April 22, 2024

Sheriff Butler, speaking at a Warren County High School function.

Following a Monday, May 22 filing in Warren County Circuit Court, Warren County Sheriff Mark Butler’s Internal Affairs investigation files from his previous employer, the Herndon Police Department, are now a matter of public record.

The documents were filed by Warren County Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Fleming as supplemental discovery exculpatory evidence in the case of Commonwealth v. Ashleigh Michelle Hutzell, CR22/533. Exculpatory evidence is evidence favorable to the defendant in a criminal trial that exonerates or tends to exonerate the defendant of guilt.

By law established in the Supreme Court case Brady v. Maryland, prosecutors must turn over exculpatory evidence before a defendant enters a plea. Giglio v. United States established that prosecutors must disclose certain information that could call a witness’s credibility into question, such as evidence of past lying, code of ethics violations, and/or misdemeanor and felony convictions.

When a police officer testifies as a government witness, the prosecutor has the same obligation as with other government witnesses to seek out and disclose Brady/Giglio type information. The Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney office does not maintain a Brady/Giglio list, according to a Freedom of Information Act request previously submitted by The Shaw Report. The office does, however, make disclosure about witnesses on a case-by-case basis as required by law.

Contacted following Monday’s court filing, Bell stated that he had no comment.

The Internal Affairs investigation documents show that Herndon Senior Police Officer Mark Butler was the subject of two separate investigations for truthfulness and falsifying police reports.

According to the Herndon personnel documents, an investigation revealed that Butler had sustained the following violations surrounding his handling of a missing juvenile:

•Violation of Herndon Police Regulation A-3 – Performance of Duty as it pertains to General Order 315. Missing Persons Investigations: Sustained

•Violation of Police Regulation A-3 – Performance of Duty as it pertains to General Order 303. Audio and Video Recordings, specifically section VIII Processing In-Car Body Worn Audio/Video Recordings: Sustained

•Violation of Herndon Police Regulation D-z – Reports and Bookings: Sustained

•Violation of Herndon Police Regulation A-1 – Truthfulness: Sustained

Captain B.C. Anzengruber, Field Operations Division Commander, wrote in an email to Chief De Board, regarding the missing juvenile case, “I agree with Lieutenant Pihonak’s findings of SUSTAINED for all of the above violations.

It is incumbent upon a police officer to value their integrity. Every time an officer writes a report, testifies in court, or conducts an investigation it is a reflection of the integrity of both the individual and the Department. There have been ongoing performance issues with Butler over the last couple of years, to include insubordination and performance of duty. It is clear from this report that he falsified his police report and lied about the actions he took on the scene because he was lazy and failed to obtain pertinent information for CIS to conduct a proper investigation. He lied about what he did so his actions would not be questioned. We only found the issue of truthfulness between his written report and his actual recorded actions because a detective was looking for a juvenile report so that he could conduct a follow-up investigation and locate the juvenile.

I would have recommended termination for this incident in combination with several other similar incidents where truthfulness and insubordination were found, except that Butler abruptly resigned from the department in the middle of his shift.”

The second Internal Affairs investigation concerns Butler’s response to a larceny from auto case. An inquiry started because the report could not be found in the record management system a week after it was reported. The document states that “Officer Butler did not submit his report in a timely manner as specified in the General Orders specifically stated in Administrative Activities Section D-1, Submitting Reports: Personnel shall promptly submit any reports required as a part of the performance of their duties or as required by competent authority.”

Further investigation revealed other violations of policy:

• Violation of Herndon Police Regulation A-3 Performance of Duty as it pertains to General

Order 322, Records and Reports specifically Section VI-E.4: Sustained

• Violation of Herndon Police Regulation D-2 Reports and Bookings: Sustained

• Violation of Herndon Police Regulation A-1 Truthfulness: Sustained

Butler was interviewed about both cases on September 20, 2019, by Lieutenant Steven Pihonak. His notes regarding the two cases and his interaction with Butler reveal that Pihonak scheduled a second interview with Butler on September 25, 2019, to ask follow-up questions about both cases.

Pihonak noted in the file, “He chose to abruptly to resign when I called him to my office. He advised Sergeant Tacci on the morning of September 25, 2019, that he wanted to make it to mid-October here before resigning. He only presented Captain Anzengruber with his resignation after being called to my office on this morning.”

Pihonak detailed that Butler “informed me that he wanted to make his campaign to be Warren Counties’ [sic] Sherriff [sic]his priority. He also asked me if him choosing to resign puts an end to the Internal Affairs Investigations. Officer Butler resigned and we did not have the opportunity to conduct the interview.”

Regarding the larceny from vehicle case IA findings, Captain Anzengruber stated in an email to Chief De Board, “I agree with Lieutenant Pihonak’s findings of SUSTAINED for all of the above violations.

It is incumbent upon a police officer to value their integrity. Every time an officer writes a report, testifies in court, or conducts an investigation it is a reflection of the integrity of both the individual and the Department. There have been ongoing performance issues with Butler over the last couple of years, to include insubordination and performance of duty. It is clear from this report that he falsified his police report and lied about the actions he took on the scene because he was lazy and didn’t take the necessary time to properly process the scene. He lied about what he did so that his actions would not be questioned. We only found the issue of truthfulness between his written report and his actual recorded actions because we were looking for a police report.”

A law enforcement Internal Affairs investigation ends with one of four findings: sustained, not sustained, unfounded, or exonerated. Sustained means the preponderance of the evidence obtained during the investigation established that the officer’s actions constituted misconduct. Not sustained means there was insufficient evidence to prove or disprove misconduct. Unfounded means the acts that provided the basis for the investigation occurred, but the investigation revealed the acts were justified, lawful, or proper. Exonerated means the acts complained of did not occur.

As The Shaw Report has previously reported, it was during the October 2022 public decertification appeal hearing of former Herndon PD officer Claudio Saa that information about Butler’s abrupt departure—and the reason why—came to light.

The information regarding Butler’s resignation from the Herndon Police Department came after Butler served as a character witness at a September 23, 2022, decertification hearing for former Herndon police officer Claudio Saa.

Butler’s testimony at the September 2022 hearing was not open to the public, but Saa’s appeal hearing on October 13, 2022, was open. This reporter attended the meeting via Zoom as part of an investigation into decertified officers in the region. It was during that open appeal meeting that Herndon Police Lieutenant Jaysyn J. Carson asserted that Butler was not a viable character witness for Saa, citing Butler being the focus of two internal affairs investigations at the time he resigned.

Carson also introduced a pre-recorded statement from Herndon PD Captain Steven Pihonak, who testified that Butler “never supervised Saa” and that Butler was a “road dog”, meaning a patrol officer, and that he “never knew any issues regarding Saa’s performance” before stating that Butler “abruptly resigned” after being called in during his shift to answer questions from Internal Affairs investigators.

Butler, during his 2019 sheriff’s campaign, asserted to the Royal Examiner in a September 2019 video interview with reporter Roger Bianchini that he resigned to go “all in” on his campaign for Warren County Sheriff. That interview, which occurred on September 26, 2019, was posted on the Royal Examiner website on September 29, 2019.

Butler said that after talking to his family they made a decision to be “all in” on his campaign. He told Bianchini, “After I saw our entire local government be arrested, something hit me.” He asserted that if others here were giving of their full time and efforts, he needed to be campaigning full-time to earn a job here.

Herndon Police Chief Maggie De Board wrote to The Shaw Report in a Nov. 27, 2022, email, regarding Butler and his exit from Herndon PD, “We released it in that public decertification hearing due to Mark Butler’s unexpected role as a character witness for the appellant. Mark Butler can certainly assert his own personal reason for resigning, but I can confirm it was done without warning and coincided with his ongoing internal investigations regarding truthfulness and falsifying police reports.”

Chief De Board also wrote “His sustained violations occurred before the law changed and that is the reason he was not decertified. I cannot, however, provide you with additional details of his internal investigations beyond what was presented in the decertification hearing. You would need a court order for that.”

The 2020 murder of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota garnered national attention and led to several states passing tougher laws with more “teeth” to discipline officers who broke the law.

Prior to addressing the Jan. 17, 2022, Warren County Board of Supervisors at the Regular Meeting, The Shaw Report again reached out to Chief De Board. She replied in an email, “I can only confirm the facts that were released in the public decertification hearing for Claudio Saa, in which Sheriff Butler was surprisingly produced as a character witness for Mr. Saa. We had not intended to release any information on this personnel matter but felt compelled to when he was asked to be a credible witness for Mr. Saa.

“I can’t dispute what Sheriff Butler feels was his personal reason for leaving when he did. But he was in the middle of two different internal affairs investigations at the time of his sudden departure. And as stated in the decertification hearing by my staff, those investigations resulted in sustaining two different violations of truthfulness on then SPO Butler, as well as other policy violations. Had he not resigned, we would have terminated him from our agency.

“During the time of his tenure, the decertification statute had not yet changed to include integrity-based violations. As a result, he was not decertified with the state. Once the statute was changed in 2020, it applied only to violations moving forward from that date. But agencies going through the hiring process certainly look for these issues when conducting background checks on certified applicants. As a matter of fact, agencies are now obligated by law to review personnel files from other agencies when conducting background checks. But Sheriff Butler did not get hired, he was elected to office.”

A law enforcement officer whose credibility could be called into question at trial, based on information about their truthfulness, candor issues or some other type of issue is not likely to be called as a witness. To do so would create problems later if a conviction results. Moving forward, it is unlikely that Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney Bell will prosecute cases brought to the office by Sheriff Butler, though he has not commented on the issue.

Butler, who noted his Republican affiliation prior to announcing his 2019 campaign, chose to run as an independent. He again opted to run as an independent when he launched his reelection bid on April 8th this year.

His office has come under public scrutiny for several reasons, including Butler’s Feb. 2021 withdrawal from the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force, the first agency to do so in the 35-year history of the organization. Ironically, former Warren County Sheriff Lynn Armentrout was instrumental in creating the task force, along with other regional agencies. The withdrawal has created an extra burden for the remaining task force enforcement personnel from Clarke, Frederick, Page and Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Departments, Front Royal, Luray, Strasburg, and Winchester Police Department. There are about 1700 square miles in the task force area.

According to the Virginia Medical Examiner’s Office, 61 people have died from Opioid overdoses in Warren County since Butler took over at the Warren County Sheriff’s Office in 2020. Opioid overdoses include all pharmaceutically and illicit versions of fentanyl, heroin, and one or more prescription opioids. puts Warren County at 42 deaths per capita, the highest in the task force area.

The Warren County Sheriff has decreased the number of deputies assigned to work drug investigations from five deputies in 2020 down to two. Both deputies have been assigned to the Northern Virginia area, and do not work on a day-to-day basis in Warren County.

Meanwhile, seizures of fentanyl increased by almost 3000% for Northwest Virginia Regional Drug Task Force.

The Warren County Sheriff’s Office made national news recently, when a grand jury issued felony assault indictments May 8, against a current Warren County sheriff’s deputy and a former Warren County sheriff’s deputy for wounding Ralph Ennis, 77, during a traffic stop north of Front Royal in April 2022.

Mr. Ennis hit his head twice as the deputies attempted to arrest him, police have said. Body camera video showed a deputy slamming Ennis face-forward into his own pickup truck. Ennis then appeared to develop what was later diagnosed as a brain bleed after a second deputy charged Ennis and the first involved deputy, taking all three down onto the paved parking lot with Ennis on the bottom. Ennis died nearly two weeks later in hospice care.

Sheriff Butler himself made local news recently, after the Warren County Public School system sent a letter to parents last week, explaining that because of Butler’s decision to insert campaign information into congratulation letters for graduating seniors the school system will discontinue the long-standing tradition. The letter stated, “WCPS is non-partisan and does not support any candidate running for office. We sincerely apologize for the lack of oversight as previous letters did not contain such materials or content. The practice of providing congratulatory letters to high school seniors by the Warren County Sheriff’s Office will be discontinued.

The WCSO also has a less-than stellar track record regarding employee staffing and retention. Data obtained through Freedom of Information Act information requests show that from 2020 through 2022, 53 employees either left or were terminated. In that same timeframe, 81 staff members have been hired.

Moreover, parents and teachers alike have publicly expressed frustration that School Resource Officers (SRO) are not present full-time in Warren County’s schools. For most of the 2022-23 school year, there were less than five SROs to cover all 11 schools.

The Shaw Report reached out to Sheriff Butler regarding the Monday filing; neither he nor Major Jeffrey Driskill, the Warren County Sheriff’s Office FOIA officer, have responded.

Front Royal Police Captain Crystal Cline officially announced her bid for Warren County Sheriff in January. She was endorsed by the Warren County Republican Party this spring.

Cline stated in her release, “Over the last three years, our Sheriff’s Office has faced a crisis in leadership, resulting in the loss of trust and respect for the agency and the departure of many superb deputies. As your Sheriff, I will reestablish the agency’s standing with the community. I will bring a fresh, balanced perspective to improve department culture, restore integrity, improve transparency, and ensure the safety of all Warren County residents.”

The Warren County Democrats have neither nominated nor endorsed any candidates for local offices.

 

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