The discrimination lawsuit against the Town of Front Royal filed by former council clerk Jennifer Berry Brown will not take place next month in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia in Harrisonburg, as scheduled. Slated for May 31-June 3, the civil jury trial initially was set to begin on February 22, 2022, before being continued to May 31.
U.S. Judge Thomas T. Cullen has opted to continue the trial after both parties filed motions on March 14 that must be heard before the case proceeds. The Town filed a motion for summary judgment and Berry Brown filed a motion for partial summary judgment; the court scheduled both motions for a hearing on April 25.
Ms. Berry Brown filed a civil complaint in federal court on Jan. 4, 2021, claiming sexual harassment by former Front Royal elected officials and wrongful termination from her job as clerk of council as retaliation.
Berry Brown is being represented by Harrisonburg attorneys Timothy E. Cupp and Tim Schulte. Fairfax attorneys Heather K. Bardot and Julia B. Judkins represent the Town of Front Royal; Andrew S. Willis and John B. Mumford Sr., of Glen Allen, represent the Virginia Risk Sharing Association (VRSA), named as a second respondent to the complaint.
Berry Brown’s attorneys filed a motion on March 14 for partial summary judgment against the Town, asking the court to rule in her favor “on the issue of liability on that portion of Count II of her Complaint arising from the Town’s failure to offer her the position of Public Information Officer (“PIO”) in retaliation for her having engaged in protected activity under Title VII.” (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects against retaliation for lodging harassment claims.)
In support of the request, Berry Brown’s attorneys cite 33 evidence exhibits, including deposition testimony from town council members, former Mayor Hollis Tharpe, former councilman William Sealock, former Human Resources Director Julie Bush, and emails related to the VRSA opinion regarding Ms. Berry Brown’s harassment claim. The court has sealed some documents submitted as evidence exhibits, including email conversations amongst town officials and some depositions of potential witnesses.
Berry Brown also asks the court, should it grant the motion for partial summary judgment, that the balance of the issues in the case move to trial.
The Town of Front Royal filed a motion for summary judgment to dismiss the case against the Town of Front Royal on the grounds that “the Town lacks control over the elected officials about whom Berry complains or their decision to terminate her.”
The defense motion also states that Berry Brown’s evidence does not establish a claim of discrimination based on sex in violation of Title VII. The defense further states that the evidence does not establish claims of retaliation in violation of Title VII, retaliatory hostile work environment or a violation of the Family Medical Leave Act.
On March 28, Berry Brown filed a motion under the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure to defer ruling on the Town’s motion for summary judgment until the court resolved her motion to compel certain discovery materials.
On March 31 the presiding judge, Magistrate Judge Joel C. Hoppe, entered an order granting in part and denying in part Berry Brown’s motion to compel. Berry Brown filed the motion to compel on November 5, 2021, requesting that the court compel the Town to produce any files maintained by the outside counsel it retained during the investigation of Berry Brown’s harassment claims.
She also asked the court to compel certain deponents to “answer questions regarding the communications between them and outside counsel in connection with the investigation of Berry Brown’s complaints of harassment and retaliation; the involvement of outside counsel in the retaliatory adverse actions against Berry Brown; and the termination of her employment.”
Judge Hoppe’s Order concluded that the Town waived its attorney-client privilege regarding “the investigation of Berry Brown’s complaints of harassment, outside counsel’s conclusions from the investigation, and outside counsel’s advice about any remedial measure taken in response to the alleged harassment” and compelled the Town to produce discovery regarding the same.
However, the Order does not compel the Town to produce any discovery related to outside counsel’s advice regarding the decision to terminate Berry Brown, finding that the Town did not waive its attorney-client privilege regarding that issue.
The court on Wednesday held a status conference with both parties to determine the status of Berry Brown’s motion and how to proceed with the impending hearing on the motions for summary judgment. The Town indicated it would file objections to Judge Hoppe’s Order. Berry Brown represented that she has not yet decided whether she will file objections.
The court ordered that if the parties wanted to file objections, they must meet a 5 p.m. April 14, 2022, deadline. If the opposing party wishes to file a response, that must be done within seven days of the date objections are filed.
A date for the civil jury trial has not yet been determined, though based upon proceedings thus far, it is not likely to be resolved soon.
Town man charged with 20 felony counts of child pornography possession after lengthy investigation
Following an eight-month investigation, Front Royal Police officers have arrested a town man for possession of child pornography.
Richard E. Jones, 41, of Front Royal, was arrested on Thursday, June 30, and transported to the Rappahannock Shenandoah Warren (RSW) Regional Jail, where he was charged with 20 felony counts of Possession of Child Pornography.
A Friday media release from Police Chief Kahle Magalis states that detectives, on Oct. 12, 2021, executed a search warrant on an Accomac Drive home, where “several electronic devices were located and seized for evidentiary purposes.” The release says, “Over 400 images of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) were extracted from the seized electronics.”
Jones went before the magistrate and was ordered to be held without bond. He has an initial court date for the listed offenses on July 28, 2022, at 10:00 a.m. in Warren County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.
FRPD Detective T. A. Smith is the lead investigator in the case. Anyone with further information regarding this case is asked to contact Detective Smith at (540) 636-2208 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Front Royal Police Department is an active member of the Northern Virginia/DC Metro (NOVA/DC) Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, which is coordinated by the Virginia State Police. Anyone with information regarding the solicitation or exploitation of a minor is encouraged to contact the Front Royal Police Department.
Front Royal Police investigating an unattended death in Town
The Front Royal Police Department is investigating an unattended death after responding to a Thursday night, June 30 call around 10:30 p.m.
Upon arriving at First Bank, at 1729 North Shenandoah Avenue, officers located a deceased white male, 41, in the grassy area between First Bank and United Bank parking lots. The Front Royal man, whom the FRPD has not identified, appeared to have died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
A media release from FRPD Chief Kahle Magalis said the victim was not affiliated with the bank and is believed to have walked there from a nearby hotel. This incident is under investigation with assistance from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
The release states, “Due to the pending nature of this ongoing investigation and respect for his family, no further details can be provided at this time.”
Anyone with information regarding this case is asked to contact Detective T. A. Smith at (540) 636-2208 or by email at email@example.com.
Virginia’s annual crime analysis report now available on Virginia State Police website
Virginia’s official and only comprehensive report on local and statewide crime figures for 2021, titled Crime in Virginia, is now available online at the Virginia State Police website on the VSP CJIS Data Analysis & Reporting Team page. Crime in Virginia continues to provide precise rates and occurrences of crimes committed in towns, cities and counties across the Commonwealth. The report breaks down criminal offenses and arrests by reporting agency.
Violent crime includes the offenses of murder, forcible sex offenses (rape, sodomy and sexual assault with an object per the FBI’s updated rape definition), robbery and aggravated assault. Overall, the violent crime rate increased in 2021 to 194.4 (per 100,000 population) from 183.0 in 2020. There were 16,823 violent crime offenses reported in 2021 compared to 15,713 violent crime offenses reported in 2020, representing a 7.1% increase.
The following 2021 crime figures in Virginia are presented in the report:
- The number of reported homicides increased from 528 to 562 (6.4%). The murder/non-negligent manslaughter rate increased from 6.15 in 2020 to 6.49 in 2021 (per 100,000 population). Victims and offenders tended to be younger males; 38.6% of homicide victims were men between 18 and 34 and 55.7% of known offenders were men between 18 and 34. Nearly half (47.5%) of all homicides occurred at a residence/home.
- Motor vehicle thefts and attempted thefts increased 3.8% compared to 2020. During 2021, there were 11,638 motor vehicles reported stolen in 11,249 offenses. In 2021, 7,589 motor vehicles were recovered (vehicles may have been stolen prior to 2021). Of all motor vehicles stolen, 35.4% were taken from the residence/home. The reported value of all motor vehicles stolen was $131,738,135.
- Drug arrests decreased by nearly half (46.7%) with the largest percentage decrease in arrestees under age 25 (67.6%). The number of reports of drugs seized decreased for nearly all drug types, especially marijuana (67%), due in part to decriminalization of possessing less than 1 ounce of the drug effective July 1, 2020 and Code of Virginia §18.2-250.1 being repealed July 1, 2021.
- Burglary decreased by 8.3% between 2020 and 2021. In fact, burglaries and attempted burglaries have steadily declined over the past ten years. In 2021, there were 10,464 burglaries and attempted burglaries whereas in 2011 there were 27,872, representing a decreased burglary rate in the last decade from 344.24 to 120.89 per 100,000 population.
- Fraud offenses increased 8.4% compared to 2020. Nearly 80% of victims (79.9%) were individuals while 11.3% were businesses. Nearly a quarter (23.2%) of fraud victims were over the age 65.
- Of the known weapons reported for violent crimes, firearms were used in 82.1% of homicides and 48.6% of robberies. Firearms were used in more than one-third (38.7%) of aggravated assault cases.
- There were 123 hate crime offenses, involving 106 victims, reported in 2021. This represents a 35.3% decrease compared to 2020. Most hate crimes (69.8%) were racially or ethnically motivated. Bias toward sexual orientation and religion were next highest (19.0%, 8.7%, respectively). Of all reported bias motivated crimes, 75.6% were assault offenses (aggravated assault, simple assault) or destruction/damage/vandalism of property.
The report employs an Incident Based Reporting (IBR) method for calculating offenses, thus allowing for greater accuracy. IBR divides crimes into two categories: Group A for serious offenses including violent crimes (murder, forcible sex offenses, robbery and aggravated assault), property crimes and drug offenses, and Group B for what are considered less serious offenses such as trespassing, disorderly conduct, and liquor law violations where an arrest has occurred.
Per state mandate, the Department of Virginia State Police serves as the primary collector of crime data from participating Virginia state and local police departments and sheriff’s offices. The data are collected by the Virginia State Police Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division via a secured internet system. This information is then compiled into Crime in Virginia, an annual report for use by law enforcement, elected officials, media and the general public. These data become the official crime statistics for the Commonwealth and are sent to the FBI for incorporation into their annual report, Crime in the United States.
Trio of Front Royal women plead guilty to oxycodone distribution ring
A Front Royal woman pleaded guilty Monday to being the “ringleader” of a decade-long oxycodone distribution network, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.
Candie Marie Calix, 40, worked as an office manager for an unnamed Arlington, VA doctor, according to court records that identify the doctor as “Doctor-1.”
Kendall Sovereign, 56, and Jessica Talbott, 35, both of Front Royal, also pleaded guilty to being co-conspirators in the drug ring.
Between 2012 and 2022, court records state that the doctor prescribed Calix nearly 40,000 oxycodone 30-mg pills and over 9,000 oxycodone 15-mg pills. The doctor also prescribed similar quantities of oxycodone 30-mg and 15-mg pills to Calix’s relatives, including her mother, grandparents, great-grandmother, husband, and brother.
Court records indicate that Calix distributed or directed others to distribute most of the pills prescribed to Calix and her family members by “Doctor-1.”
The U.S. attorney’s office said that Calix “functioned as the gatekeeper” to the doctor and recruited people she knew from the Front Royal area to be “patients” of the doctor and obtain large quantities of oxycodone.
These “patients,” officials say, “typically kicked back the oxycodone 30-mg pills they were prescribed to Calix to redistribute and kept the oxycodone 15-mg pills for their own use.”
“Calix and her co-conspirators used coded language to refer to the pills they distributed, for example, referring to oxycodone 30-mg pills as ‘tickets,’ ‘blueberries,’ or ‘muffins,’” the U.S. attorney’s office said in a media release.
Court documents show that co-conspirators “typically sold oxycodone 30-mg pills at a cost of $25 per pill, and over the course of the conspiracy, generated at least $5,000 per month in profits.”
Calix is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 28 and faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, though actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties, the release states. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Sovereign and Talbott are scheduled to be sentenced on Sept 21.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Katherine E. Rumbaugh.
New information revealed during presentation of plea agreement in William Luckey sexual solicitation of a minor case
Citing the agreement of the family of the minor victim, early Friday afternoon, June 24, in Warren County Circuit Court the prosecution and defense submitted a plea agreement with amended charges in the sexual solicitation and indecent liberties against a minor case against former Christendom College professor William Raymond Luckey. After hearing information from both sides in support of the amended complaint and plea agreement, including responses by the 73-year-old defendant to a series of questions from the bench, Judge William Sharp accepted the agreement as presented.
As a result, Luckey plead guilty to reduced misdemeanor charges of sexual battery of a minor and attempted sexual battery of a minor. Judge Sharpe then sentenced Luckey to a total of 24 months in jail, 12 months on each count, with all that time suspended minus the 18 days he spent in RSW Regional Jail in the wake of his June 25, 2021 arrest, three days after the incident occurred. He was released on a $50,000 bond after a second bond hearing at the Circuit Court level on July 12, 2021. He was initially denied bond following a hearing in Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.
Luckey was initially charged at the felony level with Solicitation of Prostitution from a minor less than age 16” and two charges of “Indecent liberties … of a child less than 15”.
Luckey was apologetic for the incident, telling the court, “I am absolutely sorry for what happened,” adding specific apologies to the victim and family and to his wife, the latter of whom he observed had been “put through hell” as a consequence of the incident. “I don’t know what got into me,” Luckey added of the offer of $10 to the under 15 years of age victim to “see” and “pat their hiney” as described in the arrest warrant.
A hint of “what got into” the defendant on June 22, 2021, was offered by defense counsel Thaddeus Furlong during his comments in support of the plea agreement. Furlong told the court that among the myriad health problems that his client battles cited during previous hearings, including consequences of past back and brain injuries, cardiac problems, and high blood pressure, Luckey was battling early signs of dementia at the time of the incident. He added that Luckey had undergone brain surgery in the intervening year since the incident occurred.
As he has at previous hearings in recent months, Luckey appeared frail, utilizing a walker to move cautiously about. However, his answers to the court’s questions were concise and responsive.
Outside the courthouse following resolution of the case, Furlong told Royal Examiner, “We are glad it’s over. Mr. Luckey suffers from progressive dementia – he doesn’t remember what happened or why. He is very, very sorry.”
In addition to the two years of suspended time, Luckey will be required to register with the Virginia Sex Offender Registry and serve 24 months probation.
In prefacing his acceptance of the plea agreement, Judge Sharp noted that Luckey had been facing “very serious felony charges” originally with “evidence in support” of conviction. However, he noted that an out-of-court resolution in such cases was often preferred by both sides to avoid the necessity of a minor child having to testify, with the potentially damaging effects rippling through the victim into their family.
Citing the support of the victim’s family for the plea agreement, Judge Sharp said, “I find this a reasonable and proper disposition of the case,” in accepting Luckey’s two guilty pleas to the amended, lesser charges.
That a plea agreement was in the offing had been hinted at when both a May 16 hearing at which a trial date was expected to be set was continued, and that hearing was again continued on June 3.
“I think we are making progress toward resolving this case,” the Stafford-based Furlong commented on May 16, adding on June 3, “We’re very close.”
And now as of June 24, all involved can move on with the rest of their lives.