In a series of local newspaper articles between November 2001 and April, the words were repeated again and again: According to Supervisor Mary K. Hill, Prince William County police Detective John T. Mora was lying.
As a regular in county court proceedings, usually testifying against accused drug dealers and addicts he has arrested, Mora's credibility is almost as important as his badge. To Mora -- then an undercover officer in the county's vice/narcotics unit -- Hill's alleged attack undercut his integrity and ability to impartially perform his job.
After having his credibility called into question for nearly a year, Mora fired back last week, filing a $225,000 lawsuit against Hill (R-Coles), claiming that the public official defamed him when she told a Potomac News reporter: "I know that he lied. . . . I was at both trials, I heard it, and the man lied."
The 15-count lawsuit, filed Wednesday, covers the initial comments and publication and the 14 times Hill's comments were republished in other newspaper articles, including in The Washington Post. Mora's attorney, Casey R. Stevens, writes in the lawsuit that Hill's statements to the media were malicious, damaged Mora's integrity as a police officer and continue to cause him mental anguish, humiliation and embarrassment.
Hill did not return calls seeking comment. Her attorney, Charles B. Roberts, declined to comment on the case.
Hill's public comments allegedly came after Mora testified in Prince William County Circuit Court on Nov. 2, 2001, at a hearing for Hill's son, William John "Billy" Hill Jr., who was 19. Billy Hill, no stranger to the county courts, was on trial as an adult on drug charges, and Mora testified against him.
The testimony essentially linked Hill to drugs that were in a car he was driving, a car that undercover officers followed after staking out a house police say was known for drug activity. Hill was convicted of the crimes.
After hearing of Mary Hill's accusations, Police Chief Charlie T. Deane ordered an internal investigation into Mora's testimony and found Hill's claims to be "unfounded." Deane then turned the case over to Virginia State Police investigators for an independent review.
Last November, Hill and her attorney called for an extensive review of the case amid claims that Deane and his department were covering for Mora. In a long news release, Roberts said the case needed further examination.
"Such a cavalier disregard for the concerns of a member of the board that supervises Chief Deane's department and a citizen of this community raises serious issues as to whether Chief Deane has become insensitive to the public and has lost his objectivity on issues dealing with potential misconduct within his department," Roberts wrote in the Nov. 23 statement.
Deane declined to comment Friday. Mora has since been transferred to the department's new gang unit, considered to be a higher-profile assignment with more responsibility.
The Virginia State Police investigation later turned up no evidence that Mora had lied during his testimony. And an independent prosecutor, Stafford County Commonwealth's Attorney Daniel M. Chichester, found that there were subtle differences in the way Mora testified.
"I find that these differences are simply different ways of saying the same thing," Chichester wrote in April. "Certainly there is no evidence here of perjury."
In addition to naming Mary Hill individually, the suit cites Hill in her capacity as a supervisor. County officials declined to discuss the case publicly but said privately that it was unclear whether the county would be drawn into the case or could be held responsible for the damages sought.
Hill was first elected to the Board of County Supervisors in 1995 and was unopposed for reelection four years later. She also is vice chairman of the Washington Council of Governments board of directors and a member of the Task Force on Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.