Purcellville Police Chief Cynthia McAlister has filed a five-count lawsuit against the Town of Purcellville, former town manager Alex Vanegas and several key players involved in an alleged scheme to oust her from her post in 2017.
McAlister was fired from the town and then re-instated after an investigation into her management led by Vanegas and his then girlfriend, Georgia Nuckolls, was debunked in a review by a prominent law firm, according to town officials.
The suit, filed Monday in Loudoun County Circuit Court, names the defendants as: Vanegas, individually and officially; Nuckolls, individually; Corporation of Purcellville; Joseph Schroeck, individually and officially; Clark McDaniel, individually and officially; Paul Kakol, individually and officially; Susan Elassal, individually and officially; Robert Wagner, individually and officially; and Ryan Vasconi, individually and officially.
Schroeck, McDaniel, Kakol, Elassal, Wagner and Vasconi were Purcellville Police Department officers in 2017.
McAlister is seeking more than $16 million in damages. Her suit lists five counts: tortious interference with contract/business expectancy (plaintiff versus all parties); civil conspiracy (plaintiff versus all defendants); gross negligence (plaintiff versus all defendants); statutory business conspiracy pursuant to Virginia Code 18.2-499 and 18.2-500 (plaintiff versus all defendants); and breach of contract/breach of fiduciary duty (plaintiff versus Purcellville).
McAlister and her legal team lay out evidence suggesting Vanegas hatched the plan to oust the chief after she terminated officer Timothy Hood from the police department. Vanegas, according to the lawsuit, had worked closely with Sheryl Hood at the Purcellville Department of Public Works. Sheryl Hood subsequently married Timothy Hood.
“Vanegas learned of McAlister's termination of Officer Hood from various sources, believed to be Sheryl Hood and/or Shroeck, and upon information and belief, began the conspiracy to damage McAlister,” the lawsuit states. “ … Vanegas used his position of authority to organize, direct, or otherwise encourage a group of PPD officers to come forward with false and pre-textual complaints regarding McAlister.”
The suit continues, “ … the end goal was to remove McAlister as police chief and replace her with Lt. Joseph Schroeck, a long-time veteran of the PPD, and someone who would not continue the sweeping changes instituted by McAlister. Additionally, with Schroeck as chief, both Dinkins and Hood could be re-hired.”
Sergeant Guy Dinkins was recommended for termination by McAlister, but he instead resigned, according to the lawsuit.
Vanegas hired Nuckolls, whom he was reportedly romantically involved with at the time, to perform an investigation into the complaints against the chief. Nuckolls styled herself a human resources consultant, though the lawsuit claims her qualifications were never verified.
“The Nuckolls allegations against McAlister were a sham,” the lawsuit states. “Not only were the PPD officers' complaints factually baseless, Nuckolls herself blatantly added false statements of facts against McAlister into the report, that were not included in the original officers' 'complaints.' These include such statements/findings that McAlister lied on her resume, and did not attend the FBI academy, submitted a false workers compensation claim, and a leased a car without authority. Upon information and belief, these allegations were fabricated by Nuckolls and Vanegas.”
The lawsuit also includes a statement that Nuckolls and Vanegas had a sexual dalliance in his town office. The suit goes on to state Nuckolls was not qualified for the investigation, noting her felony convictions from the 1990s and failure to provide proof of liability insurance as required by the town contract.
“Upon information and belief,” the lawsuit states, “the 'due diligence' Vanegas completed prior to hiring Nuckolls was looking up Nuckolls' Yelp reviews … it was not verified if Nuckolls had a college degree and/or the credentials she claimed.”
In an email from Nuckolls to Vanegas on Oct. 15, 2017 – exhibited in the lawsuit and apparently after their relationship went sour – Nuckolls wrote to Vanegas, “You defrauded the TOWN and awarded the HR Contract to me because you were DATING ME.”
"I was RIGHT and built and [sic] iron clad case against Chief McAlister that you NEVER had to begin with," Nuckolls wrote.
The Purcellville Town Council at the time – Mayor Kwasi Fraser, Karen Jimmerson, Nedim Ogelman, Chris Bledsoe, Doug McCollum, Ryan Cool and Kelli Grim – accepted the Nuckolls report without questions and subsequently voted “no confidence” in the chief, leading to Vanegas's formal firing of her.
“The Purcellville Town Council's vote of no confidence was publicly announced by Purcellville Mayor Kwasi Fraser,” the lawsuit states. “ … Fraser called the defendant officers to the podium with him for a photo op when he announced the no confidence vote and promised changes in police accountability. Hood was also present and dressed in business attire. This tremendously damaged McAlister's reputation in the public at large.”
The lawsuit noted Purcellville took no steps to validate or check Nuckolls' credentials, or whether there were any conflicts involved in the hiring of Nuckolls by Vanegas.
After inquiries about Nuckolls' past and qualifications from the Times-Mirror, the town decided to review the Nuckolls report. After several meetings, council hired a new law firm to review the original report. The review found the initial investigation had severe deficiencies and should be “disregarded in its entirety.”
“It was only once Nuckolls's felonious history and the romantic relationship between Vanegas and Nuckolls came to light, that Purcellville was compelled to re-examine the results of the Nuckolls' investigation,” the lawsuit states.
Vanegas was fired in the first half of 2018, and the police chief was eventually re-instated to her position.
Nuckolls on Wednesday told the Times-Mirror the lawsuit is “fake” and that “she'll be dealing with it.” She said the email to Vanegas referencing the relationship was the result of an email hack. She denied ever being involved with Vanegas.
Vanegas could not be reached for comment Wednesday morning.
Town Council was expected to discuss the matter in closed session on Tuesday night.
Legal representation for Purcellville is expected to be provided through the Virginia Municipal League, according to Town Manager David Mekarski, who was not employed with the town during McAlister's firing and ensuing investigations.
“I just became aware of it, to be honest with you, not through any formal channels, but through Facebook today,” Mekarski said Tuesday night. “ … I haven't had a chance to go through it.”
McAlister, speaking to the Times-Mirror Tuesday night, said there are no hard feelings against current members of council who supported her firing. She said she could not get into specifics of the case, but she noted she is “very pleased with where the police department is now.”
“And I hope no one lets this take the momentum out of where we're going,” McAlister said.
A hearing date on the lawsuit has yet to be set.