Police Chief Files $16M Lawsuit Against Purcellville

Purcellville Police Chief Cynthia McAlister on Monday filed a $16 million lawsuit against the Town of Purcellville, as well as former Acting Town Manager Alex Vanegas, former human resources consultant Georgia Nuckolls, and six officers of the Purcellville Police Department, including former acting chief Joseph Schroeck.

The lawsuit stems from the scandal that rocked Purcellville starting in October 2017, when Vanegas put McAlister, who was hired in April 2015, on administrative leave and installed Schroek as acting chief. Vanegas, the former Public Works director whom the Town Council had decided to appoint over Assistant Town Manager Danny Davis as acting town manager that May, then hired Nuckolls as a consultant to conduct an investigation into McAlister’s conduct. The investigation ended with a confidential report and a unanimous vote of no confidence in McAlister by the Purcellville Town Council on Nov. 1, 2017. Vanegas fired her the next day.

Only a few weeks later, Vanegas found himself on administrative leave as the town investigated its own investigation. It had been discovered that Nuckolls “had a relationship with an employee involved with the investigation,” in addition to more than a dozen previous convictions, including felony convictions such as for credit card fraud. Vanegas at the time denied that the relationship was with him. An external audit of the investigation into McAlister cleared her and found serious flaws in the original investigation. Vanegas was fired and McAlister was reinstated. The town had spent nearly $800,000 on the various investigations.

Retired Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo and the law firm of Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker LLP found in their report that McAlister had been fighting “a culture of complacency.” During her time in Purcellville, McAlister had made what her lawsuit describes as “sweeping changes” to the department, including firing officer Timothy Hood and recommending the termination of Sgt. Guy Dinkins, who opted to resign.

Her lawsuit alleges that Vanegas, Nuckolls, the town, and the six police officers named conspired to defame her and take her job, all of which happened.

According to Town Manager David Mekarski, two of those officers—Paul “P.B.” Kakol and Robert Wagner—are still with the town. The others have all retired or taken new jobs elsewhere.

The lawsuit also alleges Vanegas ignored normal requirements for hiring contractors to hire his girlfriend, Nuckolls, so he could control the outcome of his investigation into McAlister’s alleged misconduct. But according to the lawsuit—and an email submitted as evidence—that relationship started to fall apart in October.

 In an email dated Oct. 15, 2017, Nuckolls wrote to Vanegas, “You were in a personal relationship with me starting in JULY!! You defrauded the TOWN and awarded the HR Contract to me because you were DATING ME. Regardless of my skills- you wanted me close. And you used our relationship to gain this sick power/control over me.”

 In the email, Nuckolls states she built an “iron clad” case against McAlister “that you NEVER had to begin with.”

 “Treating women like expendable whores, doing inappropriate things in your office only to make them feel cheap and dirty, all in an effort to do your bidding is unacceptable,” Nuckolls is alleged to have written. “Your lies and broken promises have finally caught up with you.”

 Mekarski said the lawsuit would not affect service delivery in the town, where “it’s business as usual, no change in operations.”

“The police department is moving forward in a very positive manner. We’re pursuing investigations on a new police headquarters. We’ve instituted new general orders. We’ve put in five new recruits just last month and a new command position,” Mekarski said. “And so there should be no impact on service delivery, and both myself and the chief and the entire department is going to continue to move forward in a very positive, progressive fashion.”

McAlister’s attorney, Thomas Plofchan, could not be reached for comment.

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