FRONT ROYAL – “This will be a damaging loss for whoever loses,” Judge Ian Williams observed Wednesday of the time, effort and expense being put into the Tom Sayre defamation lawsuit against former Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Executive Director Jennifer McDonald at the General District Court level – a level where the maximum award is $25,000.
“It’s very curious – but I’m giving you more time to arrange the deck chairs on the Titanic,” Williams added of additional time he granted Sayre attorney Tim Bosson and McDonald counsel Lee Berlik in an attempt to reach a legal consensus on filings in the case. – “There will be no more hearings on this,” the judge warned of dueling evidentiary motions before the new trial date of August 2, at 1 p.m. The Winchester-based judge explained he had to change the original trial date from June 21 due to a conflicting trial assignment.
As the March 20th motions hearing drew to a close after an hour-and-forty-five minutes, Judge Williams bemoaned the time and legal effort being put in on preliminary motions. He asked the attorneys what they made an hour. Bosson replied $350, Berlik $425 (I’m definitely in the wrong line of work).
Noting that amounted to $775 for every hour put in by both sides on the case, the judge marveled at the work being done on a case with a $25,000 award cap.
The most recent result of all that legal work was plaintiff Tom Sayre prevailing on a series of evidentiary motions argued Wednesday afternoon in his $25,000 defamation suit against McDonald.
Overruled by Judge Williams on March 20 were defense motions to: 1/ a “plea and bar” which would have essentially thrown the plaintiff’s case out as having not established the grounds, including malice, upon which the civil suit is based; 2/ to further reduce the number of complaints on statute of limitations violations; 3/ remove additional detail on specific complaints in the case added since the initial filing; 4/ and prevent any plaintiff subpoena of records of EDA/McDonald Private Investigator Kenneth Pullen as privileged information.
On that latter issue, plaintiff counsel Bosson told the court that he had verified that the EDA Board of Directors had initially hired Pullen in the wake of the May 17, 2017, EDA office break in. However, he said the EDA board had turned the private investigator’s contract over to its then executive director as incidents of alleged trespass and vandalisms reported by McDonald at her home escalated over the following month.
The fact that then-EDA Board Chairman Greg Drescher requested Town Police to drop their investigation of the EDA office break in, in favor of the EDA’s private investigator’s handling of the case has been a sticking point for EDA critics, particularly former Town Councilwoman Bébhinn Egger’s father Mark Egger. The elder Egger has repeatedly questioned the board of supervisors on lapses in county oversight of the EDA; as well as seemingly conflicting stories regarding who hired the PI and why Drescher, speaking for the EDA board, sent a letter asking for a halt to the FRPD investigation.
Judge Williams authorized a subpoena of Pullen and his records from June 6 to August 16, 2017. However, Bosson told the court he had been informed by the EDA that they do not have any documents related to Pullen’s investigation; and that either “Ms. McDonald has them or they’ve been destroyed.”
But the court ruling on Pullen and his records will allow information in a series of July 14, 2017 emails between McDonald and this reporter subpoenaed by the plaintiff and referenced several times in Wednesday’s hearing, to be corroborated or not corroborated by the private investigator, if not on paper, on the witness stand.
As Bosson noted during Wednesday’s hearing, in those emails McDonald alleges “a culprit” in the alleged June 15, 2017 rock-throwing vandalism at her home had been identified and was being approached by Pullen to wear a wire on a suspected accomplice in an alleged plot to terrorize her. Bosson told the court that based on information from the recipient of those McDonald emails the references to “the first Putin” and “our photo boy” as a director of the operation against her are references to Mr. Sayre. The alleged plot to terrorize McDonald was outlined in the crumpled, typed note the WCSO incident report indicated was pointed out in her yard to sheriff’s office first responders investigating the June 15 vandalism reported at 9:02 p.m.
As Royal Examiner previously reported, that note investigators assumed to be dropped by the vandal at the scene contains two phone numbers, Tom Sayre’s office number and former Town Manager Michael Graham’s cell phone number; as well as references a “Matt” being run off by a barking dog of McDonald’s; getting “files to the Examiner” because “Norma Jean will be waiting for them”; and instructions “not to call Tom during business hours…” and, drum roll please, “Do not take this sheet with you …”
The incident report appeared to indicate no fingerprints found on the note.
All those implicated by name and known to authorities testified at McDonald’s misdemeanor false police report trial that they had no knowledge of the note or any plot against McDonald. While dismissing the case against McDonald on October 31, 2018, General District Court Judge W. Dale Houff commented that there was something “terribly wrong” about the note. However, Houff ruled that Commonwealth’s Attorney Brian Madden had not established enough evidence or motive as to why McDonald would fabricate such a situation.*
As for defense attorney Berlik’s complaint that plaintiff counsel Bosson has not been responsive to subpoenas of plaintiff records in a timely manner, Bosson noted that many of the responses were being delivered to the McDonald team in Circuit Court where the defendant has become the plaintiff in filing a $600,000 defamation suit against Sayre.
“They filed the exact same thing in circuit court and will receive them there – I don’t understand why we are here,” Bosson said of the defense’s beef over the subpoena responses.
“Do you think the two of you can agree on anything,” Judge Williams asked the attorneys. When Berlik began, “Not now,” the judge countered, “If you can’t do it, I can go through all of (the subpoenas) and choose (what’s in and what’s out) and you can live with it … we’re not having another hearing on this.”
In making his case to reduce the scope of the defense subpoena submission, Sayre attorney Bosson pointed to his own four subpoenas totaling 20 specific requests in the wake of the judge’s earlier hearing admonishment to the attorneys not to turn evidentiary subpoenas into fishing expeditions. Bosson compared his numbers to the defense filing of seven subpoenas totaling 89 specific requests.
While setting a series of dates for submissions and responses approaching the new trial date, the judge set May 10 for the final product – “either separate orders or one agreed-upon order,” Williams observed, adding, “If you achieve that (an agreed order) I may invite you all up here for champagne.”
Williams then glanced to his left at Front Royal Town Attorney Doug Napier listening to the proceedings, offering to include him in the celebration of functional legal compromise; leading Front Royal Police Captain Crystal Cline to Napier’s left to inquire if she might be included in that celebration as well.
Back on the serious legal train, Napier told the court that the town government could not respond to a defense subpoena of town personnel text messages because “we just don’t have them.”
Napier was also present representing the Town in attempting to join the plaintiff in the effort to quash certain defense motions on the table that day. However, Napier acknowledged that two attempts he had made to notify Berlik of the Town’s planned joining in that motion had failed to reach McDonald’s attorney. During the hearing Napier simply deferred to the plaintiff’s arguments on the motions to quash.
FOOTNOTE: Despite McDonald’s criminal case acquittal, it is noteworthy as previously reported by Royal Examiner, that the prosecutor did not call the Town Police investigator who developed the false police report case against McDonald, nor the State Police officer who filed the warrant, nor an EDA employee whose recorded FRPD interview appears to corroborate this reporter’s timeline on meeting with McDonald about incidents at her home prior to the report of the vandalism rather than the following morning as asserted in her criminal case defense. Madden also did not present evidence regarding motive given to him by one prosecution witness – Royal Examiner Editor Norma Jean Shaw’s exploration of McDonald’s use of large amounts of cash in purchases and down payments in her personal real estate business; as well as Shaw’s inquiries into the identify of a “secret investor” in the since-aborted police academy project slated for EDA land in the Happy Creek Technology Park. That investor was believed to be ITFederal principal Truc “Curt” Tran. Tran has since said such an investment was discussed, but never agreed to. A file containing that information stored in an obscure place in McDonald’s office was the only thing she reported missing from the May 17, 2017, EDA office break in. Without a shovel being turned on the site, the EDA reports it spent over $500,000 on the police academy project before its abandonment.
Front Royal man charged for sexual solicitation of underage victims
On Wednesday, April 14, 2021, Front Royal Police detectives initiated an investigation regarding the solicitation of minors in the Warren County/Front Royal area. Detectives started a proactive approach to apprehend individuals soliciting underage victims for sexual purposes.
An undercover operation ensued, and an adult male began soliciting one of our detectives who he believed to be an underage female for photographs and sexually explicit material. The adult male suspect sent sexually explicit materials to the detective. The initial conversation was unsolicited and started by the offender in this case.
Police identified the suspect as 20-year-old Front Royal resident, Daniel Currence. Currence was arrested on 04/16/2021 and transported to the Rappahannock Shenandoah Warren (RSW) Regional Jail. Currence was ordered to be held on a $5,000 secured bond with a scheduled court date of May 20, 2021 at 9:00 a.m. in Warren County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.
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. We request anyone with information regarding the exploitation of a minor to contact Front Royal Police Detective M.R. Ramey at (540) 636-2208 or by email at email@example.com.
Four members of cocaine trafficking organization arrested following investigation
Four members of a cocaine trafficking organization were arrested on Thursday, April 15, 2021, following a yearlong investigation by the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force. Last April, the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force identified members of a cocaine trafficking organization operating in Winchester and Frederick County, VA. Through the course of the investigation, task force officers completed numerous controlled purchases of cocaine from multiple suspects within the organization. As a result, approximately 203 grams of cocaine with a street value of $9,100.00 was seized by the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force over the last year. On April, 15, 2021, the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force obtained and executed search warrants at four of the suspect’s residences located in Winchester and Frederick County, VA. Approximately 308 grams of cocaine with a street value of $14,300.00, 29 grams of methamphetamine with a street value of $1,300.00, 9 firearms, and $5,578.00 in currency was seized from the suspect’s residences.
Samuel Resendiz Hernandez, 24, of Winchester, VA, was arrested and charged with possession with the intent to distribute a schedule I/II controlled substance, two counts of distribution of a schedule I/ll controlled substance, and conspiracy.
Norberto Bautista Robles, 25, of Winchester, VA, was arrested and charged with two counts of distribution of a schedule I/ll controlled substance, two counts of possession of a schedule I/ll controlled substance, possession of a firearm while in possession of a schedule I/ll controlled substance, and possession of a firearm by a person wo is not a citizen of the United States.
Charles Arthur Perkins, Jr, 68, of Winchester, VA, was arrested and charged with possession with the intent to distribute a schedule I/ll controlled substance, possession of a firearm while in possession of a schedule I/ll controlled substance, and conspiracy.
Rafael Velazquez-Bautista, 25, of Winchester, VA, was arrested and charged with distribution of a schedule I/ll controlled substance.
Additional charges against the suspects and other co-conspirators are forthcoming. The Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force was assisted by the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office, Winchester Police Department, Virginia State Police, Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement during Thursday’s operation.
The Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force is comprised of law enforcement personnel from Clarke, Frederick, Page and Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Departments, Front Royal, Luray, Strasburg, and Winchester Police Departments and the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Culpeper Field Office. The Northwest Virginia Drug and Gang Task Force is a HIDTA funded initiative.
Warren County Sheriff’s Office launches new enforcement blitz against speeding
Warren County Sheriff’s Office today launched a tough new speed enforcement blitz for the County of Warren and Town of Front Royal under the tagline: “Obey the Sign or Pay the Fine.” The intensified enforcement effort against speeding drivers underscores the severity of the problem, both locally and across the nation.
“Speeding translates to death on our roadways. It greatly reduces a driver’s ability to steer safely around another vehicle, a hazardous object, or an unexpected curve. Speeding drivers put themselves, their passengers and other drivers at tremendous risk,” said Lieutenant Steve Collins.
In 2015, speeding was a contributing factor in 27 percent of all fatal crashes in the U.S. and more than 9,500 lives were lost in such crashes, according to the latest data available from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
“During the “Obey the Sign or Pay the Fine” blitz, deputies will intensify enforcement of posted speed limits in Warren County and Town of Front Royal. We’ll stop and ticket anyone caught speeding—especially on John Marshall Highway, Remount Road, Winchester Road and Stonewall Jackson Highway, where most of our speed-related crashes occur,” said Lieutenant Steve Collins.
Fully 17 percent of all speeding-related traffic fatalities occurred on local roads — where the posted speed limits were 55 miles per hour or under. According to NHTSA, a crash on a road with a speed limit of 65 mph or greater is more than twice as likely to result in a fatality than a crash on a road with a speed limit of 45 or 50 mph and nearly five times as likely as a crash on a road with a speed limit of 40 mph or below. About 15 percent of the country’s speeding-related fatalities occur on interstate highways each year.
A NHTSA research report, “Analysis of Speeding-Related Fatal Motor Vehicle Traffic Crashes,” shows that a major proportion of fatal, speeding-related single-vehicle crashes occur on rural roadways.
Across America in 2015, speeding was a factor in 17 percent of all fatal crashes on dry roads, and in 21 percent of those occurring on wet roads.
“Driving above the posted speed limit or speeding in bad weather conditions dramatically increases the probability that a motorist will be involved in a crash,” said Lieutenant Steve Collins.
“During this enforcement blitz, deputies will be out targeting and ticketing speeding drivers,” said Lieutenant Steve Collins. “Our goal is to save lives, and we’re putting all drivers on alert – the posted speed limit IS THE LAW. No more warnings and no more excuses. When it comes to speeding: Obey the Sign or Pay the Fine.”
NHTSA considers a crash speeding-related if the driver was charged with exceeding the posted speed limit or if the driver was driving too fast for conditions at the time.
For more information, please visit trafficsafetymarketing.gov.
Methamphetamine trafficker arrested after multi-jurisdictional investigation
On April 9, Christopher Shane Gonder, 33, of Waynesboro, PA, was arrested following a multi-jurisdictional investigation in Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland. The arrest was the result of an ongoing investigation involving the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force, West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle Drug and Violent Crimes Task Force, Maryland’s Washington County Narcotics Task Force, and the Drug Enforcement Administration Hagerstown Resident Office. In December of last year, members of the Northwest Virginia Drug and Gang Task Force identified Christopher Shane Gonder and other members of a methamphetamine trafficking organization operating in the Winchester, Frederick County, Warren County, and Front Royal areas.
The Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force identified Gonder as a leader within the organization and knew Gonder and other members would routinely travel between Virginia and Maryland selling and distributing large quantities of methamphetamine. During the investigation, the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force completed multiple controlled purchases of methamphetamine from Gonder in Frederick and Warren Counties. Approximately ½ pound of methamphetamine with a street value of $6,000.00 was purchased from Gonder between December and March.
On April 9, members of the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force arranged to purchase a ½ pound of methamphetamine from Christopher Gonder. When Gonder arrived at the prearranged location, members of the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force and the Warren County Sheriff’s Office attempted to arrest Gonder. Gonder fled the scene driving an Infiniti G35 coupe. Gonder’s vehicle was pursued from Warren County into Shenandoah County. Gonder’s vehicle became disabled on Back Road near Toms Brook. Gonder was taken into custody by deputies with the Warren County Sheriff’s Office and Task Force Officers.
Following his arrest, members of the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force obtained and executed a search warrant on Gonder’s vehicle. After a search, approximately ½ pound of Methamphetamine with a street value of $6,000.00, 16 fluid ounces of Gamma Hydroxybutyrate (GHB) with a street value of $3,000.00, 5 grams of fentanyl with a street value of $500.00, and $3,500.00 in US Currency was seized. GHB is a powerful depressant that affects the central nervous system. GHB is commonly referred to as a “date rape drug” on the street. In addition, members of Maryland’s Washington County Narcotics Task Force, and the Drug Enforcement Administration Hagerstown Resident Office executed a search warrant on a storage unit being rented by Gonder in Maryland. Approximately ½ pound of methamphetamine with a street value of $6,000.00, and $10,000.00 US Currency was seized.
Gonder was charged with three counts of distribution of a schedule I/II controlled substance, two counts of transporting more than one ounce of a schedule I/ll controlled substance into the Commonwealth with the intent to sell or distribute, and possession of a firearm while in possession of a schedule I/II controlled substance. Additional charges against Gonder and co-conspirators are forthcoming. The Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force was assisted by the Warren County Sheriff’s Office, Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office, Front Royal Police Department, and Strasburg Police Department.
The Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force is comprised of law enforcement personnel from Clarke, Frederick, Page, and Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Departments, Front Royal, Luray, Strasburg, and Winchester Police Departments and the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Culpeper Field Office.
Purcellville man arrested for discharging firearm on Frederick County traffic stop
A Purcellville man was arrested today after the firearm he was handling, during a traffic stop, was fired while a Frederick County Sheriff’s Office deputy was approaching his driver’s window.
At 10:05 am, Deputy A. Cilento observed a grey VW passenger car, with no registration displayed, in the 600 block of Front Royal Pike. Deputy Cilento initiated a traffic stop and the vehicle pulled off Rt 522 and onto Front Drive. As Cilento exited his cruiser, and approached the suspect vehicle, he observed three small children in the backseat before hearing the distinct sound of a weapon being fired. Deputy Cilento immediately notified dispatchers that the subject had just “discharged a firearm” and requested additional units.
Deputy Cilento drew his service weapon and gave the driver verbal commands as the suspect dropped the gun onto the floorboard. With additional units arriving on scene, the suspect was removed from the vehicle and detained. Units began checking the wellbeing of the three children and one adult passenger. Luckily, no one was struck by the round which exited out the bottom of the suspect’s vehicle, past Deputy Cilento, and coming to rest beside the left front tire of his sheriff’s office cruiser.
The suspect was identified as Daniel Zachary Cook of Purcellville. Cook made statements to investigating deputies indicating that he removed the weapon from his center console because he “seen what cops do to white and black people with guns”. As far as firing the weapon, Cook stated he was attempting to hide it when it went off. Cook’s passenger, Douglas Burke of Winchester, is the father to the three children present who range from ages 2 – 7. Burke stated he asked Cook what he was doing when he removed the gun from the console and, when Cook made the statement about what cops do, Burke demanded that Cook put the gun away.
It remains unclear why Cook would remove the weapon from the locked console in the first place if his intent were to simply hide it. Sheriff Lenny Millholland is both thankful and extremely concerned with today’s event. “Can you imagine if one of those small children would’ve been hit by this stray bullet on its way out of that vehicle?” Sheriff Millholland said before adding, “I truly believe this individual had it in his mind to harm my deputy when he pulled that gun out of that console after being pulled over. It is sad how the men and women of law enforcement are being perceived and treated these days.”
Cook was taken to the regional adult detention facility where numerous warrants, to include reckless discharge of a firearm, brandishing and carrying a concealed weapon, were obtained and served. Charges for the reckless endangerment of the three children were sought but denied by the Magistrate on duty who held Cook without bail.
Church Street shooting incident results in charges against local woman
The woman who appeared at a June 2020 Front Royal Town Council meeting with props to publicly criticize then-Mayor Eugene Tewalt and then Town Councilman Chris Holloway’s 2020 mayoral campaign opponent and Royal Examiner Publisher Mike McCool for participating in or filming a ribbon-cutting at the Virginia Beer Museum to celebrate reopening from eased COVID pandemic restrictions the day before a bikini motorcycle wash event, was arrested Monday, March 29 on firearms charges.|
Alisa Nichole Carson, 41, is charged with “reckless handling of a firearm” and “unlawful discharge of a firearm, missile in, at occupied building”. She was booked into RSW Regional Jail at 11:58 p.m. Monday night and released the following morning at 8:38 a.m. on a $5,000 unsecured bond. She has a hearing date in Warren County General District Court scheduled for May 4, on the 10 a.m. docket.
A check at the General District Court Clerk’s Office offered no other detail on the circumstance or address at which the incident occurred, other than that the Front Royal Police was the arresting agency. A subsequent check with FRPD provided an address of 17 Church Street as the site of the incident, which may have evolved from a domestic situation.
Prior to her June 2020 Public Comments appearance before the town council, Carson had been seen at Warren County Republican Committee meetings, occasionally seated next to now Mayor Holloway. Friday, committee officials verified her past membership and a district committee chairmanship they believed is still active.
Her June 2020 public criticism of the moral values of Beer Museum proprietor David Downes for hosting a ‘Bikini Bike Wash’ and sideswipes at Tewalt and McCool for their presence at the Virginia Beer Museum ribbon cutting was interpreted by some observers as, at least in part, a not-too-subtle promotion of then-Councilman Holloway’s Republican Committee-endorsed campaign for mayor.