Loudoun Courtroom

The inside of a Loudoun County courtroom.

After a weeklong civil trial, a Loudoun jury took just over two hours Friday afternoon to hand down a $5 million judgment against a Loudoun County deputy who charged a public school teacher with taking indecent liberties with a student.

The charge against Kimberly L. Winters was dropped by county prosecutors for lack of evidence to support the charge. 

The allegations against her were made in October 2018 about conduct claimed to have occurred the previous year with a student at Park View High School. The charge was dropped in early 2019. 

Winters’ Loudoun County Public Schools contract was not renewed at the end of the school year. She has been unable to get a new teaching job, or any employment matching her previous $75,000 salary in part because of the lingering impact of her highly publicized arrest, according to testimony at the trial. 

The civil suit was filed against the arresting officer, Detective Peter Roque.

Over the course of a five-day trial, Winters’ attorney Thomas Plofchan argued that Roque failed to adequately investigate the allegations made by the student and his mother before filing the charge. Specifically, they claimed to have phone records and texts that would provide proof of an improper relationship starting when the student was 17 years old. However, that evidence did not exist, and the mother later admitted to “bluffing” about having it.

That claim about having evidence documenting the relationship formed the basis of Roque’s arrest warrant presented to a magistrate, although the detective had not seen it.

Plofchan said Roque failed to conduct a thorough investigation before bringing the charge, including that he did not subpoena phone records of any of the parties involved, did not interview Winters’ neighbors, family members or coworkers, and did not conduct searches of Winters’ home or classroom, among other possible investigative actions.

To win a civil judgment for malicious prosecution, the six-member jury had to find that Roque lacked probable cause to file the criminal charge, and that he acted with malice—defined in the case as acting in bad faith or with disregard for others.

Plofchan termed Roque’s actions as “malice by indifference” by failing to assemble evidence before seeking an arrest warrant. 

“He acted recklessly in this case. He knows it and you know it,” Plofchan told the jury during his closing argument. “He did it and she’s the one who paid the price."

Roque’s attorney Alexander Francuzenko urged the jury not to “Monday morning quarterback” the detective’s actions. “This case is not about whether you believe Det. Roque could have done a better job,” he said.

He said Roque’s “whole life has been about public service,” but that when faced with difficult decisions “sometimes you get them wrong. Is that malice?”

The jury found it was.

It awarded $4.65 million in compensatory damages for economic losses suffered by Winters. The jury also awarded $350,000 in punitive damages against Roque, the maximum permitted in Virginia.

Sheriff Michael Chapman also was named as a defendant on the lawsuit as Roque’s supervisor, but he did not participate in the trial. The Sheriff’s Office has not responded to a request for comment.

“The jury’s verdict vindicates Kim Winters, a wrongfully accused teacher,” Plofchan said in a statement after the trial. "More importantly, it validates the citizens’ willingness to hold law enforcement accountable. Law enforcement yields great power. They also have great responsibility. Reckless charges can ruin reputations and destroy lives. This is a step in giving Kim Winters her life back.”

(19) comments

cjh1

Hey Virginia_sgp, sounds like you sat through the whole trial and heard what the jury heard. Wait, you didn't? You didn't hear all the evidence? Imagine that. The jury did and they decided. Your comments are irresponsible and outrageous.

virginia_sgp

You cannot point out a single statement that is wrong, now can you?

cjh1

Yes I can because I was there for a good portion of the trial, in the courthouse. But I don't feel the need to engage with you. Like I said your comments are irresponsible and not based on the facts. You shouldn't cast aspersions like you did. I'm leaving it at that.

SueSx

That’s ok, she and her son will have the opportunity to prove up these wild accusations (like that he had sex with her hundreds of times over a couple month period, bragging that he “owned” her body) when Ms Winters sues them for defamation of character. And no, she did not admit to having sex with him on the stand, rather she adamantly denied having sex with ever at any age.

Also Christie

Congratulations to Ms. Winter on triumphing in court against the heinous charges that were made by a vengeful parent and student aided by an incompetent investigator. Sadly, Ms. Winter's career is ruined as is her reputation. I hope she sues the parent and student who started the ball rolling.

I suspect that we haven't seen the end of these persecutions of teachers now that politicians who haven’t been in a school since high school, egged on by parents who also know nothing about the education system except what those wanting to do away with public schools feed them, come up with more ways to get rid of teachers. Put teachers in jail for having books that they bought themselves to provide a class library for their students? Tattle tale lines that parents can use to report any teacher who looks at their child cross-eyed or says something the parent or child doesn’t agree with? The handwriting is on the wall. The big question is who will teach the children when current teachers decide that they’ve have enough of the nonsense and move on?

virginia_sgp

We get it. You are a teacher or former teacher who will defend their right to sexually prey on their students. Whether it was Dominion's Brian Damron who was recommended by LCPS to a Florida school district where he assaulted other kids. Or the recent LCPS counselor who groomed and then had sex with her confused student while her own kids were in the house. Or other LCPS teachers assaulting students. You want to protect their right to indiscriminately abuse their students without consequences.

This woman should have received at most $1. She ruined her reputation. Even her OWN LAWYER'S press release stated she wasn't seeking damages for being unable to be a teacher again!!!!!! That is admission of guilt as to having sex with a student. What "innocent" teacher asks a jury they were wrongfully accused and then says I am not asserting I could have EVER worked as a teacher again?

These left wing crazies defending this woman who abused her trust with kids are out of their minds. Or maybe Democrats secretly send their kids to school hoping a teacher will hit in their kid and teach them about the birds and bees in one on one tutoring. Based on their comments, it is hard to tell.

virginia_sgp

Another shoddy piece of reporting by Loudoun Now. Citizens must go to other places to find the truth. Here are the facts:

1. This LCPS teacher virtually admitted having sex (to the student's mother) with a student. Period. This came out during the trial but didn't make it into this article. She was fired for that. Instead, Loudoun Now is making it seem like a make believe story of a teacher exploiting her students. That is shameful.

2. The detective testified, and the teacher didn't deny, that the teacher wouldn't talk to the detective during his investigation. This is likely because she knew she would be forced to (a) admit having sex with a student (a fire-able offense) or (b) lie to the detective (a crime). The detective NEVER NEEDS proof beyond a reasonable doubt to charge a defendant with a crime. Here, a teacher had sex with a student. She didn't deny it. The victim said it was before his 18th birthday making it a crime. That is sufficient in ANY UNIVERSE to charge her with that crime. If she demonstrates it didn't happen or further investigation reveals evidence that undermines the case, then the charges can be dropped. But the notion that all potential evidence must be gathered before a charge is made is ludicrous. It is likely an appeals court will overturn this.

This teacher didn't get another teaching job because .... wait for it ... she EXPLOITED A STUDENT in her school!!!! It doesn't matter if it was technically a crime or not, her license should have been rescinded. Another article stated the phone records showed she had a 5.5 hr call with the student that started late at night. What parent wants a teacher hitting on and grooming their kid?! This should be a lesson to all teachers of the consequences of molesting your students.

Maybe the student was looking for a payday as well. That makes him a bad person but in no way shape or form does that absolve the teacher, in a trusted position, of anything.

The teacher's lawyer - Plofchan - is as despicable as they come. Once disciplined by the Virginia bar for spreading false rumors about a judge in pleadings (and sanctioned by every court under which he practices: bankruptcy, federal district, federal appeals, Virginia State court) is one of the reasons our judicial system has become such a joke.

timsmith

My goodness. This woman was horribly maligned. A Loudoun jury awarded her $5-million for what she had to go through due to Sheriff Mike Chapman's office. And now you continue to malign her with your unproven allegations. I think you owe the young lady an apology.

LoCo Joe

How is it this case never even made it to Pre-Lim? It must have been a weak case to begin with as 99/100 cases make it thru Pre-Lim unless there is a serious issue.

Shytshowjohnson

[thumbdown] hahahah the cops are lame and crooked.. they lost.. now you get lost..

Jeff Mach

"If she demonstrates it didn't happen"

That's not how it works. The prosecution has to prove the guilt to begin with. It's "innocent until proven guilty", not "guilty until proven innocent".

The prosecution didn't have a case, and here we are.

virginia_sgp

Oh Jeff, where to start. Let's go slowly:

1. The prosecution has to have probable cause to make a criminal charge. In most sexual assault cases, especially ones that are raised months later, there is no physical evidence. The testimony of the student is sufficient to issue a warrant. Period.

2. The victim is not required to talk to law enforcement. But let's go extra slowly here. If a detective tells a potential defendant that a person has made a criminal allegation against them and the potential defendant does not talk to the detective, there is no basis whatsoever to doubt the alleged victim. In fact, in court, if a person testifies that person A raped them, and person A doesn't testify, that may be sufficient to prove guilt BEYOND a reasonable doubt. In America, proof beyond a reasonable doubt is NEVER required for a warrant or a criminal charge. Or else most of the police officers charges with crimes would never have warrants issued against them. Do you need an even simpler explanation?

3. The alleged defendant is NEVER "innocent until proven guilty". There is a presumption of innocence for a jury deliberating a criminal trial. But even alleged defendants are locked up in jail without EVER without even having guilt against them proven. The CA could have gone in front of a grand jury with the exact same facts, ONLY told the grand jury about the victim's testimony, secured a warrant and there is absolutely nothing that the pervert teacher could have done.

4. Not sure why the chat forum won't let me reply to your ignorant comment below, but the ban on ex post facto laws ONLY applies to criminal liability. Qualified immunity applies only to civil charges. Not only is it legal for legislatures to pass retroactive laws, it is done all the time.

Please tell me your career is not remotely close the judicial system. Such ignorance should be banned from ever stepping foot inside a courtroom.

ReadyToRumble

Happy to see the teacher receive some vindication. However, her reputation is still damaged while the young man and his mother walk around without consequence. Fingers crossed that Winters goes after them next. In fact, shouldn't the Sheriff's office be pressing charges against the mother for bluffing (let's call call it what it is: lying) about having texts to support her false claim? And the young man... though he may have been 17 when the false accusation occured, he must have been over 18 when while pursuing his false claims. I'm not sure there's anything stopping Winters from seeking compensation from him as well. At the very least having him charge with making false statements, obstruction, and whatever else is available for the DA to throw at him.

2twotango

The exodus of highly experienced deputies and detectives - either being forced out, resigning in disgust, or transferred due to the bullying tactics and hostile work environment that defines Mike Chapman's "leadership", resulted in this debacle. With all this insitutional knowledge gone, there are very few experienced deputies and detectives available to mentor the younger deputies/detectives. On a similar note, patrol staff is spread so thin, that Chapman is backfilling it with specialty units and we still have only ten deputies on patrol during the overnight shifts to cover 520 square miles. Is it any wonder why the gun shop burglars had plenty of time to break in and steal 10 handgusn in Ashburn?

timsmith

This is yet another example of Sheriff Mike Chapman's extremely poor judgment when making personnel decisions. Shame on him & Det. Peter Roque. I truly hope Sheriff Chapman will retire soon & put everyone out of their misery. His mistakes are very dangerous & costly. On a brighter note, Happy Valentine's Day Loudoun.

Jonathan

The behavior of Det. Peter Roque is reprehensible and demonstrates incompetence or worse. It also shows how easy it is to get the CA and judges to issue warrants and fail to investigate matters properly.

Cases like this ought to result in the elimination of qualified immunity making the individuals responsible for their personal negligence. That might prompt civil servants to exercise a bit more effort in their actions.

kronos

This case shows also that the entire system that issued the arrest warrant failed to provide a check... the warrant for arrest should never have been issued without the evidence that the mother was "bluffing" about having as well... and did anything ever happen to her? That sounds like it's ripe for a defamation lawsuit.

virginia_sgp

Jonathan, the officer didn't receive qualified immunity or else he wouldn't have been found liable. He may yet get immunity on appeal.

Under your suggestion, whenever a court/jury finds that behavior which was once considered allowable is now illegal, the officer would be found personally liable. For behavior he was trained to do. Surely you are not advocating that. Or do you want every officer to resign tomorrow?

Jeff Mach

State law provides that immunity for liability does not apply if there was willful misconduct (which does not seem to be the case here based on the limited information available).

If the law was changed to repel immunity for liability, it would not be retroactive under the US constitution: "No State shall (...) pass any (...) ex post facto Law".

Most Western countries do not have qualified immunity like we do in the US. Doesn't seem like their police forces suffer from it. In general, government accountability is not a bad thing.

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