Purcellville Council Pushes Police Chief Investigation into July

Ongoing since April, the investigation into allegations of misconduct against the Town of Purcellville’s police chief failed to wrap up this week, sending the issue onto the docket of the next Town Council, which takes over starting July 1.

For a fourth time since the town announced that the law firm of Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker LLP and former police chief Timothy Longo, Sr. would investigate the allegations that resulted in the suspension, firing, re-hiring and re-suspension McAlister over the past year, the Town Council met in a closed session Tuesday night with the investigators to discuss the matter. After an hour and a half closed session, the council took no formal action—meaning the investigation will continue past July 1 when Councilmen-Elect Joel Grewe and Tip Stinnette take their seats on the dais.

Grewe said that he expected the investigation to run into July. He said that one of the reasons he initially ran for Town Council was to be a part of the solution in helping the town to sort out the matter.

“If you aren’t going to be comfortable with taking that sort of responsibility, you shouldn’t run for office,” he said. “I’m not sure if all of the voters trust [the current Town Council members] to clean up their own mess.”

Stinnette said he understands that the investigation is a complex issue and that the town has done its due diligence. He doesn’t want to put a deadline on its completion. “If we wrap it up prematurely, without the proper thought or insight, we are at risk of doing what we did at the very outset,” he said.

On April 11, the town released the findings of Wilson Elser’s audit of the original investigation into allegations against McAlister, which was led by then-interim town manager Alex Vanegas from August to October, 2017, and resulted in the firing of McAlister. The firm determined that the original investigation had “serious deficiencies” that “undermined the reliability and accuracy of the report.” At that time, the town also announced that Wilson Elser and Longo would conduct a new investigation on McAlister.

Since then, the Town Council met in closed sessions on April 24, May 26, June 12 and June 26, totaling nearly 10 hours behind closed doors. Town Manager David Mekarski said that the town is now “tidying up loose ends.”

“When you go this far, you got to make sure you dot the ‘Is’ and cross the ‘Ts’ and do things right,” he said. “At the end of the day, we’re looking for truth and looking for justice.”

Mekarski said that he plans to brief Grewe and Stinnette on the details of the investigation early next week.

This ongoing investigation is now the final phase of a 10-month-long process that began in August when McAlister was placed on administrative leave for Vanegas and independent human resources consultant Georgia Nuckolls to investigate seven complaints of misconduct against her. In November, after finding that McAlister had violated multiple town and police procedural policies, the Town Council unanimously supported a vote of “no confidence” in her, which prompted Vanegas to fire her. That investigation, which included work by an outside consultant, cost the town $41,771.

Two weeks later, the town announced that the integrity of that investigation was called into question because of Vanegas’ alleged intimate relationship with the consultant, Georgia Nuckolls. Vanegas was then placed on administrative leave before he filed a formal complaint against Town Attorney Sally Hankins alleging sexual harassment, which led the council to place her on administrative leave. At that time, McAlister was also rehired, but placed back on paid administrative leave. In December, the town hired Wilson Elser for $80,000 to audit the original investigation and to investigate Vanegas’ conduct and the claims against Hankins.

The April 11 results of those investigations determined that Vanegas improperly managed the investigation and “failed to exercise proper judgment,” which led the Town Council to fire him immediately. The council also reinstated Hankins after the investigators found no merit in the allegations against her.

As of June 15, the town has spent $275,345 on all the investigations, including the ongoing one. It has also spent $359,425 on the salaries of staff members formerly and currently on administrative leave and to pay former interim town manager John Anzivino and former interim attorney Hank Day.

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