Thursday, June 7, 2007

Crooked small-town cops in Virginia

Speak Out Against Police Injustice

Chilhowie Town Manager Bill Boswell spent Friday morning preparing for his employees’ Memorial Day picnic. But beneath the bounty of burgers, hot dogs, fun and games ran the undercurrent of a shake-up at the town police department that would rattle anyone. Earlier this week, the town’s former police chief and a recently fired sergeant were both arrested on charges involving the sexual assault of a 17-year-old girl at a Halloween haunted house last fall. In addition, a third officer was arrested on a charge of selling the painkiller hydrocodone. All three officers were indicted this week and had either resigned or been fired by the town. The arrests cut the town’s police force of six in half.

Friday afternoon, Smyth County Circuit Court Judge Charles B. Flannagan II set $20,000 secured bonds for both former Chilhowie police chief Dwayne Sheffield and Sgt. Brian Doss. The two had previously been held at Southwest Virginia Regional Jail in Abingdon. The judge also placed multiple conditions on the two defendants, including placing them under house arrest using electronic monitoring devices and ordering them to certify that there are no firearms or alcohol in their homes. They were also ordered not to have any contact with the victim or her family. Former officer James E. Runyon, 29, of Chilhowie, who was indicted on Tuesday for distribution of a Schedule III controlled substance, had already been released on a $1,500 bond.

The charges against Sheffield and Doss stemmed from an incident with a 17-year-old girl at a haunted house fundraising event in October, Virginia State Police investigators said. Sheffield is charged with rape, object sexual penetration, felony child endangerment, sexual battery and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Doss is charged with forcible sodomy, felony child endangerment, sexual battery and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. According to the indictments, Sheffield and Doss had sex with the girl "by force, threat or intimidation" and "against her will ... while having the custody of a child."

An indictment does not address guilt or innocence but reflects only the grand jury’s belief the charge merits prosecution. Reaction in the Smyth County town runs the gamut. "I was shocked," said Chilhowie Barber Shop owner Larry McClure, who has given the former officers a cut or two.

Lee Harrell, appointed as special prosecutor in the case in March, wouldn’t say much on the case. "These are serious allegations," he said. "The grand jury found probable cause for the indictments, and the case now proceeds to trial. Because the victim is a minor, I will not comment further on the case to protect the victim and the integrity of the investigation." Virginia State Police Sgt. Michael Conroy also had little to say.

In early May, the Chilhowie Town Council voted 5-0 in a special called meeting to terminate Sheffield and Doss. The council met in closed session and the meeting took place before the indictments came out. The officers were terminated" Boswell said. The town has advertised for two police officer positions, and in the meantime, it is working with the county sheriff’s office and state police to patrol the streets. "When something like this happens, what you do is reschedule and work with the other available law enforcement agencies to make sure you’re covered," Boswell said Friday. "Everyone’s working overtime now, but we’re having no morale problems. We’re doing fine."

Fight Police Injustice

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