Law enforcement officers, not in uniform, packed the Culpeper Circuit Courtroom Tuesday, Feb. 24.
The conflict that had been raging between Commonwealth Attorney Megan Revis Frederick, the Culpeper Town Police Department (CPD) and the Town of Culpeper burst into flames February 10 with the filing of a motion by Frederickâ??s office asking a judge to force the CPD to hand over Detective M. J. Haymakerâ??s confidential personnel file materials to Frederickâ??s office.
The Motion to Order Disclosure filed by Frederickâ??s Office, if granted, has implications for law enforcement across the state.
That motion is opposed by the Town of Culpeper and Haymaker both of whom were represented before the court Tuesday.
But it was all for naught.
Substitute Judge John Cullen called the case. As he saw Frederick come forward with her deputy he asked who she was. He called a recess and asked Frederick, her assistant Angela Catlett, Martin Crim, the townâ??s attorney, and Andrew Meyer, Haymakerâ??s attorney, to join him for a conference in the judgeâ??s chambers.
Minutes later they reappeared. Apparently, according to one participant in the meeting, Judge Cullen realized a family member of his worked in a company of which Frederick has partial ownership. The relationship created a conflict of interest for the judge and they all agreed to continue the hearing to March 17.
In the meantime the jury trial of Steven Wright was taken off the docket. It is the Commonwealthâ??s case against Wright that provided the backdrop for the contest between the police and Frederick over Haymakerâ??s files.
Whatâ??s at stake
At issue is a demand by Frederick to examine the results of an Internal Affairs Investigation on Haymaker. He was involved in the arrest of Wright. Apparently she and the Culpeper Town Police had been wrangling over the request for some time when the Motion to Order Disclosure was filed by Frederickâ??s office Feb. 10.
The motion claims that Frederickâ??s office has information that a â??human relations and improper documentation complaint was sustainedâ? against Haymaker. The motion mentions â??improper investigatory methodsâ? and it claims that â??Internal Affairs (IA) investigations were and are being conductedâ? against the same officer.
Frederickâ??s office wants the information, according to the motion, â??in order to comply with its obligations under Brady Ruleâ?¦â? Brady v Maryland is a Supreme Court case that requires prosecutors to turn over to defense counsel any information the prosecutor knows about that may be helpful to the defense.
The motion claims that â??despite repeated requestsâ? the CPD had refused to turn over the file.
Three days later Crim fired back for the CPD and Haymaker. It was the townâ??s first response to the motion. Crim asked for more time to prepare for the hearing on the â??novelâ? motion which was eventually moved Feb 24. Crim claimed in that first response that the Town and Frederick had been in discussions about the issue, that Frederick filed the motion without giving Haymaker or the Town time to prepare for the motion and that â??the implications of the motion can have significant precedential impact throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia.â?
On February 20 Crim fired off a second volley in the form of a brief.
â??The Commonwealthâ??s Motion omits the fact that the Commonwealth made the complaints regarding Detective Haymaker.â? He wrote. â??It also omits the fact that the Commonwealth has the video recording of the interviews involved in these complaints, that the Commonwealth received written notice of the outcome of the Internal Affairs Investigations, and that the Town gave the Commonwealth detailed information from the founded IA report on Human Relations.â?
Crim wrote that the material in the officerâ??s IA files or otherwise were not subject to the Brady Rule requirements because â??they do not contain any evidence of untruthfulness on the part of the officer in question.â? Crim concludes that Frederickâ??s office has enough information to comply with Brady. There is nothing to disclose, according to his brief.
Crim also argued in the brief that the Commonwealth Attorney does not have the authority to force the police to turn over its IA files for inspection and to give it that authority would usurp the legislature which, up to this point, has not given the Commonwealth Attorney that power.
The concern is that should Internal Investigation results be made public, every unfounded complaint, every internal evaluation could become subject to public scrutiny. Confidential information regarding sources could be compromised.
Crim argues that there are procedures in place to give Brady material to the Commonwealth Attorney. The demand to review the files runs counter to those procedures used here and elsewhere, he argued.
The case behind the conflict
Lost in all of this legal maneuvering are the two charges against Steven Wright which were first placed July 11, 2014.
Haymaker was one of the officers involved in that arrest. And the hearing on Nov. 24 was preliminary to Wright being tried in a jury trial later in the week.
On the night of July 10 the Joint Street Crimes Unit executed a search warrant on Wrightâ??s residence on Dunkard Church Road in Culpeper. The raid took place after a month long investigation into drug distribution in the town and county, according to a press release issued after the arrest.
Police reported then that they found bottles of PCP, marijuana and ammunition during the raid. They charged Wright with Felony possession with intent to distribute PCP and Felony possession of ammunition by a felon.
Town Police Chief Chris Jenkins praised the cooperation of the law enforcement agencies involved in the operation when announcing the raid and arrest July 11, 2014.
Wright has been held in jail pending trial since the arrest.
Gary Close is a freelance contributor with the Culpeper Times. He may be reached at email@example.com
What is â??Bradyâ? material?
Lawyers love to talk in shorthand. There really isnâ??t any other way to discuss the complicated issues before them. The rest of the world quickly loses track, throws up its collective hands, and curses the profession for double talk.
The term â??Bradyâ? material can easily fall into that category.
It stands for the 1963 case of Brady v Maryland in which the Supreme Court mandated that prosecutors disclose evidence that could help the defendant in trial or during sentencing. Prosecutors under the decision are required to disclose this helpful evidence whether or not the defendantâ??s attorney asks for it or knows about it. Sounds simple but the devil is in the details.
How, for example, does a prosecutor know what would be helpful to the defendantâ??s case? Sometimes thatâ??s an easy call, other times it requires the prosecutor to somehow parse out what the defense attorney may think is helpful.
Besides confessions, photographs, eyewitness testimony and any number of other things, the background of police officers can constitute Brady material.
If an officerâ??s record could somehow be helpful to the defense, for example that the officer had lied before and it was documented that he had, that would be considered Brady material.
Not necessarily. Police officers are on the forefront of an often thankless profession and, like attorneys, they get frivolous complaints from an unhappy public all the time.
In response to complaints or suspicious activity on the part of the officer, police departments conduct internal investigations and the results of those investigations are kept confidential but for one exception. The police are required to notify the prosecutor if something is discovered in the investigation that calls into question the officerâ??s truthfulness.
The system protects officers from harassment and it protects the defendantâ??s need for anything exculpatory in the officerâ??s background if something is found.
The dispute between the Commonwealth Attorneyâ??s Office and the Culpeper Police Department falls into this realm.
Commonwealthâ??s Attorney Megan Revis Frederick has asked whether or not Detective M.J. Haymaker has information in his personnel file that would constitute Brady material. The Town police have conducted an investigation and told Frederick that the investigation found nothing. That not being enough for Frederick, although it is standard procedure around the state, she tasked her office to file a motion forcing the Town Police to hand over the Haymakerâ??s confidential file.