Federal judge sends Haymakerâ??s lawsuit back to Culpeper

This month, a federal judge in Charlottesville dismissed two counts and remanded back to Culpeper County Circuit Court two other counts of a civil lawsuit filed by Culpeper Police Officer Matthew Haymaker earlier this year against outgoing Culpeper Commonwealthâ??s Attorney Megan Revis Frederick and her five assistants.

On Dec. 15, Chief U.S. District Court Judge Glen Conrad dismissed two counts alleging conspiracy to damage Haymakerâ??s reputation and U.S. Civil Rights violations to deprive Haymaker of his employment and remanded the defamation and tortious interference employment allegations for trial in state court. Judge Conradâ??s ruling effectively ends any federal court involvement in the case.

In September, Richmond-based attorneys, representing Frederick and her assistants and being paid by the state, filed papers asking that the civil suit be transferred to U.S. District Court in Charlottesville because Haymakerâ??s attorney raised federal constitutional issues involving Frederick and assistant prosecutors Angela Catlett, Jonathan Slater, Wade Gelbert, Thomas Smith and Justin Witt.

The civil suit, which was filed in Culpeper County Circuit Court in August, alleged that Frederick and her staff made false and defamatory remarks regarding Haymakerâ??s â??character, honesty, honor and integrity,â? according to Judge Conradâ??s ruling.

The lawsuit also alleged that the defendants had â??tortiouslyâ? interfered with his employment at the police department when they refused to prosecute any cases in which he was even slightly involved.

Several cases, some felonies, involving alleged drug dealing and investigated by Haymaker were not prosecuted.

Haymaker, who has been employed by the police department since May 31, 2012, was assigned in Nov, 2014, to the Blue Ridge Narcotics and Gang Task Force, a regional task force operating under the authority of the Virginia State Police and having state police arrest powers.

Several times in January 2015, prosecutors notified police, according to Conradâ??s ruling, that they would no longer prosecute any of Haymakerâ??s cases. In a March 26, 2015 letter addressed to Culpeper Police Chief Chris Jenkins and signed by Frederick and all her assistants categorically stated the office would no longer prosecute any case involving Haymaker no matter how slight his involvement.

Judge Conradâ??s ruling offers a recitation of facts in the case, including quotes from a March. 23, 2015, Facebook posting allegedly made on Frederickâ??s personal page. Frederick allegedly made statements â??to multiple peopleâ? that Haymaker was â??done.â? Also cited in the ruling was mention of a published news report with comments from University of Virginia law professor Darryl Brown that the prosecutors â??must know some very disturbing evidence about the officerâ??s conductâ? and Frederick â??concluded the officer is so untrustworthy that she canâ??t trust any evidence the officer is connected with.â?

Frederick filed a complaint with the police department in January 2015, regarding Haymakerâ??s alleged â??coerciveâ? tactics during the interview of a robbery and burglary suspect, according to Judge Conradâ??s â??background of facts.â? Following an internal affairs investigation two allegations against Haymaker were exonerated and a third was not sustained.

Catlett filed a motion in Culpeper Circuit Court in February 2015, seeking access to Haymakerâ??s internal investigation file, citing a U.S. Supreme Court decision governing the production of exculpatory evidence to the defense. Circuit Court Judge Susan Whitlock denied the motion the following month.

Earlier this year, Haymaker was removed from the Blue Ridge Narcotics and Gang Task Force and reassigned to uniform patrol duties.

Meanwhile, as the legal maneuvering continues, no trial date has been set or a judge named to hear the defamation and interference with employment claims pending in Culpeper County Circuit Court since the federal court sent the case back.

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