After 11 month investigation, Purcellville chief continues to move forward

Purcellville Police Chief Cynthia McAlister has been back at work since August 2018 after an 11-month investigation of her work. 

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.

(43) comments

northernobserver

As someone who lives outside the town, I stand unaffected by any tax fallout that this lawsuit may (will) portend. I should hope that Purcellville, and any potential employer who knows of this case will add the question: "Have you ever bee a litigant in a lawsuit? If so, describe below." Further, if she was re-hired, payed her back pay, and the offending official fired, then the only thing that this lawsuit does is really validate the officers who reported the bad command climate in the first place doesn't it? Nothing says, "protect and serve" like suing the town where you swear to do so. What could that 16 million do to improve the town, the PD, or the Fire department? even Half of that amount. And who is going to pay for it? Not us folks in Stoneleigh or Wright Farm or Hamilton.. It's going to be you folks who already have water bills comparable to desert towns, because the restaurant tax can take any more.If she does win this suite, I certainly hope she does leave her office and go far, far away. Finally, I would like to express my sympathy for the officers of the Purcellville Police Department. You have my undying respect for what you do every day. This lawsuit is an insult to all of you. The fact that individuals' names are being rolled out here is further insult. People need to remember another time when Officer Kakol's name was in the paper was when his actions saved the life of a town resident who had been attacked and would have died otherwise. That is the saddest part of this whole situation. Officer Kakol, just know that you and your fellow officers have countless supporters in this community. RLTW.


RandomName2019

I suspect that this lawsuit was brought because, through their own incompetence and malfeasance, they have undermined her ability to do her job. She has police officers who supported her firing. She has management staff that contributed to undermining her. The culture of the organization is likely toxic and unable to be fixed with her at the helm.







Your support of the officers make me suspect your overall motives, as she was the individual most wronged by this situation. It's far past time that the residents of Purcellville demand that Loudoun take over their duties so that their elected officials can't do any more damage.


ExitRamp

Do you know the relationship between her and the officers? Why did the officers react the way they did after she was hired?



Are you aware that this is the third lawsuit she has brought against her employer - one of which resulted in an undisclosed amount of money from Fairfax County?







In any event - isn't $16M far too excessive? She was paid while on administrative leave and was reinstated.


ExitRamp

Does Purcellville have insurance for lawsuits like this? This seems like the lottery ticket getting maxed out at $16M. She already received administrative leave and has been reinstated. $16M seems like quite a windfall - who ultimately would be paying this? She's 60 and nearing retirement. If she won, how long would she stay in her position?


Buskless

More power to her. They conspired to attack her reputation and livelihood with lies, and the incompetent Mayor and City Council failed to take proper care in assessing and adjudicating the issues. She’ll be police chief until she wins the lawsuit, the people who did this to her will be unemployed and broke. Justice.

IQuilt

VA SGP - Business contracting and Gov't contracting are 2 different things. You are comparing apples to pizzas. And there are volumes of regulations and codes governing Gov't contracting - Even Pville has them! As you have yet to respond to the LTM reporting on bid rigging. McAlister's attorney selection isn't a big piece of info regarding how I judge a person. But, she was cleared by the Town and put back to work. As for McAlister's judgement...

Virginia SGP

So what are the regs in Pville for a purchase of $13k? Can you point to anything that prevents the town administrator from obtaining 3 quotes and making a decision? If you can't, then there was no bid rigging. Even major departments like DoD don't verify all claims of bidders for multi-$M proposals. I read the history of the winning side (the big $ law firm report). It was not impressive. This is a political dispute. The voters will ultimately decide. But McAlister reminds me of Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. I would be RUNNING from that if I were the residents.

Borninloudoun

I wish she would sue Nuckolls for slander. No matter what anyone says, this damaged her reputation. I hope she wins. Seems to me there are crimes involved that should be prosecuted.

LoudounBound

Her reputation ultimately was not harmed by them; in the end, they were the ones who looked bad. I never thought anything negative about her, until now. Purcellville residents have already had to foot the bill for thousands of dollars of "administrative leaves," while the infighting was happening, and now they will have to pay again, while a small group of people cat-fight with each other. Where are the adults in this situation?? It is sad that it turns out she is as petty as the rest of them.

RandomName2019

Of course her reputation was harmed. How many people only saw the first article, but not those exonerating her? What kind of working environment do you suppose she has now, after what they put her through? I suspect that she's going to win this lawsuit and then leave Purcellville because she has no trust in their leadership.

IQuilt

Va SGP - And the Town went cheap and now the total for the mess Vanegas and Nuckolls caused is nearing 1 MIllion dollars of tax payer money. Regardless of the why, as you write trying to save money, on its face with the information provided, it appears as if there is a violation 59.1-68.7 Combinations to rig bids A. Any combination, conspiracy or agreement to intentionally rig, alter or otherwise manipulate, or to cause to be rigged, altered or otherwise manipulated any bid submitted to the Commonwealth of Virginia or any governmental unit for the purpose of allocating purchases or sales to or among persons, raising or otherwise fixing the prices of the goods or services, or excluding other persons from dealing with the Commonwealth or any other governmental unit shall be unlawful. From this article - 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.” Maybe laws are in place for a reason. The bigger issue now is, Why hasn't someone been arrested?

Virginia SGP

IQuilt, I would be hesitant to take that statement for much. It appears she may have denied she wrote it. Even if she did write it, she appears to be writing in a fit of jealously with the subsequent sentences implying he awarded her the contract to control her romantically/psychologically. There is zero evidence of that as the town alleges he gave the contract to her simply to obtain a pre-ordained conclusion. So her statement won't support any criminal charges. Many orgs give their purchasing managers authority to issue credit card purchases without any bids on items this small. I know folks are making a big deal out of her lack of some certifications or degrees but many folks in these fields, including paralegals, have very limited degrees and typically exceptions exist for extensive experience. I am not saying she was the best choice (I don't know any of these people) but it appears this ultimately was a political difference on how the police dept should be run. Both sides went very low against the other. Maybe some of them are good but none appear so after 2+ years of dirty laundry. I assume you don't hold McAlister in high regard after this stunt/tactic?

IQuilt

Then I guess you don't believe the reporting by the LTM regarding the bid rigging on Nov of 2017? The LTM reported that there was irregularities in the bid process and Vanegas was quoted in the media that he knew of Nuckolls. The phrase "he knew of her" takes on a whole knew meaning... As for criminal charges -- There needs to be a Criminal Investigation. And do I hold McAlister in high regard? According to the Town's own investigative reports conducted by Chief Longo, McAlister did nothing wrong so why would I have a negative opinion. Sounds to me like the Town Council screwed up by putting Vanegas in charge over Danny Davis and now they are paying for that decision.

Virginia SGP

So are you saying that even when somebody you know has a 40% lower price, you cannot contract with them for a relatively small expense? Most of the businesses in Leesburg know each other. How can the Leesburg gov't ever contract small contracts if they cannot let a contract to someone they know? Would it change your mind about McAlister if you knew that her lawyer, Thomas Plofchan, was publicly reprimanded by the Virginia State Bar on March 10, 2004 for violating 6 six different rules including (i) make a false statement of fact or law to a tribunal, (ii) state or imply an ability to influence improperly or upon irrelevant grounds any tribunal, legislative body, or public official; (iii) lawyer shall not make a statement that the lawyer knows to be false or with reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity concerning the qualifications or integrity of a judge or other judicial officer, and (iv) lawyer shall not make a statement that the lawyer knows to be false or with reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity concerning the qualifications or integrity of a judge or other judicial officer. Does any of that cause you to reconsider McAlister's judgment?

Borninloudoun

Excellent question.

RandomName2019

You still have to go through a procurement process. It's what helps keep things above board. A less expensive local option would win a bid if they were qualified....

Justicia

Typical Purcellville police unprofessionalism and crooked behavior with Mayor Frazer at the helm...i hope Mcalister cleans out the towns coffers. Bunch of low life crooked cops got together with more low life crooked town managers and filed false reports for the purposes of there own gain...start by getting the mayor to resign and fire every other officer involved...new officers are out of control like dinkins and fraley and even loudoun sherriff's officers dont like their unprofessional behavior...the town could save millions by abolishing this mickey mouse police force and let loudoun sherriff's handle it...between salaries, benefits, insurance, police car fleets, many, many law suits the town could save millions each year...these same crooked cops shot and killed Christian Sierra a few years back and were not held accountable until after the fact chief mcalister quietly fired him and others clearly because of the shooting death of 17 year old Christian Sierra. Now that deranged and dangerous cop Hood has somehow slithered his way onto the Haymarket police force thus endangering the lives of their teen age citizens...what a freak show...let us not forget that the Sierra wrongful death lawsuit is still making its way through the court system and their family deserves millions more than mcalister...whole town is pathetically run and the most unprofessional bums on God's green earth!

lococpa

Serving the public, or serving her bank account? She's back on the job she won her case. Sue the individuals, and serve the people.

RandomName2019

The individuals acted in their official capacity. I think this is more on them than her.

Representing the Mambo

There are e-mails between the recently arrested editor of the Loudoun Tribune (Sheriff Mike Chapman’s campaign advisor and friend, Brian Reynolds) and Mayor Frazier. Convicted felon Reynolds related to the mayor that he had discussed the Purcellville police issue with Chapman, and offered to set up a meeting. There is also an e-mail between Nucholls and Venagas dated9//22/17 in which Nucholls writes, “spoke with Chapman, he’s on board with everything .Call later, we have a lot to go over. This was approximately a week before Nucholls was officially hired as the HR consultant. A typical Machiavellian move by Chapman, who uses his felonious henchman to do his work or further his goals. Chapman didn’t like McAlister and this was probably a play to take over law enforcement in the town or to replace McAlister with someone more willing to kiss his ring.

Virginia SGP

All of this is irrelevant. You cannot escape the following facts: (1) Purcelville residents pay MORE to have a questionable local law enforcement group that is (2) demanding massive funding increases in terms of personnel and facilities despite (3) the police chief suing her OWN employer without even giving them a heads-up. I realize you tried to use a previous LCSO deputy to sue Chapman when he was shown the door by undermining the sheriff but it is not only legal but appropriate for the mayor to consider alternatives. If Purcelville doesn't know the logistics of having LCSO provide law enforcement, how can they evaluate their own police department both on a cost and effectiveness basis? I guess your answer is to move all political decisions of the voters to the legal system where a judge determines who performs law enforcement in Purvelville, right? Maybe you can remind us about the supposed groundswell of opposition to Sheriff Chapman this November. Oh yeah, he's slated to win in a landslide especially since the crooked Plowman is not trying to bolster false accusations against them through sham "special prosecutor appointments". Get a grip.

IQuilt

It is no secret Nuckolls is tight with Chapman. Did Chapman know Vanegas was hiring his girlfriend aka Nuckolls? Bid rigging in is against the law. There is an e-mail where Nuckolls admits that the reason Vanegas hired Nuckolls is because she was his girlfriend. Time for the Feds to come in and clean up this mess.

Virginia SGP

IQuilt, the entire amount paid to Nuckolls was $13,000 for the investigation. That means she spent ~4 weeks (170 hours) conducting the investigation at $75/hr and writing it up. It often costs more than this to put out and evaluate bids. When the contracts are so small, obtaining quotes from multiple sources and evaluting their abilities is often performed on an informal basis (a quote on the phone is by definition sealed). Contrast that $13K with the $80K allotted just to bring on a law firm plus investigator (who received $125/hr compared to Nuckolls $75/hr) and you can't say that Purcelville was gouged. Ultimately, officials get to determine who they want in a best value procurement. In this case, the original investigator was at least 40% less expensive and cost a tiny fraction of what was eventually paid.

Chris McHale

VSP - Comparing her fee to the fee of the firm that had to clean up her mess is a false comparison. Had her hiring been properly vetted the second cost would have been unnecessary. In addition the second cost was hire as it involved lawyers who were really hired to clean up this mess rather than an HR Professional to investigate what should have been a simple personnel matter.

Virginia SGP

McHale, both the initial investigation and the subsequent "clean-up" had fees for attorneys which were much higher. I am merely pointing out that her rates were lower than the equivalent position hired for the second investigation (not comparing any rates for attorneys which I am sure were $200/hr or more, probably $300+). I read the evaluation of Nuckoll's report. It was weak in its attacks on the initial report. It questioned her conclusions but if the second investigation were an appeal of a lower arbitrator's ruling, it could never have overturned Nuckolls' initial report. The initial report included interviews and findings of credibility. No appellate agency is allowed to overrule those just because. That's what the "clean-up" report did. In effect, the "clean-up" report was an exercise in justifying the higher fees. Had it affirmed her initial report, not only would they not be hired again but folks would question why they were hired in the first place. Much like expert witnesses, one isn't paying for an unbiased opinion. They are buying the opinion they want. That's what each side did in this case.

RandomName2019

What's truly disappointing is that regardless of Chapman's motivations or involvement in this situation, having Loudoun take over the law enforcement duties for Purcellville makes logistical and fiscal sense. The same can be said about Leesburg's police department. IT doesn't make sense to piecemeal police and emergency dispatch in a County this size.

Loudoun4Trump

Good grief! Purcellville would be better off to shut down and abolish the police force and have the citizens arm themselves or pay Loudoun County to get the job done........the cost certainly outweighs the benefits in this small sleepy police dept. and I have seen this police person sue more than enforce the law...

Virginia SGP

So where are all the union activists telling us how great police departments are? This is why a police model doesn't work. You can't play games with law enforcement. McAlister has Purcelville over a barrel. Even though she might be doing a horrendous job and demanding huge funding increases, the town will have difficulty firing her now. In a sheriff model, the voters' hands are not tied. They could vote her out without any fear of a lawsuit. It simply doesn't work to have cops who can't be shown the door immediately. Residents should run, not walk, from this disaster of a police chief. Who doesn't tell their boss they are suing them and hopes to keep their job? Only solution is to fold the pointless police dept and ask LCSO to save them. That way they can fire McAlister (by letting her go) without a new suit.

IQuilt

I would say if you were treated like McAlister was you too would sue. Or would you walk away with your tail between you legs? Did you read the reports the Town published that McAlister did nothing wrong?

Virginia SGP

IQuilt, I read the full report from the law firm that said disregard the previous Nuckolls report in its entirety. That was a specious conclusion intended more to say "we are a better investigator" than it was based on any facts. The final town's reports was full of "may" and "could not absolutely verify" type language. Ultimately, this is a political dispute about who runs the police department better. McAlister was trying to oust critics just like Sheriff Chapman did. The critics appealed (politically) to McAlister's boss, the town manager and mayor. The critics convinced them to oust her. (The critics of Chapman can similarly try to convince his boss - the voters - to oust him at the election but I don't see that happening) McAlister fought back as is her right. But the facts that are ultimately published are those of the winning side, not necessarily the truth. I think this lawsuit shows that McAlister was not the right choice (doesn't mean Vanegas and others were good). Her legal move is clearly intended to protect her current job. Were she planning on working as police chief for years to come, this suit would have never been filed.

Qwertyuiop

Man, you just don’t get it. The unions have no power in a “right to work” state. You have such a good point about the sheriff model being better but you open with a ridiculous anti-union statement. Stop trying to score points against everyone who crosses your path and more people will listen.

MKH

Virginia SGP I would like to speak to you privately.




R clark

Lawsuit happy America. I find it highly irritating that she can even get away with it! She was being paid while she was on leave. Far as I'm concerned and I'm sure many other people are also taxpayers in the town of purcellville do not want to pay for her million dollar lawsuit. She got her money!

R clark

McAlister's not worth millions she's already sued one police force don't let her get away with it again!!

fbiwatchingyou

A settlement of or around $16M will cost each resident of Purcellville ( POP 10K) $1,600.00 each person regardless of age......

WesternSky

So the Police Chief not only wants to give out tickets -- she wants to raise your taxes too. She would drop the suit -- or resign.

R clark

Somebody at the post must be getting paid off

R clark

Do your homework public.

R clark

It's not the first time she's sued the police department. Fairfax county got hit

gr8nurse1

Popping my popcorn now. Obviously, these people were not around when Chief Stiles was fired in Leesburg. Hope you retained the same attorney Chief McAlister!

More Cowbell

Whoever hired Vanegas should be fired, seems like he was behind the firing.... How is he not in jail? Fined? Did the town get any/all money back from Nuckolls? How is she not in jail? fined? Curious how many police Pville even has?

IQuilt

So, Karen Graham was right about the Bid Rigging in her articles in Nov of 2017?

RandomName2019

...and this is why Purcellville shouldn't be it's own government. Time to dissolve and stop taxing residents to pay for these boneheaded decisions.

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