Town Council Members Clash With Police in Haymarket

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Northern Virginia Bureau Chief Julie Carey reports on the flap between the council and mayor of Haymarket. (Published Tuesday, Jan 28, 2014)

    In tiny Haymarket, Va., half of the police department is sidelined while several council members and the mayor tangle over the suspensions of the chief, deputy chief and an officer.

    It's just the latest clash between council members and the police department.

    On Jan. 24, the three officers were placed on 60-day unpaid suspensions. Two of them have also been ordered to undergo sexual harassment, sensitivity and ethics-in-the-workplace training.

    The whole flap started late last year when several complaints were brought to Mayor David Leake's attention. Since they are personnel matters, he says he can't disclose details but he calls the allegations "serious." After consulting with the town attorney and researching how other small communities handled similar cases, Leake urged the council to hire an outside firm to conduct an investigation.

    "All our council members except one have full time jobs, myself included," said Leake. "They do not have the expertise or training or credentials to do this."

    Originally the council agreed and hired an outside firm, but led by vice mayor Jay Tobias, the council reversed course and decided two of them should investigate internally, Leake said.

    Tobias was one of the council members involved in the review of the allegation. Last fall, he was arrested by Haymarket Police Chief James Roop and charged with being drunk in public. Leake said the incident is another reason he supported an outside review.

    "I felt that could be a perceived conflict of interest," he said of Tobias being involved in the investigation.

    In December, the council censured Leake for failing to cooperate with their internal investigation. He vetoed their investigative committee, but the council voted to overturn the veto.

    The process was repeated last week after the council approved the suspensions. Leake vetoed the council action and sent letters to the officers reinstating them and rescinding the order to get the special training. The next day, the council called an emergency meeting and resuspended the officers. One angry citizen at the meeting can be heard in the video recording shouting, "You are idiots."

    Haymarket is a one square mile town of just fewer than 2,000 people that prides itself on its long history. But it's not the first time the council and police force have clashed.

    Some residents are tired of the drama.

    "This has been going on for years in this town," said Pam Swinford, who served a term on the town's Architectural Review Board. "It's become peronsal between town counci members, between people and the police, and people are doing their own personal vendettas against each other. The people who live here love this town. The problem is people have been in certain positions for too long."

    Cathy Young, who owns a hair salon and has lived in Haymarket since she was 10, agrees with the mayor that an outside investigation is needed.

    "I think it's a power play," she said. "I don't think the council should be handling it (the investigation). What are their qualifications for handling it?"

    The saga continued Tuesday evening. The vice mayor called a special meeting.

    "Tonight's meeting is to address concerns with certain council members violating their executive privileges and improper release of privileged information," Tobias said in a statement.

    As of Tuesday evening, the police chief had not turned in his car, badge and gun as required by the council's suspension order.