Town of Culpeper files lawsuit against commonwealth’s attorney

The Town of Culpeper took an unprecedented step by filing a civil suit last week against Culpeper County Commonwealthâ??s Attorney Megan R. Frederick and her staff of attorneys, accusing them of prosecutorial misconduct by refusing to prosecute cases involving Officer Matthew Haymaker.

The town delivered on its May 15 promise that it could not allow Frederick to continue asking courts to drop charges brought by Haymaker or refusing to prosecute any cases he was even slightly involved in without a fight. The suit was filed by Town Attorney Martin Crim.

The letter signed by eight of the nine council members â?? Jon Russell was out of town but said he â??probablyâ? would have signed â?? warned Frederick that her actions would deny victims justice, law enforcement in Culpeper will be harmed and criminals will go free.

The lawsuit states that neither Frederick nor any of the attorneys in her office responded to the town councilâ??s letter asking her to reconsider prosecuting Haymakerâ??s cases.

The writ of mandamus, which asks the court to compel Frederick and her staff, to prosecute cases involving Haymaker, and the injunction, which requests that special prosecutors be appointed in any cases involving Haymaker, was filed June 17.

The six-page court filing, along with exhibits, lists Frederick, Deputy Commonwealthâ??s Attorney Angela Catlett, Senior Assistant Commonwealthâ??s Attorney Jonathan Slater and Assistant Commonwealth Attorneys Wade Gelbert, Thomas Smith and Justin Witt as defendants.

Frederick and her prosecutorial staff signed a Mar. 26, letter to Police Chief Chris Jenkins stating that the office would refuse to prosecute any cases involving Haymaker â??no matter how slight.â?

â??This office strives to embrace the highest standards of professional and personal conduct,â? the attorneys wrote to Jenkins. â??As prosecutors, we are unanimous in our determination that it is not in the Commonwealthâ??s best interests to utilize Detective Haymaker as a witness.â?

The town claims Frederick and her staff have overstepped their bounds by refusing to prosecute Haymakerâ??s cases.

â??The commonwealthâ??s attorney is charged with the duty to prosecute felonies within the County of Culpeper,â? the court filing reads. â??As a result of the respondentsâ?? (Frederick and her staff) unreasonable refusal to perform mandatory legal duties, the town and the public have been deprived of the services of Haymaker on the Blue Ridge Narcotics and Gang Task Force, have seen several felony charges dismissed by respondents, and are at risk of future felony charges being dismissed without cause.â?

Haymaker served on the local drug task force but has since had his State Police Authority revoked because Frederick notified police she would not prosecute any of Haymakerâ??s cases. Since he can longer work on the task force, Haymaker has been reassigned to uniform patrol.

Felony charges against defendants in several cases he worked were dropped by Frederickâ??s office. One of the most recent in which charges were dropped was three days after the town council sent Frederick the letter, according to the law suit. The suit alleges that Frederickâ??s office has dropped charges in at least six cases.

The suit contends that Frederick filed two separate internal affairs complaints against Haymaker. Those complaints were investigated but none resulted in a finding that Haymaker lacked credibility, impugned his integrity or subject him to impeachment on the witness stand. Frederick was notified in writing of the results of both administrative investigations.

â??Haymaker is not the subject of any founded complaint that would impact his credibility as a witness in any future case, nor has he been placed on any â??Brady Listâ?? of officers subject to impeachment,â? according to the filing.

The Culpeper Police Department is an internationally accredited police agency, with established policies requiring notification to the commonwealthâ??s attorney about any officers determined to be â??Brady Listâ? officers. The department has notified prosecutors in the past, but Haymakerâ??s name is not on that list, according to a source familiar with the process.

In addition, departmental policy requires â??Brady Listâ? officers to notify defense attorneys of their â??Brady Listâ? status.

The suit contends that commonwealth attorneys â??by declaring their intent not to prosecute Haymakerâ??s cases going forward, respondents have abdicated their legal duties as officers of the state, sworn to uphold the Constitution and laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia.â?

The townâ??s lawsuit is asking the circuit court to order â??for the prosecution of Haymakerâ??s cases by a prosecutor who will faithfully and impartially exercise prosecutorial discretion, and who would be paid out of the commonwealth attorneyâ??s budget,â?

If the writ of mandamus is not granted, the town is seeking both a temporary and permanent injunction ordering the appointment of a special prosecutor and that prosecutor be paid from the commonwealth attorneyâ??s budget.

Frederick did not reply to an email from the Times seeking comment on the court filing.

Wally Bunker is a freelance contributor with the Culpeper Times. You may reach him at wallybunker@outlook.com