For the past two weeks, Sgt. Gregory Breeden has been running the tiny Haymarket Police Department in Prince William County. But he's been doing it without a gun.
Breeden lost his right to carry a weapon when his estranged wife accused him of trying to break down their kitchen door with a hatchet and making threats against the family. A judge on Sept. 1 ordered Breeden to stay away from his family, at least until a hearing on the matter today. In Virginia, anyone given a protective order -- even a police officer -- is prohibited to carry a weapon.
The hatchet incident is the latest controversy to confront Breeden and the nine-officer department in the past two months. This summer, the Haymarket Town Council suspended the popular sergeant and Chief James E. Roop without pay but has not explained why, saying the actions were a confidential personnel matter.
Roop, whose annual salary is $56,808, and Breeden, who earns $44,000, returned to work in July after being suspended for 15 days. Roop is expected back on the job Monday from a separate, paid leave. Meanwhile, a Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court judge in Warren County is scheduled to decide today whether to extend Tina Breeden's protective order for as much as two years.
The incident that led to the protective order "was pretty terrifying," said Kristen Carter, 19, who said her stepfather removed the entire door. She said Breeden was warned that the family had called police. "He said, 'They're not going to do anything anyway.' "
The Breedens, Roop and Tina Breeden's attorney, Georgia Rossiter, declined to comment or did not return phone calls. The names were redacted in the affidavit filed for the protective order, but sources familiar with the case said it was filed by Tina Breeden.
Town Council member James Tobias said the private domestic dispute will become a serious public concern if the protective order is extended.
"I know I am personally concerned about this," Tobias said. "The concern here is that if a judge finds there is a legitimate reason to have [an extended] protective order issued, then Breeden therefore can't carry a weapon and serve in the full capacity. Where do our responsibilities lie with our citizens?"
For about the past two weeks, the town's mayor said, Breeden, 46, has been in charge -- without a weapon -- while the chief has been on paid leave to tend to his sick daughter. For now, Breeden is on desk duty, catching up on paperwork and evaluating equipment, Mayor Pamela Stutz said.
"He's not driving his car, and he can't arrest anyone," Stutz said. "If I felt that he was going to take an ax to me or the town, I wouldn't have him on desk duty. I don't feel that he's any danger to the town."
Police officers said they are suffering from low morale but don't want to talk publicly about the flap, fearing retaliation.
The incidents that led to the restraining order began Aug. 8, when Gregory Breeden called his stepdaughter at work, allegedly making threats, according to Carter and the affidavit.
At the time, Breeden and his wife were living at the same Warren County residence but in separate quarters that had different locks, said Capt. Norman Shiflett of the Warren County Sheriff's Office. The next day, Breeden allegedly used the hatchet to knock down the kitchen door leading into his estranged wife's part of the house.
In her affidavit, Tina Breeden wrote that she and her family were "placed in fear of bodily harm" when her husband allegedly began using the hatchet. Police were called, but no arrest was made because there was no evidence of physical injury, Shiflett said. "There is no crime in damaging your own property," he said.
Stutz and Town Council member Robert Weir, who serves as the police department's liaison, declined to comment on the protective order filed against Breeden, saying it was a personnel issue. They said Breeden, like Roop, is well regarded in the community.
The officers are known for giving out their personal cell phone numbers to concerned business owners, stopping their vehicles to chat with residents and teaching self-defense courses to women, according to officials and residents.
The mayor said the chief has been on paid leave for the past two weeks because he has been tending to his daughter, who has leukemia. Stutz said she is trying to organize a bone marrow screening in the town in support of Roop's family.
The suspensions and the protective order, she said, mar the town's reputation because the incidents have fueled an array of half-truths and rumor. "The worst part about it, the thing that bothers me, is the gossip that spreads," Stutz said. "People are interested and want to know all the details, but sometimes you cannot disclose that."
Serious crime is not a big problem in the incorporated town of about 1,000 people. It has only a few retail stores and restaurants, and the speed limit is 25 mph.