~ Virginia sees a 67 percent decline in new commitments for misdemeanors, 17 percent decrease in jail population ~
RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today (April 17, 2020) announced that Virginia’s collaborative efforts to release low-level offenders from local and regional jails in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are working, and the administration’s guidelines have been effective in decreasing the jail population.
“We are facing an unprecedented public health emergency, which has required us to work collaboratively to develop unique solutions,” said Governor Northam. “Criminal justice stakeholders across the Commonwealth are using the tools available to them to decrease our jail population and address this crisis responsibly, humanely, and deliberately. This is exactly the type of cooperation we need, and I commend our public safety officials and urge them to continue these important efforts.”
On March 19, Governor Northam issued guidance to local criminal justice officials, calling for them to consider proactive measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 while ensuring public safety. The Northam administration issued a joint statement with local public safety agencies, including the Virginia Sheriffs Association (VSA), the Virginia Association of Commonwealth’s Attorneys (VACA), the Virginia Indigent Defense Commission (IDC), and the Virginia Association of Regional Jails (VARJ).
Governor Northam recommended the following:
• Allowing sentence modifications that can reduce populations within the jails, as outlined in § 19.2-303 of the Code of Virginia.
• Diverting offenders from being admitted into jails prior to trial, including the use of summonses by law enforcement in lieu of arrest pursuant to § 19.2-74 of the Code of Virginia, and use of local pretrial programs as available and with consideration to local capacity.
• Considering ways to decrease the number of low-risk offenders being held without bail in jails.
• Utilizing alternative solutions to incarceration such as home electronic monitoring, pursuant to § 53.1-131.2 of the Code of Virginia.
Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran sent a letter to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Virginia, Donald Lemons, on March 25 requesting his assistance in encouraging all magistrates and other judicial officers determining bail to consider the health and safety of those that appear before them and the residents and employees in local and regional jails.
Since late February, the number of new commitments to local and regional jails has decreased from approximately 10,000 during a two-week period to just over 4,000. On April 7, the jail population in the Commonwealth was 24,000, which is a 17 percent decrease from March 1. Virginia has also seen a 67 percent decline in the number of new commitments for misdemeanors across the Commonwealth.
“Governor Northam called on local officials to work together to safely reduce our jail population, and this early and aggressive effort is clearly working,” said Secretary Moran. “Localities are taking these recommendations seriously, and I expect them to continue making decisions with the public safety of their communities in mind.”
In addition to working with local partners to address local and regional jails, Governor Northam proposed a budget amendment allowing the Director of the Department of Corrections to release individuals with less than a year left to serve in their sentences for the duration of the state of emergency. The legislature is set to reconvene on April 22 to consider the Governor’s amendments to legislation, which includes the budget. If the amendment is adopted, it will be effective immediately.
VDOT: Warren County Traffic alert for October 3 – 7, 2022
The following is a list of highway work that may affect traffic in Warren County during the coming weeks. Scheduled work is subject to change due to inclement weather and material supplies. Motorists are advised to watch for slow-moving tractors during mowing operations. When traveling through a work zone, be alert to periodic changes in traffic patterns and lane closures.
*NEW* or *UPDATE* indicates a new or revised entry since last week’s report.
No lane closures were reported.
No lane closures were reported.
Route 55 (John Marshall Highway) – Flagger traffic control between Front Royal town limits and Route 79 (Apple Mountain Road) for tree removal operations, 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. through Friday.
No lane closures were reported.
Missing and endangered person, located by FCSO Bloodhound ‘Bleu”
On September 30, 2022, Deputies responded to the area of Norwich Court in Stephens City for a missing person. A son had reported that his mother, age 74, had left their residence while he was on a Zoom call for his work. The son told the Deputies that his mother was not very mobile and didn’t think she could walk far from the residence. Deputies checked the residence to ensure she was not hiding in the residence, as some people have a tendency to do when having mental health issues.
The missing lady and her son had visited a nursing facility the previous day for the mother and had plans to visit another facility that day. The mother suffers from severe depression and anxiety.
A neighbor who lived on Hayvenhurst Drive, Stephens City, stated that “she saw an elderly woman earlier, walking towards Town Run Lane like she was on a mission.”
Deputy Dan Clark and Frederick County Bloodhound “Bleu” checked out the area of Town Run Lane where Bleu located the lady lying in a brushy thicket in the 400 block of Town Run Lane. The woman had taken numerous prescription medications to do bodily harm to herself. Stephens City Fire and Rescue transported the victim to the Winchester Medical Center for treatment.
It is believed that without Bloodhound Bleu’s assistance in locating this victim when he did, the outcome would have been considerably different.
According to Sheriff Lenny Millholland, if any residents of Frederick County have family members with Dementia, Alzheimer’s, or a medical condition that causes them to wander or get away from care, they can contact the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office. Information can be provided about Project Lifesaver and what can be done to help the families.
K-9 Frederick’s Copper “Bleu” Tracker-BLEU is a Bloodhound. His duties include tracking/trailing bad guys and locating missing people, whether children or the elderly and mental patients who walk off or run away on foot.
Bleu serves the citizens of Frederick County, Virginia, and any other jurisdictions that request his services.
Education quality and positive learning enviroment improve in Warren County Public Schools
Last week, the Virginia Department of Education released the 2022 accreditation ratings and school quality indicator data. Seven schools were accredited, and two schools—E. Wilson Morrison Elementary and Skyline Middle—were accredited with conditions.
Dr. Chris Ballenger, Superintendent of Warren County Public Schools, would like to recognize its teachers, staff, and administrators for their dedication to providing students with quality education and a positive learning environment throughout the 2021-2022 school year.
The impact of the pandemic on student learning remains apparent. However, one thing is certain, teachers and administrators have worked hard, which was reflected in the growth seen in last year’s Standards of Learning data. Teachers’ commitment to identify learning gaps and implement lessons to help close those gaps was a big ask, and teachers delivered. The support provided to improve achievement and create a positive learning environment was especially important given the changes to the instructional environment students experienced due to the pandemic. The 2021-2022 school year marked the return to full-time instruction for all K-12 students since March 2020.
The data released by the VDOE reflects that Warren County students improved in reading, mathematics, and science compared to the 2020-2021 data. The work to meet state accountability indicators and ensure students are performing at grade-level proficiency continues this school year. Teachers and staff engage in professional development, implement evidence-based practices in their classrooms, and focus on student learning outcomes.
Warren County Public Schools has a tremendous staff, and as a community, we should be grateful to have such dedicated educators working with students daily.
Virginia’s School Quality Profiles provide information about student achievement, college and career readiness, program completion, school safety, teacher quality, and other topics of interest to parents and the general public. Please visit the VDOE’s School Quality Profile website for more information on school accreditation ratings and quality indicator data.
- A.S. Rhodes Elementary –ACCREDITED
- E. Wilson Morrison Elementary – ACCREDITED WITH CONDITIONS
- Hilda J. Barbour Elementary – ACCREDITED
- Leslie Fox Keyser Elementary – ACCREDITED
- Ressie Jeffries Elementary – ACCREDITED
- Skyline High – ACCREDITED
- Skyline Middle – ACCREDITED WITH CONDITIONS
- Warren County High – ACCREDITED
- Warren County Middle – ACCREDITED
United Way of Northern Shenandoah Valley is now serving Front Royal / Warren County
United Way of Northern Shenandoah Valley and United Way of Front Royal-Warren County announced today that, as of October 1, 2022, they have merged United Way of Front Royal Warren County with United Way of Northern Shenandoah.
The driving force behind this decision to combine the resources of UWFRWC with those of UWNSV was a commitment to meaningfully serve the families in and the community of Warren County. United Way NSV is particularly thrilled to bring their flagship program, Valley Assistance Network, to FRWC and to expand their Impact Grants program throughout a more robust portion of the Northern Shenandoah Valley.
As part of the merger, three members from the UWFRWC Board will join the UWNSV Board of Directors, to help ensure the unique concerns and consideration of Front Royal/Warren County are represented alongside those of the other NSV service areas of Clarke County, Frederick County, Page County, Shenandoah County, and the City of Winchester. Current United Way FRWC endowments will continue to be earmarked for exclusive use in Front Royal/Warren County. Lastly, United Way NSV is committed to keeping a physical presence in FRWC and has hired as local Program Manager, Lori Howard. Since 2021, Lori has been extremely active in the local community’s nonprofit sector and will continue to represent United Way Northern Shenandoah Valley from the offices at 134-B Peyton Street.
Most significantly, United Way NSV will be bringing all of their infrastructure, financial resources, and human support directly to the community of Front Royal/Warren County! Both organizations see this merger as wonderful news for Front Royal/Warren County and everyone in both organizations is fully committed to growing the positive impact of United Way in the area. United Way NSV is particularly grateful for the support given by United Way FRWC and the local community as they forge this new path forward.
“All of us at United Way NSV are thrilled to now be serving Front Royal/Warren County. We are excited to bring our flagship program, the Valley Assistance Network, to the area and to be able to meaningfully support those in need, “said Kaycee Childress, President and CEO of United Way NSV. “Likewise, we are excited to open up our Impact Grants program to nonprofits in Front Royal/Warren County and support the incredible work that they are doing. We look forward to great things happening!”
About United Way of Northern Shenandoah Valley: Since 1946, the United Way NSV has led the fight for the health, education, and financial stability of every person in every community – to meet the needs that matter most to the people of Clarke, Frederick, and Shenandoah Counties, as well as the City of Winchester. United Way NSV convenes the people and organizations necessary to create solutions to our region’s most pressing challenges and collaborates with effective partners. United Way NSV seeks to serve as the catalyst for community change by supporting over 45 partner agencies in the area on income, health, and education.
For more information visit our website www.unitedwaynsv.org.
WC DECA & W.W.A.A. team up to “Dog Out Cancer”
On Thursday, September 29, the WCHS vs. Brentsville football game was promoted as “Breast Cancer & Domestic Violence Awareness” Night. During the game, the DECA Tailgaters and the Warren Wildcat Athletic Association (W.W.A.A.) conducted a “Doggin’ Out Cancer” $1 Hotdog Night. In a partnership with Martin’s, all hotdog sales receipts would be donated to the American Cancer Society. In addition to the hotdog sales, donations were also collected. Over $300.00 was collected for the donation.
Breanna Taylor, DECA Tailgaters Student Manager, stated, “It was a very successful promotion, and I’m happy that so many people donated to such a good cause. I’m glad that I was able to be a part of it.”
Ennis Family files $6 million wrongful death lawsuit, citing excessive force by Warren County deputies
The Family of Ralph C. Ennis has filed a $6 million federal lawsuit claiming that excessive force by two Warren County Sheriff’s deputies during a traffic stop led to his death. The suit alleges that the deputies used excessive force against Ralph C. Ennis, 77, who died on April 15, less than two weeks after sustaining a head injury in an April 2 traffic stop by the Warren County Sheriff’s Department.
Ian R. Ennis, the son of the late Ralph C. Ennis and administrator of the estate, filed a civil lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia on August 8. Deputies Tyler Poe and Zachary Fadley are named as defendants.
Warrenton, Va. Attorney Susan Pierce, of the law firm Walker Jones, P.C. is co-counsel for Ennis, along with Richmond attorney Seth Carroll, of the Commonwealth Law Group.
Deputy Fadley is being represented by Fairfax attorney Alexander Francuzenko, a partner of law firm of Cook Craig & Francuzenko, PLLC. Deputy Poe is being represented by Carlene Booth Johnson, with the Perry Law Firm of Dillwyn, Virginia.
In separate responses to the lawsuit, both deputies deny the allegations and request a dismissal of the lawsuit. Poe’s co-counsel Carlene Booth Johnson filed a memorandum in support of dismissal of the suit on September 12, writing that, “While the Complaint conclusorily [SIC] asserts that plaintiff is bringing this action in his capacity as the Administrator of the Estate of Ralph Ennis, the Complaint does not offer a single fact supporting that assertion. The plaintiff has not shown when, where, or how he qualified as the Administrator of the Estate of Ralph Ennis, nor provided any facts or evidence showing that he properly qualified to bring this action.”
Johnson on Friday, September 23, filed a memorandum in the Harrisonburg court to further support Poe’s request to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that Ian Ennis had no standing to file the lawsuit.
Ralph Ennis, 77, died on April 15 in the care of Valley Health System’s Blue Ridge Hospice, in Winchester, 13 days after sustaining a head injury during an April 2 traffic stop in Warren County.
The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Manassas stated in an August 15 email to Royal Examiner that, “The cause of death is complications of Alzheimer disease, cerebral amyloid angiopathy, and hypertensive atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. The manner of death is natural.”
However, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Manassas is considering reopening the case, sources familiar with the case told Royal Examiner earlier this week, though Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) Administrative Deputy Arkuie Williams has not confirmed that information.
Despite the medical examiner’s initial ruling, the plaintiff claims it was the action of Deputies Fadley and Poe that cause his father’s death. The two-count complaint alleges that Poe and Fadley used excessive force in violation of Ralph Ennis’ Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure.
The court document states, “The Fourth Amendment is applicable to the Commonwealth of Virginia under the Fourteenth Amendment. Defendants unreasonably used excessive force against Mr. Ennis when they effected their arrest by slamming the elderly man face first into his vehicle and then tackling him the ground after he was already restrained, causing a traumatic and ultimately fatal brain injury.
“No objectively reasonable law enforcement officer would have believed that the elderly and visibly confused Mr. Ennis posed any threat or significant risk of harm to himself or any other person. No objectively reasonable law enforcement officer would believe that the level of force used by the Defendants was necessary to subdue an elderly and visibly confused man during a routine traffic stop. As such, the Defendants violated Ralph Ennis’ clearly established constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment. As a direct and proximate result of the Defendants actions, Ralph Ennis suffered the injuries described above, resulting in his death.”
The second count accuses Poe and Fadley of battery leading to Ralph Ennis’ wrongful death, in violation of Virginia law.
The complaint states, “Virginia Code § 8.01-50, et seq., establishes liability for the individuals when their wrongful acts result in the death of another person. At all relevant times, both Defendants had a duty to use only the amount of force necessary in subduing Mr. Ennis.
“The extensive injuries suffered by Mr. Ennis demonstrate the excessive force used to subdue a person who was complying with verbal commands, appeared elderly and confused, and posed no immediate threat to others.
“These actions constitute a battery under Virginia law. As a direct and proximate result of the Defendants battery against Ralph Ennis, Mr. Ennis suffered the injuries described above, resulting in his death.”
The complaint notes that Ralph Ennis was traveling southbound on Winchester Road and passed Warren County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Christopher Pontious, who was operating stationary radar, at approximately 1:20 a.m. on April 2.
Pontious reported that Ennis was traveling 63 mph in a 55-mph zone and that Ennis’ vehicle was swaying from side to side in its lane and had a problem with a taillight.
“Deputy Pontious radioed in that he was attempting to stop a vehicle and it had slowed down but was continuing towards Front Royal. After Deputy Pontious reported that Mr. Ennis passed several opportunities to pull over, he activated his vehicle siren. In reaction, Mr. Ennis slowed his vehicle to around 35 mph, but continued southbound towards Front Royal,” the complaint states.
The lawsuit cites events recorded by Pontious’ body camera; Deputy Pontious activated his body camera while following Mr. Ennis’ vehicle.
“Shortly after Deputy Pontius activated his siren, Mr. Ennis turned his vehicle into the parking lot of the Royal Farms gas station, located directly off Winchester Road at 260 Crooked Run Road, Front Royal, Virginia 22630.
“Mr. Ennis’ vehicle drove through the Royal Farms parking lot to an adjoining 7-11 parking lot, located at 251 Crooked Run Plaza, Front Royal, Virginia 22630, and pulled into a parking space.
“Deputy Pontious pulled up behind Mr. Ennis’ vehicle – blocking it in. He turned off his vehicle siren, but left the vehicle blue lights activated. Deputy Pontious exited his vehicle and began commanding for Mr. Ennis to “step out of the car,“ the lawsuit states.
The plaintiff’s filing continues, “Attempting to comply, Mr. Ennis then began to exit. However, he had only slightly opened his driver side door when Canine Officer Sergeant Gregory shouted a conflicting command of “Driver stay in the car! Follow our commands!” and notified Mr. Ennis of the presence of a canine officer, adding that “if you do not follow our commands, you will get bit!” At this point, Mr. Ennis started to close his door.
“Another officer on the scene then commanded for Mr. Ennis to “Get out of the car!” and “Get your hands up!” the complaint attests. At this point Mr. Ennis slowly opened his driver side door. Deputy Pontious then commanded for Mr. Ennis to “step out of the car!”
Mr. Ennis stepped out of his vehicle appearing “visibly confused and disoriented,” the complaint maintains.
“Deputy Pontious ordered Mr. Ennis to “face away from me,” “face 7-11,” and “to turn around!” while pointing behind Mr. Ennis. Mr. Ennis, who appeared to not hear or was generally confused by the multiple and sometimes conflicting commands, began to slowly walk away from his vehicle towards Deputy Pontious while holding his vehicle keys in his right hand,” the complaint states. Mr. Ennis continued to appear confused and disoriented, but complied with Deputy Pontious’ command to turn around and began walking back to the rear of his vehicle.
The complaint continues, “Deputy Pontious then ordered Mr. Ennis to “drop your keys!” and Mr. Ennis responded by turning around to face Deputy Pontious. In the video, Mr. Ennis appears to mouth the word “What?”
“At this time, Defendant Poe quickly rushed Mr. Ennis from behind, and without announcing his presence or giving Mr. Ennis any verbal command, violently grabbed Mr. Ennis and slammed Mr. Ennis’ face and body into the rear of Mr. Ennis’ truck.
“Mr. Ennis screamed out in a panic, “Wait a minute!” as the force of Defendant Poe violently slamming him into the vehicle caused Mr. Ennis’ baseball cap to fly off his head.”
The Warren County Sheriff’s Office official press release regarding this incident stated that: “Mr. Ennis continued failure to comply with the lawful orders to stop, resulted in a WSCO deputy approaching Mr. Ennis from behind, and grabbing his arms in an attempt to control Ennis and place him under arrest. The deputy continued to give him commands to stop resisting, drop the keys and place his hand behind his back as Mr. Ennis was escorted several feet away to the rear of his pickup truck,” the complaint states.
The complaint continues, “However, Deputy Pontious’ body camera footage clearly shows that Mr. Ennis was visibly confused and attempting to comply with all commands when Defendant Poe gave no verbal command or warning and slammed, not “escorted,” Mr. Ennis into the rear of his vehicle, causing significant injuries.”
“As Defendant Poe violently pressed Mr. Ennis against the rear of his vehicle, Defendant Fadley immediately rushed in from the side, and without announcing his presence or giving any verbal command, violently pushed and tackled Mr. Ennis and Defendant Poe to the pavement behind the vehicle,” the complaint says.
“As Mr. Ennis was pushed and tackled towards the pavement, his legs were caught on his vehicle’s protruding tow hitch as he tumbled sideways with Officer Fadley’s entire body weight on top of him. Defendant Fadley issued his first verbal command – “Get on the ground!” –as Mr. Ennis’ head slams into the pavement,” the complaint maintains.
“While Defendants handcuffed Mr. Ennis on the ground, Mr. Ennis can be heard on Deputy Pontious’ body camera footage frantically pleading for help and crying out in extreme pain.”
The complaint included still images from the body camera to show Mr. Ennis on the ground directly after sustaining injuries to his face, head, and extremities, as well as the extent of the bleeding from his injuries. They are too graphic for publication.
The complaint continues, “Front Royal Police Department Corporal R.D. Lowery, who was also dispatched to the scene of the incident, arrived in time to observe the Defendants encounter with Mr. Ennis. In his report, Corporal Lowery (who was farther away from Mr. Ennis than the Defendants) described his initial impression of Mr. Ennis as appearing “elderly and confused.”
The complaint further states, “Corporal Lowery described his observations as follows: “[t]he Deputy (Defendant Poe) slammed the male into the camper top face first. I observed the male spit something out on the pavement just below his body. Another Deputy (Defendant Fadley) came from the side of the male while the Deputy had his hands behind his back. The male was pushed over but his legs caught the hitch on the back of the truck.”
The lawsuit continues, “As Corporal Lowery left the scene of the incident, his body camera footage captured him stating “that was f***king unjust and f***ing un-f***ing called for” and “Jesus Christ, oh that’s going to be …” before the video cuts out. Corporal Lowery’s subjective impression of the situation clearly demonstrates he believed that there was an excessive use of force against Mr. Ennis.”
After the altercation, Mr. Ennis was handcuffed, searched, and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) were called to the scene to tend to Mr. Ennis’ injuries. The complaint states that deputies found no weapons on Mr. Ennis.
The complaint continues, “There is no factual basis within the materials to indicate that Mr. Ennis gave any of the officers reason to believe he was armed. Mr. Ennis did not act in a threatening manner in any way. On the contrary, Mr. Ennis at all times presented as an elderly man who appeared confused and disoriented but attempting to comply with various commands in a disconcerting environment. “
Records indicate that Mr. Ennis was “completely sober at the time of the incident and the officer-issued breathalyzer rest returned a result of 0.00.”
Mr. Ennis was transported by an EMS (Emergency Medical Service) unit to Warren Memorial Hospital for treatment at approximately 2:15 a.m. The complaint states that: “Mr. Ennis presented at Warren Memorial Hospital with significant head trauma. Hospital staff reported that Mr. Ennis was “completely confused. He does not know where he is. He is not able to tell me the name of his son. He does not recall the altercation that led to his injury and hospitalization. He is not able to provide any further history.”
Emergency Department physicians diagnosed Ennis with a traumatic brain injury caused by the fall, specifically “a bleed in his brain known as a subarachnoid hemorrhage in the left parietal and occipital lobes” the complaint maintains.
Ennis was then transferred from Warren Memorial Hospital to Winchester Medical Center for the severity of his trauma, arriving at approximately 6:30 a.m. He was then diagnosed with “terminal intracerebral hemorrhage” the lawsuit maintains. His health continued to decline at the Winchester Hospital and his family opted to change his level of care to comfort or palliative care. Mr. Ennis was then transferred to Blue Ridge Hospice on April 14. 2022, for end-of-life care. He died from his injuries on April 15, 2022, the complaint states.
The investigation into the incident was referred to the Prince William Commonwealth’s Attorney office by Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney John Bell.
Prince William Commonwealth’s Attorney Amy Ashworth wrote in a Tuesday night email to Royal Examiner that: “The investigation into this matter is on-going and therefore we cannot publicly comment on it. The case has been reassigned and is a high priority for this office. I do not have a time frame for when the investigation might be completed.”
The Assistant Prince William Commonwealth’s Attorney assigned to investigate the case, Teresa Polinske, recently resigned from Ashworth’s staff, which caused the investigation to lag until it was reassigned.
Deputy Poe continues to work at the Warren County Sheriff’s Office, though Deputy Fadley is no longer employed there. No information was provided regarding the circumstances of Fadley’s departure, other than it was referred to as a “personnel issue.” Both deputies were initially reassigned off the patrol unit, to desk or other non-interactional with the public duties in the wake of the Ennis incident.