The rare spectacle of a state judge being arrested on an assault charge will soon be erased from the records of Virginia, after the prosecutor in Stafford County, Va., decided Wednesday not to prosecute the judge. The prosecutor, Stafford County Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Olsen (R), said the fact that the defendant, Fauquier County Chief Circuit Judge Jeffrey Parker, is a judge was not relevant to his decision. Instead, he said the altercation that ensued after Parker, 65, grabbed a Walmart clerk’s hands for several seconds was “not a case that merits prosecution.”
The judge had found a Seiko watch with three diamond rings attached to the leather watchband in the parking lot of a Walmart near Fredericksburg, Va., on Sept. 5, and he brought photos of them to court Wednesday. Parker took the watch and rings inside, snapped photos of them, then turned them over to a Walmart clerk and asked for a written receipt for them in case the owner never claimed them, Olsen said. But when the clerk told Parker she couldn’t give him a receipt, Parker reached over the counter to try to grab the jewelry back, and placed his hands on the woman’s hands, “causing her hands to hurt,” the Stafford sheriff’s office said. Parker called police for help with a receipt, but when deputies came, spoke to witnesses and watched the surveillance video of the incident, they arrested Parker instead and charged him with misdemeanor assault and battery.
In Stafford General District Court on Wednesday, Olsen played a surveillance video recording of the incident for Judge J. Bruce Strickland. Olsen was careful not to criticize Stafford sheriff’s deputies for arresting Parker, saying probable cause existed for the arrest. The video shows Parker, 65, handing over the jewelry, speaking to the clerk, and then grabbing both of her hands with his for about six seconds, although not seemingly exerting any force to pull the watch and rings out of her hands. He then backs out of view, although he said Wednesday that he also spoke with a manager at the Walmart, who confirmed that they would not provide him a receipt.
A Walmart corporate spokesman said the company does not have a policy on found property, that it’s left up to individual stores. Parker said he understood Virginia law to allow those who find lost property to claim it after an undetermined amount of time.
Olsen said he was notified of the event the night it happened because of Parker’s status as a judge. Parker also was formerly the Republican Party chairman in Fauquier County before taking the bench in 2001. Even though the charge was only a misdemeanor, Olsen told Strickland that his office reviews every misdemeanor arrest “to see if it merits prosecution.”
Olsen said the facts were not in dispute. The jewelry Parker found appeared “fairly valuable, and the defendant did the right thing, he took them into Walmart as found property,” Olsen said. The clerk told Parker the store didn’t give receipts for found property. “The defendant was insistent upon getting a receipt, the clerk was insistent we don’t give them,” the prosecutor said. “The defendant asked for the property back,” was refused, and “the defendant reached over to take back or seize the property.”
Olsen played the video, and noted that it was Parker who summoned the police and thought that the jewelry should be turned over to the sheriff’s office. The responding deputy interviewed everyone, and the clerk told him “her hand was being squeezed and she was scared and she felt discomfort from her hand being grabbed.” Parker was handcuffed and taken to a magistrate, who charged the judge and released him on a recognizance bond.
Virginia law defines misdemeanor assault and battery as “the unlawful touching of another done in a rude, angry or vengeful way, even if it caused no actual injury.” Olsen did not address those elements of the crime, and simply told the judge he felt the case wasn’t worthy of prosecution. “Not every interaction between an individual merits criminal prosecution,” he said.
Strickland granted Olsen’s motion to nolle pros, or not prosecute, the case. Parker’s lawyer, Robin C. Gulick, said he would be filing a motion to expunge the arrest from state records, which probably will be granted.
Parker declined to comment after the hearing. “Judge Parker and I,” Gulick said, “are delighted the case has been resolved in his favor.”