Last winter several Fairfax County deputy sheriffs finished their night shift at the county jail, drove southwest to a cabin in Greene County, Va., near the Blue Ridge Mountains and, in the middle of the night after consuming some alcoholic beverages, began firing their pistols from a sundeck into the side of a mountain.
Neighbors in the isolated and heavily wooded area called Dogwood Valley about 60 miles from Washington were awakened by the shots and called the Grenne County Sheriff's Department. Billy Hackworth, a local game warden, was dispatched to see what all the shooting was about. The next week, at a Greene County Board of Supervisors meeting, some of the neighbors complained bitterly about the late night gunfire.
Capt. Donald E. Wilkins, chief confinement officer for the Fairfax County jail, who yesterday confirmed that there was "alcohol and a lot of shooting involved" in the incident, said he had orally reprimanded the deputies involved and took no further action against them.
None of the six, who, according to Wilkins, included one deputy with the rank of lieutenant, was charged with a crime in Greene County, where it is legal to discharge a firearm on private property.
"The only thing they did was keep people awake," Wilkins said yesterday. Chief Deputy M. Wayne Huggins said the six displayed "poor judgement" in the incident. The Sheriff's Department would not release the names of the deputies involved. "If you go around publishing the names of everybody who shoots a gun in Greene County in the middle of the night, you would add 50 pages to your paper," Huggins told The Washington Post.
But one of those involved was identified yesterday by a former chief deputy sheriff as Deputy Sheriff Sgt. Robert Strickland. Myron L. greenquist, the former chief deputy who was fired from the job in February by Sheriff James B. Swinson because "we could not work as a team," said Strickland owns the cabin where the shooting took place and had told him that deputies sat inside, drinking and shooting through an open door at beer cans on a railing.
Strickland denied yesterday that deputies were shooting from inside the cabin, but said he was to blame for the shooting incident. "We all do things that we regret," he said.
Strickland said he went to his cabin with a "new bunch of guys on our shift to get acquainted." Hesaid he told the seven or eight deputies they could drink because they were in the "middle of nowhere" and would not bother anyone.
Capt. Wilkins, who owns a cabin in Greene County near where the shooting occured, said he spoke with some of the Dogwood Valley resident swho were awakened by the gunfire and, after reading a news item in a local paper, "reprimanded the deputies for poor public relations."
Wilkins said he passed the newspaper story on to Greenquist. Greenquist said yesterday he in turn gave the clipping to Sheriff Swinson. Greenquist said he heard nothing mor e about it.
Swinson, who is in Staunton, Va., at a jail management seminar, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
A spokesman for the Fairfax County Police Department, which requires all police officers to report every incident in which they fire their guns outside of a police traget range, said yesterday that "some disciplinary action" would probably be taken against a county officer who discharged his gun while drinking. In Fairfax County it is illegal for a policeman to shoot his gun unless he is defending his or someone else's life, killing an injured animal or taking target practice at a bonafide target range.
Swinson's department has been under investigation for nearly four months for alleged offenses committed by deputy sheriffs, including using county jail inmates to perform work outside the jail and allowing inmates to make illegal conjugal visits.
Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. said this month his investigation has uncovered "a great number of criminal offenses" committed by several deputy sheriffs, but none that can be prosecuted because the crimes are misdemeanors committed more than a year ago. Under Virginia law, misdemeanors - crimes punishable by no more than 12 months in jail or fines of $1,000 - must be prosecuted with a year of the offense.