On January 2nd Judge Bruce D. Albertson filed a written decision on dueling motions in the citizen’s Removal Petition against two Warren County Supervisors not retired or turned out of office in the new year. The Removal Petition targeting the entire elected county board was filed on October 18. However, after retirements and the November Election result only two of the then-sitting supervisors, Happy Creek’s Tony Carter and the Fork District’s Archie Fox who were not up for re-election in 2019, remain impacted by the Removal effort.
Judge Albertson gave the petitioners, now represented by Rockingham County Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Parker (and privately-secured attorney Timothy Johnson), 21 days to file an amended petition; and denied a defense motion seeking dismissal of the Removal Petition against County Supervisors on claims of Legislative Immunity and Separation of Powers.
The court ruled that, “legislative immunity does not apply to exempt the governing bodies of localities when there have been allegations of ‘unauthorized’ appropriation or misappropriation of funds,” continuing to observe that, “In this case embezzlement is the main contention of the petition for removal. Therefore, Respondents (defendants) cannot succeed on a plea of legislative immunity in this case for that reason as well.”
As to the separation of powers argument that the judicial branch of government should not be involved in interfering with the legislative branch process, Judge Albertson split some fine legal and political hairs.
“In this case, if the Court were to find against the Board on all counts and award the full relief sought, no legislative act would occur. The Court would be exercising ‘the essential function of the judiciary – the act of rendering judgement in matters properly before it’ and not ‘the function of statutory enactment, a power unique to the legislative function.”
In prefacing that observation the judge wrote that, “the separation of powers doctrine and legislative immunity are distinct concepts lying with separate entities: the first establishing our form of government and ensuring the protections of the people against aggrandizement leading to tyranny, and the second ensuring the independence of a legislator. One belongs to and is for the benefit of the people while the other belongs to and is for the benefit of the individual legislator.”
So, Judge Albertson appears to be ruling that in cases of alleged misappropriation of public funds, neither the legislative immunity nor separation of powers doctrines can be utilized to protect legislators from legal scrutiny demanded by their constituents.
As to the rewording of the original petition the judge noted that during the December 17 motions hearing both sides agreed that several paragraphs reference “inapplicable statutes” because while Warren County has an elected county board, its legislative-administrative form of government is not categorized as a “county board form of government”.
“As a result, the Petition does not outline a cause of action as currently written with regard to those paragraphs,” the judge wrote, adding that, “The Commonwealth asserts that other statutes and authorities implicitly impose some or all of the duties outlined in Paragraph 3 of the Complaint, so leave to amend is granted.”
So amended to reference the proper codes the Commonwealth asserts will support the Removal Petition’s claims of administrative negligence against county supervisors, it appears the case will continue to revolve around the dueling arguments as to whether the county board of supervisors had the necessary level of direct administrative oversight to stem the alleged activities of former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald through 2018 after alleged “red flags” appeared; and more particularly over the final three-plus months of that year.
Those red flags eventually led the County and EDA Boards to contract a financial fraud investigation into EDA finances in September of 2018. Despite that investigation that zeroed in on the activities of EDA Executive Director McDonald, the Removal Complaint asserts that McDonald’s financial authority was not adequately reined in by either her board of directors or the county supervisors who appoint the EDA board.
Now dismissed criminal misdemeanor charges of misfeasance and nonfeasance against past and current EDA and county board members cited McDonald’s movement of $309,000 of allegedly misdirected EDA assets over the last three-plus months of 2018 as the Cherry Bekaert investigation of EDA finances was under way.
McDonald resigned on December 20, 2018, under increased scrutiny by her board in the wake of closed session reports from contracted forensic auditor Cherry Bekaert regarding McDonald’s use of EDA assets. She has since been named the central of 14 human or business entity defendants in what is now a $21.3 million EDA civil litigation; and has been indicted on 32 financial felony counts related to the Cherry Bekaert findings. However, many involved citizens wonder if the EDA investigation’s focus has been too narrow in determining peripheral accountability.
McDonald and a number of her fellow EDA-related criminal defendants are scheduled to be in court on civil and/or criminal motions hearings Friday, January 10.
Front Royal man arrested on robbery and weapons charges
Early this morning, D’Andre Lawrence was arrested on felony robbery and weapons charges stemming from an early morning incident at the Blue Ridge Motel. Front Royal Police were called at approximately 1:30am to respond to an alleged robbery that had occurred at the local motel. The victim alleged that two individuals assaulted him and took an undisclosed amount of money and ran in the direction of Massanutten Avenue.
Lawrence was arrested on the mentioned charges and transported to RSW Regional Jail and held without bond. The second individual in this incident was identified as a male juvenile and is wanted for questioning.
Anyone who may have information about this case is asked to please contact Detective Z. King at 540-636-2208 or by email at email@example.com.
Virginia State Police concludes investigation into inmate death at New River Regional Jail
The Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s Wytheville Field Office has concluded its investigation into the September 2019 death of an inmate at the New River Valley Regional Jail. The case is closed and no charges will be placed in accordance with the findings of the Office of the Medical Examiner in Roanoke and at the advisement of the City of Radford Commonwealth’s Attorney and Pulaski County Commonwealth’s Attorney.
The investigation was conducted at the request of the New River Valley Regional Jail. On the evening of September 11, 2019, Radford University Police responded to a call at a campus facility concerning Aris Eduardo Lobo-Perez, 18, of Culpeper, Virginia. Police took him into custody shortly before midnight on a charge of public intoxication. As is standard procedure, Lobo-Perez was transported by the arresting agency to New River Valley Regional Jail in Pulaski County.
At approximately 7:20 a.m. on September 12, 2019, jail personnel approached Lobo-Perez to offer him breakfast, which he declined. It was at 7:50 a.m. that jail personnel found Lobo-Perez unresponsive in his cell. Despite the immediate efforts by jail personnel to resuscitate the inmate, Lobo-Perez was declared deceased at the jail. His remains were transported to the Office of the Medical Examiner in Roanoke for examination and autopsy.
Fugitive since 2015 arrested
During the course of a preliminary investigation, Detective M.R. Ramey obtained credible information regarding the location of a wanted fugitive out of Prince George County, VA. With the assistance of the United States Marshal’s Service and the Warren County Sheriff’s Office, Derek S. Vrable, 34, was arrested without incident at a residence located in Warren County this afternoon. The underlying charges for this arrest were for Grand Larceny and Breaking and Entering. Vrable has been wanted on this violation since 2015.
Derek Vrable was arrested by the U.S. Marshals Service and transported to the RSW Regional Jail by Warren County Sheriff’s Office where he is currently being held without bond. Other charges may be forthcoming in the near future regarding the initial criminal investigation. No further details are available in this case due to the pending nature of the active investigation.
The Front Royal Police Department would like to extend our thanks to the U.S. Marshal’s Service and the Warren County Sheriff’s Office for their assistance in apprehending this individual.
Anyone who may have further information regarding this case is asked to please contact Detective M.R. Ramey at 540-636-2208 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
School bus driver arrested and charged with kidnapping and abduction
On March 4, 2020, the Warren County Sheriff’s Office received notice from the Warren County Middle School that a 13-year-old female student has made comments alleging an adult male bus driver has made inappropriate comments and advances toward her.
The school notified the School Resource Officer, and Warren County Sheriff’s Office Investigators arrived and contacted the victim’s parents and interviewed the young girl. WCSO Investigators located the alleged offender at his home. Agosto Andres Luzunaris, age 42 of Linden, Virginia, was arrested and charged with one count of Kidnapping and Abduction (class 5 felony) that occurred on or about December 2019 through March 2020. Luzunaris is currently being held without bond at the RSW Jail in Front Royal.
WCSO says the investigation is ongoing; however, it has been reasonably determined there was no risk of harm to other children, and this was determined to be a localized incident. There were no complaints of physical damage to the victim, and the charges stem from allegations that the offender made inappropriate comments and physically restricted the movement of the victim on the school bus.
Melody Sheppard, Interim Superintendent, Warren County Public Schools responded, “Our primary concern is always the physical and emotional well-being of our students. Warren County Public Schools will continue to support the Warren County Sheriff’s Office investigation.”
Code of Virginia
§ 18.2-47. Abduction and kidnapping defined; punishment.
B. Any person who, by force, intimidation or deception, and without legal justification or excuse, seizes, takes, transports, detains or secretes another person with the intent to subject him to forced labor or services shall be deemed guilty of “abduction.” For purposes of this subsection, the term “intimidation” shall include destroying, concealing, confiscating, withholding, or threatening to withhold a passport, immigration document, or other governmental identification or threatening to report another as being illegally present in the United States.
C. The provisions of this section shall not apply to any law-enforcement officer in the performance of his duty. The terms “abduction” and “kidnapping” shall be synonymous in this Code. Abduction for which no punishment is otherwise prescribed shall be punished as a Class 5 felony.
D. If an offense under subsection A is committed by the parent of the person abducted and punishable as contempt of court in any proceeding then pending, the offense shall be a Class 1 misdemeanor in addition to being punishable as contempt of court. However, such offense, if committed by the parent of the person abducted and punishable as contempt of court in any proceeding then pending and the person abducted is removed from the Commonwealth by the abducting parent, shall be a Class 6 felony in addition to being punishable as contempt of court.
Harrisonburg man charged following Loudoun County pursuit and shooting
A Harrisonburg, Virginia, man faces multiple charges following a pursuit and a non-fatal officer-involved shooting Thursday evening (Feb. 27, 2020) in Loudoun County. Michael E. Bonner, 54, was released from Reston Hospital Center Friday afternoon (Feb. 28, 2020) and taken in state police custody. He has been charged in Loudoun County with grand larceny of a vehicle, eluding police, hit and run, driving without a driver’s license and unauthorized use of a stolen vehicle, and is being held at the Loudoun Adult Detention Center.
The incident began at approximately 7:30 p.m. Thursday (Feb. 27, 2020) when a 2017 Ford Escape passed a Virginia State Police trooper as they were traveling east on Route 50 in Loudoun County. The trooper’s license plate reader alerted the trooper that the Ford had been reported stolen out of Fairfax County. The trooper attempted to initiate a traffic stop, but the Ford refused to stop and sped away on Route 50 near Tall Cedars Parkway. During the course of the pursuit, the Ford Escape reached speeds of up to 100 mph and rammed two state police vehicles that were attempting to contain the fleeing vehicle in order to bring it to a stop.
State police again surrounded the suspect vehicle and forced it to a stop on South Sterling Boulevard near Shaw Road in Loudoun County. During the course of engaging with the pursuit suspect in order to take him into custody, Bonner was shot at by state police. Bonner was transported to Reston Hospital Center for treatment of the non-life threatening injury.
The Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s Fairfax Field Office responded to the scene to investigate the officer-involved shooting, which remains under investigation at this time. Once the investigation is completed, state police will turn its findings over to the Commonwealth’s Attorney for review and adjudication.
No law enforcement personnel were injured in the incident, which remains under investigation at this time. In accordance with Department policy, the trooper involved in the shooting has been placed on administrative leave.
Front Royal man arrested and charged for felony eluding and reckless driving
On February 25, 2020, Front Royal Police Officer J. Treese attempted to conduct a traffic stop at approximately 8:30pm on a 2013 Chevy Corvette that was traveling at a high rate of speed in the 1400 block of N. Royal Avenue. The vehicle did not display a license plate and when the officer activated his emergency lights, the vehicle failed to yield, and a pursuit was initiated. The pursuit continued through several jurisdictions to include Warren County, Shenandoah County, Strasburg and Frederick County.
Front Royal officers discontinued the pursuit; however, the pursuit was re-initiated by Frederick County Sheriff’s Office and Virginia State Police while on I-81. The vehicle stopped in Clarke County, where the driver fled from the vehicle on foot. The area was searched by Frederick and Clarke County deputies and the Virginia State Police; however, the driver was not located.
With the assistance of Upper Pottsgrove Township Police Department located in Pennsylvania, Front Royal Police has identified the driver as William Watson Allen IV. Charges were obtained on Allen for Felony Eluding and Reckless Driving. Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office arrested William Watson Allen IV this morning just over the West Virginia state line. Allen was transported to the Eastern Regional Jail. Other charges may be forthcoming in this matter.
Anyone who may have information about this case is asked to please contact Detective Ramey at 540-636-2208 or by email at email@example.com.