McAlister was also fired around that time.

At that point, the town learned that Nuckolls and Vanegas were involved in a romantic relationship and the investigation into McAlister became suspect.

Later investigations conducted by the law firm of Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker concluded there were serious flaws in Vanegas’ and Nuckolls’ investigation into the police chief. 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 time.

He claims to have suffered emotional and physical injuries and suffered professionally and personally, hindering his ability to obtain employment with other law enforcement agencies; causing him to suffer from high blood pressure, insomnia, nightmares, depression, suicidal ideations and alcoholism; and causing him to sometimes lash out at his children, which, Fraley asserts, threatened his marriage.

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.

He is seeking $1 million in compensatory damages for each of the seven allegations and $350,000 in punitive damages for six counts. He is demanding a jury trial.

According to an Aug. 12 town statement, the town denies Fraley’s allegations and “will vigorously defend this new lawsuit.”

Read Fraley’s full lawsuit here.

This is the second lawsuit Fraley has filed against the town. His initial lawsuit, filed in September 2019 and amended in October 2019, moved to federal court this year but was dismissed by a judge in May.

Because Fraley’s first lawsuit alleged negligence against DeBow and his polygraph company, just as his initial lawsuit did, DeBow last month argued the court should dismiss the case because Fraley is disallowed from relitigating an “identical negligence claim.”

This isn’t the only lawsuit brought against the town relating to the events of 2017.

In January, the town settled a similar lawsuit filed against the town by McAlister. The settlement amount has not been made public. A third legal dispute brought against the town by an unnamed police department employee also has been resolved. The Town Council on Feb. 11 voted to ratify those two settlement agreements.

In all, the town has spent $901,166.41 on the multiple investigations that ensued from 2017, on compensation for hired personnel, on salary expenses for employees placed on administrative leave and on compensation for an interim town manager and attorney, according to its March 2019 investigation expenditure summary.

pszabo@loudounnow.com

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