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Roles of McDonald, EDA Board & Goodlatte described at EDA hearing

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The EDA board and staff, seated in foreground, meet with Town and County officials, background, at Villa Ave. Community Center, circa late 2016 – Royal Examiner File Photos/Roger Bianchini

The level of authority given former Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Executive Director Jennifer McDonald to pursue client contact leads and a consequent lack of oversight from her board of directors was a primary issue in testimony and closing arguments on Friday, May 31.

In fact, some professional tension was palpable between McDonald defense counsel Jay McDannell and lead EDA attorney Cullen Seltzer as they summarized the cases they had presented over 2-1/2 days leading to closing arguments beginning at 12:45 p.m., Friday afternoon. The result of that third and final day of the EDA civil suit motions hearing was previously reported in Royal Examiner, below:

Some McDonald assets frozen, jointly-owned exempted in EDA civil case

In beginning his rebuttal to the plaintiff attorney’s closing statement McDannell referenced what he termed “vitriolic attacks on my client”. They were attacks he said he had tried not to respond in kind to – “That ends today” he told the court.


And he wasn’t kidding – McDonald’s attorney called the plaintiff case “craven and stupid” adding, “They put the cart before the horse” in an attempt to cover what he called “a failed filing” of the EDA $17.6 million civil action against nine defendants alleged to have engaged with McDonald in a wide, if compartmentalized conspiracy to embezzle or misdirect millions of dollars in EDA assets.

“The largest claim is a breach of contract claim for a contract that has never been breached – and it is against someone else,” McDannell noted of the $10 million loan the EDA secured from United Bank for ITFederal LLC and its CEO Truc “Curt” Tran.

Truc ‘Curt’ Tran on EDA-Royal Phoenix site on Dec. 20, 2018, the day Jennifer McDonald resigned as EDA executive director. Tran was checking progress on his one-story, 10,000 s.f. construction project.

In fact, a significant portion of former EDA board member Ron Llewellyn’s testimony, which was by far the lengthiest of four current or former board members called to testify Friday, addressed the process and rationale in acquiring that loan.

A nine-year board member prior to his resignation effective March 23, Llewellyn told the court that the ITFederal project “was considerably different than any other project we ever worked on … We were all excited about the first Brownfield site project,” Llewellyn noted of the first commercial client drawn to a planned 147-acre business park on the former 467-acre Avtex federal Superfund site in the Town of Front Royal.

Llewellyn testified he had concerns about the project early on due to an inability to find any substantive information about the company and its alleged $140-million or so in annual federal government contracts online. However, he noted that the EDA’s executive director always assured him she had verified the validity of the information about ITFederal and its government contracts.

“Did you ask how she verified it?” McDannell pressed Llewellyn on cross examination.

“No, not precisely,” Llewellyn admitted.

“Maybe because it was brought to us by the congressman due diligence wasn’t done. I couldn’t find anything online but Jennifer always had an explanation, I thought was through the congressman,” Llewellyn said.

“So it got credibility from Congressman Goodlatte – what would you say the impact of that was?” McDonald’s attorney asked.

“More than it should have,” Llewellyn testified about three-and-a-half to four years down the road from then U.S. Congressman Robert Goodlatte’s championing of ITFederal in 2014-2015 as a $40-million investor who would bring 600-plus high-paying tech jobs to this community.

Former Sixth District U.S. Congressman Robert Goodlatte promised ‘prosperity coming your way’ when he introduced ITFederal and its CEO to the EDA as a major Avtex site commercial redevelopment opportunity in 2015.

In fact, Llewellyn recalled a conversation with Goodlatte at the October 2015 ITFederal ribbon-cutting here launching the idea of a $10 million loan to Tran’s company. Llewellyn said he, McDonald, then-EDA Board members Patty Wines, who was board chair, and Jim Eastham who was in banking professionally, were in the group with whom Goodlatte first broached the ITFederal loan idea.

Llewellyn testified that McDonald reported back that when first offered the loan, Tran had balked. However, the EDA decided to continue pursuing the loan after Goodlatte explained he wanted to be able to promote the Avtex Brownfield site “to other prospects by saying, ‘We not only got you this nice piece of land but financing for your project too’.

“So Jennifer went back to Tran and explained that Goodlatte said it needed to be done anyway (whether he needed it or not), and he says, ‘Okay’,” Llewellyn said of the process he recalled achieving the ITFederal bank loan.

What Llewellyn didn’t explain, and wasn’t really asked to at this hearing level, was why the EDA board would agree to extend a 30-year payback on a $10-million loan to Tran that the EDA has a 7-year balloon payment due to First Bank & Trust of Abington on. For you non-bankers out there, on the surface, those conflicting schedules mean the EDA must pay the loan back to the bank in full after seven years, while Tran has another 23 years to pay the balance on the $10 million back to the EDA. Talk about economic development working for YOU!

However, EDA Attorney Dan Whitten explained to Royal Examiner that the EDA has the option of renegotiating the monthly amount of Tran’s payback; and will likely attempt to refinance its loan payment to First Bank & Trust after those seven years. So if things go well the EDA may be able to continue to have Tran’s payments cover the cost of a refinanced bank loan. Whitten said the discrepancy likely occurred because the EDA-Tran terms were signed in September 2015 when the Town bridge loan was made to the EDA, and the EDA-First Bank & Trust terms were signed three months later when the bank loan was realized in December 2015.

Maybe it’s not as bad as it seems – see above attorney’s explanation. So best case the bank agrees to stretch its payback term to match Tran’s and the EDA can continue to have the ITFed payments cover its loan costs. Worst case, the EDA defaults on the loan and the bank owns the Royal Phoenix Brownfield property put up as collateral – or is that a BEST case scenario? Hey, maybe these guys are smarter than they look …

And on the bright side, as Town Councilman Eugene Tewalt likes local media to stress, the Town of Front Royal DID get its twice-extended to three-months $10-million “bridge loan” to the EDA and Tran back in full when the loan through First Bank & Trust of Abingdon was accomplished. However as we also recall, the Town did lose out on two months of interest totaling around $8,000 because the term of the “bridge loan” was supposed to be a month and the bridge loan arrangement only included one month’s payment equal to what the Town had been collecting in monthly interest on those $10-million dollars in an investment account.

But back to the civil litigation hearing’s closing arguments of May 31, 2019: citing EDA “board failings of oversight” McDannell told the court of his clients’ culpability, “Her actions are attributable to them – not that she did everything right, but did she misunderstand the authority her board had given her?” McDannell asked rhetorically with a clear indication of his thoughts on an answer.

Testimony indicated there were minimal conditions imposed on how Tran spends that $10-million loan from the EDA. It appears he may spend about $2 million or so here if the ITFederal aspect of his project falls through, as it now seems it will. The EDA lawsuit is seeking recovery of the ITFederal loan.

However in the plaintiff’s closing statement delivered first, Seltzer pointed to the testimony of the four former and current EDA board members heard that day. They were asked in to testify about Defense Exhibit 8 offered the previous day to illustrate board approval of a McDonald purchase of up to $2.5 million for potential use as an industrial cattle farm operation by a Tran company, Front Royal Farms LLC. Testimony indicated the planned Tran operation would produce beef to be sold in the Far East, particularly to Vietnam, Tran’s native country.

Former EDA Treasurer William Biggs, current Vice-Chairman Bruce Drummond, current Front Royal Vice-Mayor William Sealock, and Llewellyn all testified that they had not previously seen the Closed Session, Confidential Resolution authorizing McDonald to spend up to $2.5 million on a property for the cattle ranch land purchase on Trans’ behalf. That was the defense exhibit EDA Attorney Dan Whitten described during his Thursday testimony as a “fabricated document” produced by McDonald.

All four past and present EDA board members said Friday that while it appeared their signatures were on the document, they had not previously seen that particular resolution. They also verified Whitten’s testimony of the previous day that such a resolution would not be signed in closed session or likely be marked “Confidential” as it was.

The quartet of EDA board members also expressed varying degrees of knowledge or a lack thereof about EDA board discussion of Tran’s prospective Front Royal Farms operation. However, all agreed whatever discussion had occurred was far from the authorization of millions of EDA dollars to be committed to the purchase of land for such an endeavor.

Previous hearing testimony indicated that those parcels referred to as “the Buck Mountain properties” were sold back to the original owner William Vaught Jr. a month or so after purchased by McDonald real estate company DaBoyz LLC at a $600,000 loss.

“Even after she left (the EDA) she continued to conceal against those board members we heard from today. She betrayed that trust in the most pernicious ways,” Seltzer told the court in summarizing his case for attachment of $3.17 million of McDonald or her real estate companies’ assets.

Of Defense Exhibit 8, the EDA attorney called it “unbelievable, bare-faced contempt”, not only of her former board members but of the court in its attempt to render a judgment on the freezing or releasing of McDonald assets related to the civil litigation.

“She has attempted to deceive the court – I’ve never seen anything like that in a courtroom,” Seltzer said of the introduction of an apparently fraudulent document in support of a defense motion not to enjoin defendant assets.

The Sands-Anderson attorney made it clear he was not implicating his legal adversary in that deception – “He has been used by his client to perpetuate shocking deceit,” Seltzer told the court.

However, McDannell disputed that assessment, noting his client’s agreement to withdraw the document and her voluntary assertion that two properties under her control were being held in a “constructive trust” for the EDA.

He also pointed out to the court that his client had not tried to convert her real estate assets into cash and flee prior to facing the civil and criminal charges now hanging over her head, those latter charges leaving her incarcerated as a flight risk.

As reported in our above-linked initial story of the court ruling, Judge Athey took a middle ground in attaching some McDonald cash and real estate assets and not others, on the latter front leaving those co-owned with other family members alone, and on the former leaving her funds to pay for her defense against the felony criminal charges she faces.

Judge Clifford Athey Jr. allowed McDonald access to some personal financial assets in order to be able to pay for her defense against criminal charges that now have her incarcerated without bond as a flight risk.

See Related Story:

EDA Attorney accuses former executive director of forging document

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Joint motion to continue Luckey hearing toward what – trial date or plea agreement? RSW fatal overdose hearings also continued

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A trio of high-profile criminal cases set for hearings and at least one possible setting of a trial date were continued in Warren County Circuit Court on Monday morning, May 16. Those cases, in the order they were called on the May Grand Jury Term Day docket, were Daniel Edward Shifflett, Brian Thomas Martin, and William Raymond Luckey. Shifflett and Martin’s hearing were continued to July 11, at 9 a.m. Luckey’s hearing was continued to June 3, also on the morning docket.

Based on evidence indicating the in-facility sale and provision of a fatal opioid dose, Shifflett and Martin have been charged with Second-Degree Murder in the RSW Regional Jail inmate overdose death of Jonte Smith last December 12. Luckey, a former Christendom College professor and professor emeritus for 30-plus years, was arrested June 25 of last year on charges of “Indecent Liberties” and “Solicitation” of a minor child under the age of 16.

A hint that negotiations toward a possible plea deal in the 73-year-old Luckey’s case were being pursued was offered by Stafford, Virginia-based defense counsel Thaddeus Furlong in forwarding a joint motion with the Commonwealth for continuing the hearing at which a trial date was expected to be set. “I think we are making progress toward resolving this case,” Furlong told the court in seeking the continuance of the hearing.

Judge William W. Sharp granted the continuance to June 3rd on the 9 a.m. docket. The judge also extended Luckey’s $50,000 bond granted conditionally at the Circuit Court level on July 12, 2021. Luckey had initially been denied bond in a June 30 Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court hearing in front of Judge Nancy Reed. Conditions of Luckey’s bond imposed by Judge Sharp include that he has “no contact with minors without another adult within sight and sound of them” and “No contact directly or indirectly with the victim or the victim’s parents”. Luckey was further ordered “Not to counsel or direct or encourage any effort by anyone else to discourage victim, victim’s parents, or other witnesses from cooperating with the prosecution”.


William R. Luckey at the time of his June 25, 2021, booking at RSW Jail on indecent liberties charges against a minor alleged to have occurred three days earlier. Courtesy Photos RSW Jail website

The order forbidding attempts to influence a dropping of the charges addressed Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Samantha Meadows’ concern about the content of recorded phone calls between Luckey at RSW Jail after his arrest and his wife Julie, indicating a possible effort to influence the victim’s parents into dropping the charges, which Meadows noted during that earlier bond hearing would be witness tampering, a crime in its own right.

A pandemic-masked and frail-looking Luckey made his way into the courtroom shakily late Monday morning, with the aid of a walker. Defense council Furlong told the court his client suffered the consequences of an earlier brain injury. In arguing for bond in the lower court, Furlong’s co-counsel Shannon Johnson cited myriad health issues Luckey suffered from that would be exacerbated by continued incarceration. Those included cardiac problems, high blood pressure, and consequences of a past back injury. Defense counsel Johnson also contended that specifics in the Commonwealth’s case against Luckey indicate a comparatively mild incident compared to some of the verbiage included in the “Solicitation” warrant reflecting the harsher side of sex abuse against minors statutes.

As reported in Royal Examiner’s coverage of the June 30 J&D Court bond hearing, responding to his wife’s taped phone conversation comment, “This isn’t what happened” of specific oral or penetrative sexual acts listed in a general “Solicitation” warrant, Luckey replied, “No, it doesn’t say ‘Show me your hiney’.” At the initial bond hearing the prosecution first presented evidence indicating Luckey had offered the child ten dollars to see their posterior, which was declined. However, the prosecution noted that the ten dollars had been left by Luckey, perhaps indicating additional efforts by the defendant that achieved that initial request.

RSW overdose charges

As to the two scheduled preliminary hearings for Shifflett and Martin, the former who also overdosed the day of the Jonte Smith’s overdose death, both were continued to July 11, on the 9 a.m. docket. Shifflett was represented in the courtroom by defense counsel Lou Nagy. Shifflett, like Martin who was represented by Greg Bowman, appeared by video from RSW Regional Jail where they both were incarcerated at the time of the overdose drug incidents of last December 11-12.

Daniel Shifflett, 32, and Brian Martin, below 34, are both facing 2nd Degree Murder charges in what is believed to be an unintentional opioid overdose death of fellow inmate Jonte Smith, 21, on Dec. 12, 2021, at RSW Regional Jail.

As previously reported by Royal Examiner regarding the “Death in Custody Briefing” of RSW Regional Jail Superintendent Russ Gilkison on March 24, the meeting minutes state: “Mr. Gilkison explained that the event took place on the night of December 11 and into the morning of December 12; inmate Daniel Shifflett and inmate Jonte Smith who were both incarcerated; had a medical emergency that was discovered after the fact that it was an overdose. The inmates obtained the heroin (corrected spelling) that inmate Shifflett stated that they were taking; from another inmate inside of the housing unit.”

Brian Martin is believed to be that inmate.

RSW Regional Jail Authority will go into a second closed session on personnel issues related to inmate overdose death

“Staff responded to the medical emergency; performed First-Aid, CPR to include AED, administered Narcan, and EMS was called. Mr. Shifflett was revived about the time EMS arrived on the scene, unfortunately, Mr. Smith was not revived by our staff or EMS and was taken via local transport to the hospital where he was pronounced dead on December 12, at 0120 hours (1:20 a.m.).”

Jonte Smith was incarcerated on Sch. I and II drug possession and a firearms charge at the time of his death.

Also as previously reported: “Inmate overdose survivor Daniel Shifflett, 32, and a second inmate, Brian Martin, 34, were indicted by a Warren County Grand Jury on April 11 for Second-Degree Murder in what is believed to have been the 21-year-old Smith’s accidental death from an opioid drug overdose. Other pending charges against Shifflett, who was incarcerated on a Probation Violation charge related to earlier drug offenses when he overdosed inside the jail, include 10 counts of distribution of a Schedule I or II substance for at least a third offense. Martin is charged with eight counts of distribution of a Schedule I or II substance for at least a third offense. At the time of his death Smith was incarcerated on possession of Schedule I, II drugs and a firearms charge.

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POSF Inc. ruled subject to FOIA law in Chappell-White civil suit – ‘However’ evidence lacking for finding of violations

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After over two hours of testimony, defense objections to much of that plaintiff testimony as hearsay or irrelevant, and arguments on the legal status of the Property Owners of Shenandoah Farms Inc. (POSF) regarding its necessity to comply with the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) law regarding its role in management or potential management of Farms Sanitary District projects, Warren County General District Judge Michael Helm offered a two-phased decision. First, he ruled that the POSF was functioning as a public entity subject to FOIA law related to its expenditure of Sanitary District fees collected by Warren County as tax revenue.

“Point” to plaintiff and Farms resident Melissa Chappell-White, who brought the civil complaint seeking an injunction against the POSF acting in any business management function in the Sanitary District. Her civil court filing also sought significant financial penalties against POSF board members, ranging from $500 to $2,000 per alleged FOIA violation.

“However,” the judge continued in ruling that the plaintiff had produced no substantial evidence in support of her alleged FOIA violations, including POSF “secret meetings” and non-FOIA compliant motions into closed sessions. Judge Helm elaborated that the plaintiff had submitted no evidence that she, or anyone, had submitted a FOIA request to the POSF that had not been responded to by FOIA law or that evidence of such requests was absent from her filing.

“Game, set, match” to the Property Owners of Shenandoah Farms Inc. and its board, represented in court Wednesday, May 11, by current Chairman Ralph Rinaldi, Treasurer Bruce Boyd, and Office Manager Lisa Blansett. However, only Rinaldi was called to testify for the defense by POSF defense attorney Kayla Humenick.


Melissa Chappell-White and Ralph Rinaldi presented varying viewpoints on the past and future of Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District management at the March 29th meeting of the Warren County Board of Supervisors, as they did again in the WC Courthouse on May 11. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini.

Chappell-White, a retired attorney, represented herself and was the only witness called for the plaintiff. That call led to Chappell-White’s detailed review of paperwork she submitted with her civil complaint. Some of that paperwork upon which her case was built were meeting minutes, including both POSF and County Board of Supervisors meetings related to a recent initiative by the POSF to terminate a 2011 Sanitary District Management Agreement in which direct management of maintenance projects by the POSF was handed over to the County just over a decade ago, with a right of termination by either side with 90-days notice.

As to her allegations of illegally convened POSF meetings without proper notice, Judge Helm pointed to the only evidence the plaintiff provided. That evidence was a lack of knowledge of the POSF meeting schedule by the plaintiff and what she cited as 7 or 8 Farms’ resident allies who attended a March 29 County Supervisors meeting at which the POSF management agreement termination initiative was publicly presented by Rinaldi. The only way she and several other Farms citizens knew about the presentation was a call from one of the supervisors alerting her to it the day prior, Chappell-White testified.

However, Rinaldi testified that the POSF’s regular meeting schedule for the year was published a month or two prior to the start of that coming year. He also told the court that notice of special meetings were posted on the window of the POSF headquarters a number of days prior, as he understood was legally required. The judge ruled it appeared the POSF was FOIA compliant with meeting notices, based on Rinaldi’s testimony and a lack of contradictory evidence from the plaintiff.

Asked on direct examination if the POSF Board had “ever held a secret meeting,” Rinaldi replied, “That has never happened since I’ve been on that board.” Rinaldi has been on the board for over a decade.

Of plaintiff references to too-vague motions into closed sessions at POSF meetings, the court again cited a lack of verifiable evidence. After noting a shift in the burden of proof in the context of civil litigation in prefacing his decision, Judge Helm observed, “I don’t have evidence to show a willful act to hide their agenda – a lot of speculation is all I have.” Consequently, without more substantial evidence, the court ruled for the defense in dismissing the plaintiff’s requested injunction to prohibit POSF from “Conducting any business involving the Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District” based on a history of FOIA violations. And with no FOIA violations haven been proven, the plaintiff’s seeking of relief in the way of financial penalties being imposed on POSF board members was dismissed as well.

With a right to appeal the decision having been noted by the judge outside the courtroom, Royal Examiner asked Chappell-White for a reaction to the court’s decision.

“I think the court had reasons for what it did – it’s not worth appealing. I accept the court decision,” she replied. She added that she believed a positive function from her civil filing had been achieved. “I think many lessons have been learned,” she said of a raised awareness by the POSF Board of Directors as to the heightened necessity of FOIA compliance and record-keeping of that compliance regarding Sanitary District business and the use of Sanitary District fees for road, facilities, and other maintenance projects.

But as to the future of Sanitary District project management, as previously reported by Royal Examiner, the county’s elected board has instructed the county administrator to advertise for citizen applicants to a Shenandoah Farms Management Advisory Board. So, it may be that while Chappell-White’s hope of halting the POSF retaking of Sanitary District project management authority wasn’t achieved in the Warren County Courthouse this week, it may be getting more traction within the halls of the Warren County Government Center.

Chappell-White may be getting more traction for her perspective on a desired future of Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District management at the WCGC, below, than she did this week at the county courthouse.

Other than expressing some relief, Rinaldi initially declined comment on the civil court rulings pending further discussion with the POSF’s legal counsel.

 

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Florida man arrested in possible Front Royal human trafficking case involving minor

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A Florida man is being held without bond in the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren (RSW) Regional Jail after being arrested Thursday, May 12, by Front Royal Police officers for allegedly having sex with a juvenile under the age of 15.

FRPD Chief Kahle Magalis said patrol officers were alerted to a possible human trafficking situation regarding an adult who was suspected of having sexual relations with a juvenile.

Upon further investigation, it was discovered that William Chase Mathews, 23, was providing housing for the juvenile and acting as her caretaker. The Florida resident reportedly came to the area recently to provide for the juvenile, whom he had recently met online.

William Chase Mathews


Mathews appeared before a magistrate and was denied bond; he will have a court appearance on June 9, 2022, at 10:00 a.m. in Warren County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.

Magalis stated in the release that detectives are seeking any information regarding this case or any other situations in which a minor may have been solicited or exploited. Chief Magalis said in the release that parents should be aware of the social media platforms their children use online and report any suspicious activities to local law enforcement.

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.

Out of all states and U.S. territories, Virginia ranks 6th for the most human trafficking cases on federal court dockets, according to Kyleigh Feehs, Associate Legal Counsel for the Human
Trafficking Institute, which began compiling statistics on cases in 2017.

That year, there were 783 active criminal and civil human trafficking cases involving 1,930 defendants in the federal court system in the United States. In Virginia, 33 active human trafficking cases in 2017 generated 401 federal charges involving 74 defendants.

Human Trafficking Institute data released in late 2021 shows that two new human trafficking cases were brought to federal court in Virginia, resulting in six people being convicted. The Institute said then that the data release did not consider state cases nor the fact that some courts were shuttered during the Covid pandemic.

Anyone with further information regarding the Front Royal case is encouraged to contact Detective M.R. Ramey at (540) 636-2208 or by email at mramey@frontroyalva.com.

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Winchester man arrested for Second Degree Murder following early morning shooting

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A Winchester man was arrested following the investigation into a homicide that occurred on May 6, 2022. At approximately 1:32 a.m. Winchester Police Department (WPD) officers responded to the 1800 block of Henry Avenue for a fight. As officers were approaching the scene, 911 calls were received advising a male had been shot. The male, identified as Nathaniel Jones, 37, of Winchester, was pronounced deceased at the scene.

Jessie Nathaniel Simms, 32, of Winchester

An investigation immediately originated by WPD Criminal Investigations Division, with the assistance of the Medical Examiner’s Office. WPD Criminal Investigations obtained a search warrant for the suspect’s residence in the 1800 block of Henry Avenue and seized a handgun.

The victim and suspect were acquaintances, and this was an isolated incident between those individuals. As a result, Jessie Nathaniel Simms, 32, of Winchester, was charged with Second Degree Murder and transported to the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center, where he was held without bond.


Anyone with information on this investigation is asked to contact Detective Bansal with the Criminal Investigations Division at 540-545-4704 or anonymously use the P3 tip app or by calling 540-665-TIPS.

(Press release Winchester Police Department)

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Citizen FOIA timeframe exemption claim against POSF denied, hearing continued to May 11 on allegation of FOIA violations

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Long-time Property Owners of Shenandoah Farms (POSF) Board critic Melissa Chappell-White has added a FOIA violations complaint to her list of alleged failures of the organization. In fact, during a hearing on her complaint in Warren County General District Court on Wednesday, May 4, Chappell-White alleged to substitute Judge Ian Williams that the POSF had failed to comply with what she interpreted as a FOIA timeframe requirement for a response to her filing.

Current POSF Board Chairman Ralph Rinaldi told the court his wife has signed for receipt of the paperwork the morning of the previous day, Tuesday, May 3rd, and he had first seen it later that afternoon. Judge Williams noted that normal FOIA response requirements alluded to 7 days for a provision of requested materials with an “at least 3-day” variable on what appeared to be referenced as notice of receipt of the FOIA filing.

Chappell-White told the court she didn’t believe the referenced timeframe applied in her filing. Asked why by the court, Chappell-White could provide no statutory support for her contended exception. Citing potential “extensive penalties” related to her complaint, Judge Williams noted that the defendant was “entitled to something” in the way of a timeframe to reply to the allegations and prepare a legal defense to the assertion of non-compliance she appeared to be making, adding, “I want to give it to them.”

In an attachment to her petition in addition to asking for payment of her costs, Chappell-White asks for civil penalties of $1,000 for each of what she alleges were “improperly closed meetings” and civil penalties of $500 to $2,000 against “each officer, employee and member (of the POSF) for each and every willful violation” of FOIA law.


With these legal variables facing the POSF and its chairman present representing his board less than 24 hours after having received the Chappell-White filing, after consultation with the court clerk, the hearing was continued to Wednesday, May 11th at 11:15 a.m. Williams noted he would not be in court that day, with the hearing likely held in front of Judge Michael Helm in the wake of the recent retirement of Judge W. Dale Houff.

A hearing on a FOIA non-compliance complaint against the Property Owners of Shenandoah Farms (POSF) will return to the Warren County Courthouse this coming Wednesday, May 11, nine days after the POSF chairman was served notice of the complaint. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

 

Queried about the allegations outside the courtroom, POSF Inc. Board Chairman Rinaldi said all the regular POSF meetings are held on a publicly posted schedule, with any special meetings advertised at POSF headquarters, which by his understanding met legal requirements for meeting notices.

Chappell-White, along with a couple of other prominent POSF critics, have noted they have elected not to become involved with the POSF as members and generally do not attend POSF meetings to give input on POSF perspectives in an advisory role to Warren County on the management of the Farms Sanitary District since 2010/11. Prior to that the POSF had managed the Sanitary District in conjunction with the county government since the Farms Sanitary District inception in 1995.

Chappell-White’s filing asserts that: “Most recently, POSF Inc’s actions have violated the rights and privileges of the taxpayers of the Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District (SFSD), including petitioner Chappell-White, by planning in secret to try to take over management of the SFSD without giving notice of its intentions and opportunity for SFSD taxpayers to become informed or participate in the decision-making process. Respondent met secretly to develop its plan, and even kept secret its intention to present its plan at a Board of Supervisors meeting on March 29, 2022.”

Background

In the wake of the POSF Inc.’s notice to the county government that it wished to terminate the 2011 management agreement, effective at the end of this fiscal year, the Warren County Board of Supervisors has accepted that notice per conditions of that agreement. And while POSF critics have claimed credit for that 2010/11 County management takeover, Rinaldi noted that POSF leadership at the time, including him, approached the County about taking over management responsibility due to the amount of money involved.

According to County Administrative Office records, of 1,762 surveys distributed to Farms residents in December 2009 regarding the future of the Sanitary District’s management, only 252 (14.5%) were returned. Of that less than 15% response, 66.2% favored a change in management away from the POSF, with 82% of that majority favoring the County taking over. The primary reason cited by supporters of a change was the size of the sprawling Sanitary District requiring a larger management entity’s oversight.

Melissa Chappell-White is alleging FOIA non-compliance in the calling of POSF meetings and closed sessions to discuss legal matters as the move to alter the 2011 Farms Sanitary District Management Agreement approached. Current and past POSF Chairman Ralph Rinaldi, below at the same March 29 BOS meeting Chappell-White is pictured at above, has a different perspective. Those dueling perspectives are headed toward an eventual courthouse clash.

It appeared the POSF anticipated retaking the Sanitary District Management lead in the wake of County financial reporting lapses and the submission of higher road improvement project cost estimates than the POSF was finding over the past year. However, at its meeting of May 3rd, the board of supervisors instructed the county administrator to advertise for Farms residents applications to a Sanitary District Management Advisory Board. Rinaldi has said he feels the current POSF Board is more qualified for the management role than he felt it was in 2010/11.

However, it remains to be seen how many current POSF board members will feel compelled to apply for those Advisory Board positions after being rejected as group, apparently without notice, from the county government.

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Sheriff Carter finds himself in one-person minority on RSW Jail leadership in wake of recent inmate fatalities

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The Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren (Counties) Regional Jail (RSWRJ) dealt with Fiscal Year 2023 budget variables, the advisability of seeking American Correctional Association (ACA) certification, and the aftermath of the facility inmate opioid overdoses and one fatality, among other business at its meeting of April 28. And while discussion of “personnel matters” related to the “secreting in” of those opioid drugs continues to be done in Closed Session, it spilled into the re-convened open meeting after an hour-and-fifty-minutes behind closed doors.

That occurred when the only of the board’s three county sheriffs present for the 2 PM meeting, Shenandoah County Sheriff Tim Carter submitted a motion “to remove” RSW Regional Jail Superintendent Russ Gilkison “from his position immediately”. Carter prefaced his motion acknowledging he knew it likely would not have enough support to even get to a vote. And he was correct, the motion died without a second from the other eight board members present.

Shenandoah County Sheriff Tim Carter, near left, found himself in a one-person minority on his motion to remove RSWRJ Superintendent Russ Gilkison in the wake of two inmate fatalities in the past 5 months. His motion died without a second. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

Following the meeting’s adjournment Royal Examiner asked Sheriff Carter about his putting forward the motion he seemed to acknowledge knowing would have no support. “I think we need new leadership in this position. I think he’s placed our communities and the board in a bad position. And I’ve heard enough from those closed session meetings to lead me to believe – I don’t have any confidence in him.”


However, two other board members expressed a different perspective following the meeting. “Superintendent Gilkison has my complete confidence. He has masterfully managed the RSW Regional Jail facility and I strongly believe he has and continues to do what is best for inmates, staff, and the communities the facility serves, which balance can be very difficult to accomplish,” Authority Chairman and Rappahannock County Administrator Garrey Curry told Royal Examiner. Curry noted he was speaking for himself, not as chairman for the authority board as a whole.

Queried about the Carter motion dying without a second, Warren County Administrator and Authority Board member Ed Daley said, “The two incidents (the Dec. 12, 2021, Jonte Smith overdose fatality and March 1, 2022, female inmate Kacey Kerns death during a possible suicide attempt) demonstrate the importance of having procedures in place and ensuring that they are followed. We discussed the compliance report from the State Department of Corrections in March. It was very positive. The American Correctional Association (ACA) provides accreditation for correctional facilities that meet various standards. Russ has been gathering information regarding ACA standards and shared what he has with us at the meeting. We have asked for additional information regarding the value and the cost of ACA Accreditation compared to State Accreditation. The Superintendent and his staff are clearly on task and leading the Board in a positive direction.”

RSW Jail Superintendent Gilkison, middle left of table, reported on facility work and operations prior to the Authority Board’s going into Closed Session after 15 minutes in open session for continued discussion of personnel issues and possible litigation related to the facility’s 2 recent inmate deaths. They emerged an hour-and-50-minutes later to resume the open session at 4:05 PM.

The motion into Closed Session included in the meeting agenda packet reads: “Closed Session Pursuant to (Code) 2.2-3711 A1 for the discussion of personnel matters involving the performance of specific staff that was involved in the recent deaths in custody”. However, a late addition was added regarding “the possibility of litigation related to inmate deaths”.

Knowing he couldn’t comment on specifics of an ongoing investigation into personnel issues revolving around the recent fatal incidents, particularly the smuggling of drugs into the facility, we asked Superintendent Gilkison about the RSW Jail’s policy on searches of inmates entering the jail that were in place at the time it is believed the involved drugs were smuggled into RSWRJ in early December. He provided Royal Examiner with facility entry search policy guidelines predating the overdose incidents. Those guidelines, from which the below excerpts were taken, were implemented February 24, 2020, rescinding “all previous rules and regulations pertaining to the subject” at RSWRJ.

Unclothed Searches

1. Unclothed searches will be conducted on all general population inmates returning from court, regardless of the jurisdiction, as well as all newly committed inmates that will be assigned to general population. This is an effort to prevent any contraband coming into the facility; examples include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • After receiving information directly from the arresting officer that the subject being committed may possibly be concealing weapons, drugs or contraband.
  • Subject has a previous record of concealing contraband, weapons or drugs.
  • Subject has previous or current charges involving drugs, weapons or smuggling.
  • Has been incarcerated at another facility and is being transferred into the custody of the RSW Regional Jail. This includes those going out for overnight court to other jurisdictions.
  • Any Work Release inmate removed from the program will be strip searched when the inmate returns to the RSW Regional Jail.

19. Per, Virginia Code 19.2-59.1, no person in custodial arrest for a traffic infraction, a Class 3 or Class 4 Misdemeanor or a violation of city, county or town ordinance, punishable by no more than thirty (30) days in jail, will be strip searched upon committal unless there is reasonable cause to believe on the part of a law enforcement officer that the individual is concealing a weapon.

1. All persons, once committed to the jail and after classification and medical screenings are completed, will have an unclothed search conducted prior to moving into General Population housing. No individual shall be moved to General Population prior to being unclothed searched.

Security upon entry continues to be a major concern at the RSW Regional Jail in the wake of two recent opioid overdoses, one leading to an inmate fatality. News was good on the COVID front, with no cases currently reported at the facility.

At its March meeting the RSWRJ Authority approved the acquisition of scanners that are designed to augment full body and body cavity searches. The Tek84 Intercept Whole Body Security Scanning System was approved for purchase at an initial cost of $149,000 with funding split between the Jail’s General Fund and Commissary Fund. It was noted that in the current Fiscal Year-2022 about $159,000 in additional bed rental fees had been collected from what was the projected revenue for the entire fiscal year. Some of that surplus would be applied to the General Fund contribution to the purchase. After the initial three-year parts, labor, and service contract expires an annual maintenance cost of $7,500 per year was forecast. There were no dissenting votes to the purchase.

ACA Accreditation

Also at its 2 PM April 28th meeting, as noted by Ed Daley above, the RSWRJ Authority Board discussed the advisability of seeking American Correctional Association (ACA) accreditation. Information presented to the board noted that of a total of 59 jails in Virginia only 9 currently hold ACA accreditation. That includes 2 of 23 regional jails and 7 of 36 local jails. With an annual cost of $13,500 tied to achieving the official certification and maintaining it, the board decided additional information was necessary before reaching a decision. It was observed that a number of jails that had sought and received the certification had since lost or given it up.

Seeking information on why jails that had sought the accreditation and then given it up voluntarily would be helpful in understanding perceived drawbacks to official membership. It was noted that a jail could seek to self-regulate to the ACA standards without official involvement or accreditation from the national organization.

FY-2023 Budget

As to the jail’s approximately $16-million draft FY-23 budget, like municipalities across the commonwealth, RSW Regional Jail is awaiting final approval of a state budget. With state contributions still up in the air, the board and Finance and Personnel Committee are working with two Cost Of Living Act (COLA) increases, one at 10%, the other at 5%. It was predicted that the likely outcome of state funding would lead to a 5% or 4% increase. A vote was delayed, likely to next month’s meeting. The possibility of a work session prior to that late May meeting to cover over a final draft proposal, hopefully with actual state number to fill in, was broached.

In other business, during his Superintendent’s Report, Gilkison told the board that currently there are no COVID cases in the facility. However, screenings and quarantines upon entry are still being observed as a precaution. Work Release teams are still hitting various neighborhood roads for trash pickups, which has been well-received by impacted neighborhoods, Gilkison told the board. The facility is still dealing with over 40 staffing vacancies, some incurred with the onset of the COVID pandemic.

Prior to the late afternoon adjournment, coming meeting dates of May 26, July 28, and September 22 were set. All Authority Board meetings convene at 2 PM, generally following a 1:30 PM Finance and Personnel Committee meeting, as was the case this month.

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