In the small town of Haymarket in western Prince William County, half of the police force have just had their badges, guns and cars taken away by the town council. Chief James E. Roop and Deputy Chief Gregory Breeden were both suspended for 60 days without pay, Roop for “loss of confidence and inappropriate actions,” during a cryptic council meeting Monday night. This follows both men’s 15-day suspensions for alleged sexual harassment in 2005. A third member of the six-person force, Officer Jake Davis, also was suspended without pay for 60 days.
In addition, the Virginia State Police confirmed Wednesday that they are investigating an allegation made against Roop. Roop and Breeden did not return phone and e-mail messages seeking comment. Davis declined to comment.
So what exactly did the three officers do to merit two-month suspensions? No one would say, citing the confidentiality of personnel matters. But Roop was ordered to undergo 24 hours of professional counseling to include the topics of sexual harassment, sensitivity training and ethics in the work place. Davis received the same order. Breeden’s order did not include sexual harassment. All three were instructed to turn in their badges, guns and equipment by Friday.
The council appointed Town Manager Brian Henshaw, who just took the job last May, as administrator of the six-officer police department, though he said he has no police experience. Officer Jeff Shaver was appointed to run the remaining Haymarket Police Department in the absence of its two top administrators. The council also prohibited Roop from hiring, firing or disciplining any police employee until June 30.
Roop, 57, has been with the Haymarket police since 1997 and earns $76,600, town officials said, so suspending him should save the town of 1,900 residents about $12,600. Breeden, 55, joined Haymarket in 2000 and earns $59,400, meaning his time off will save Haymarket about $9,500. Davis, whose age was not available, joined Haymarket in December 2012 and earns $38,000, so his suspension could keep about $6,000 in Haymarket coffers. But if the police have to start paying overtime to make up for the missed officers, that could all be back out the window.
Haymarket Mayor David Leake said in an e-mail that “these are serious allegations against the chief and unfortunately I’m not at liberty to discuss them.” He also said he was “extremely disappointed and concerned with the minimal consequences the Council imposed on the chief considering the seriousness of the allegations made against him,” though the two council members who investigated the situation seemed to seek to terminate all three officers. The motion failed 4-2 (the mayor only votes in case of a tie), everyone looked at each other in confusion, they went back into closed session and emerged later with the 60-day terms. All six council members declined to comment. Town attorney Martin Crim did not return a call seeking comment.
In June 2005, Roop and Breeden were suspended for 15 days and no one would say why then, either. But in September of that year, the 10-page memo written by the lawyer who investigated Roop and Breeden was leaked to Ian Shapira of The Post. It said the two men were making “sex-related comments” on a “pervasive basis” and exposed the town to possible lawsuits. The lawyer, Jennifer Parrish of Fredericksburg, recommended that Roop and Breeden be fired. Instead, the town council gave them 15 days off without pay.
Also in September 2005, Breeden’s wife obtained a temporary restraining order against him because he smashed down a garage door with a hammer. Breeden was acting chief at the time while Roop was on a leave of absence, but he had to forfeit his gun and forego patrol duties while under the restraining order, which was not made permanent. In March 2006, the town prosecutor resigned because she “cannot be certain that the facts are accurate” when provided by Roop, her (leaked) resignation letter stated.
The latest dustup erupted into public view in mid-December, when the council appointed Vice Mayor Jay Tobias and council member Steve Aitken to investigate “certain alleged personnel matters.” Leake, as mayor, tried to veto this, saying that “the town attorney advised that an outside investigation was necessary and should be initiated immediately.” But the council overrode Leake’s veto and Tobias and Aitken proceeded. In late December, a letter from “Residents For a Better Haymarket” was sent to the council, and later to me, alleging misdeeds by both the chief and the council in a symbiotic “good ol’ boys” relationship.
On Monday night, the meeting video shows that Tobias and Aitken made a motion to suspend the three officers until Feb. 3, while directing the town attorney “to proceed as discussed in closed session with regard to employment issues,” which sounds like a move to fire them. But council members Milt Kenworthy, Rebecca Bare, Mary Lou Scarbrough and Katherine Harnest voted no. Harnest appeared to be upset, wiping her face with her hands.
So they went back behind closed doors, emerged later Monday night and voted on 60-day suspensions with mandatory counseling. Aitken said in the meeting, “I still don’t believe we’re tackling the root cause here, but that’s just my opinion.” Tobias agreed, saying, “This is not solving the problem.” Leake said he also agreed.
Breeden and Davis were only suspended for “loss of confidence,” presumably not their own but the council’s. Leake said he was disappointed that the council saw fit to impose the same penalty on them as on the chief. Instead of using an outside investigator, as in 2005, the council “proceeded with their own internal questioning, resulting in the consequences they wanted to impose. To handle this correctly it needs to be taken out of the council’s hands. We need to eliminate the input of personal relationships and any future risk to our town, and to have an official outside independent investigation.”
That may be where the state police come in. Corinne Geller, the state police spokeswoman, said the state police are investigating an allegation against Roop. She would say no more. For now.