April 22, 2024

Sheriff Mark Butler at the Jan. 17, 2023 Warren County Board of Supervisor's meeting in which issues related to his departure from the Herndon Police Department were first raised by a local reporter.

Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney John Bell issued the following statement Monday afternoon, May 30, regarding inquiries to his office following an article published on the online news site TheShawReport.org.:

“This office has received a number of inquiries in response to a recent online article at www.theshawreport.org, which discusses, in part, a filing made by this office in a pending Circuit Court case involving Sheriff Butler. All prosecutors have a legal and ethical duty to disclose exculpatory evidence about a witness, that is, any information that casts doubt on the truthfulness of that witness. It is a painful duty when that witness is a law enforcement officer. It is a particularly painful duty when that officer is your elected Sheriff.

“We were obligated to make such a disclosure in the case of Commonwealth v Hutzell, CR22-533, a Circuit Court case in which Sheriff Butler was the arresting officer. The disclosure consists of the results of two Internal Affairs investigations conducted by the Town of Herndon Police Department when Sheriff Butler was employed there as an Officer in 2019. The Town of Herndon concluded that then-Officer Butler falsified statements in two different official Police reports about two separate incidents. Download the report. 

“As a result of this information, we are unable to call Sheriff Butler to the witness stand as a credible witness. We are currently evaluating all cases where Sheriff Butler is a potential witness to see if the prosecutions can proceed without him. There will also be a review of some prior cases to evaluate the impact of his participation.”

In October, 2022, this reporter began researching Virginia’s law enforcement decertification process put into place in 2020 and the sharp rise in the number of decertified officers. The information regarding Butler was acquired when former Herndon Police Officer Claudio Saa appealed his decertification ruling by the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS). While the initial decertification hearing was closed, Saa’s appeal hearing was open and accessed by Shaw through ZOOM. It was here Shaw discovered that Sheriff Butler, a former co-worker of Saa’s on the Herndon Police Force, had appeared at the initial decertification hearing as a character witness for Saa.

In response to that appearance, Herndon Chief of Police, Colonel Maggie A. DeBoard sent a departmental representative to the appeal hearing with information the Herndon Police Chief believed discredited Butler’s value as a character witness for Saa. Included in that information was that Butler, himself a patrol officer in Herndon prior to his 2019 resignation “mid-shift” while running for sheriff here, had never supervised Saa and would have no direct access to departmental information related to Saa’s decertification initiative by the Herndon Police Department.

“I learned during that investigation that Warren County Sheriff Mark Butler was facing two internal investigations that likely would have resulted in his termination from the Herndon Police Department at the time he resigned in September 2019,” Shaw told the supervisors, adding that, “Butler did tell Royal Examiner in 2019 in a video interview … that he resigned to campaign full-time, and no one (here) knew the fact that he was under an Internal Affairs investigation.”

It might be noted that decertification, a finding of which the DCJS prevents a law enforcement officer from being employed as such anywhere in the state, had not yet been passed into law in Virginia at the time Butler resigned from the Herndon Police Department. Consequently, once he resigned from the department the Internal Affairs investigation which could have led to his dismissal from that department, ended with no further action necessary.

“His chief, Maggie DeBoard, said to this reporter in an email that she “cannot dispute what Sheriff Butler feels was his personal reason for leaving when he did. But he was in the middle of two Internal Affairs investigations at the time of his sudden departure. As stated by my (Saa) decertification hearing staff, those investigations resulted in two different violations. Had he not resigned he would have been terminated from our agency.” Chief DeBoard said of information concerning Butler’s past being made public, “We released it in that public decertification hearing due to Mark Butler’s unexpected role as a character witness for the appellant.”

Sheriff Butler was contacted for a response to this information on November 28, 2022; he declined to go on the record. Shaw’s former employer, the RoyalExaminer—of which she was a cofounder–declined to post the story for reasons that remain unclear; she was terminated in late December 2022. Shaw went on to establish her own online news source, www.TheShawReport.org.

Butler was also contacted for comment prior to the release of the story regarding the Commonwealth’s Attorney office filing of documents pertaining to Butler’s possible credibility issues.

Contacted for comment, Bell said in a Mondy afternoon telephone interview that he had been aware of a Jan. 17, 2023, public comment made by local reporter Norma Jean Shaw, at a Warren County Board of Supervisors meeting, that Butler appeared to have been untruthful regarding his publicly stated reason for leaving the Herndon Police Department, mid-shift, in September 2022. At that time, the CA’s office had no upcoming cases in which Butler would be involved.

It was after a case was filed in which Butler would be called to testify that Bell felt compelled to further investigate the allegations regarding the elected official. He obtained a copy of the Saa decertification appeal hearing, and watched testimony by Herndon PD then-Lieutenant Steve Pihonak, who stated that Butler was not a viable character witness and was had been under two Internal Affairs investigations when he resigned in September 2019.

That video also included testimony by local defense attorney David Downes, who represented Saa. Downes stated that Butler had merely been accused of posting campaign messages on Facebook while on the clock at Herndon PD, and that he resigned to campaign full-time.

Bell said that after viewing that video, he reached out to the Herndon PD for Butler’s personnel records. Captain Steve Pihonak, who was involved in the two investigations surrounding Butler in 2019, brought the files to the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office.

Based upon the findings within those records, Bell directed Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Fleming, who had a pending case in which Butler would be required to testify, to file supplementary 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.

Bell also said that his staff is looking back at prior cases to determine if Butler presented testimony.

Bell previously stated that his office does not maintain a Brady/Giglio file, as some offices do, but “made disclosure on a case-by-case basis as required by law.”

 

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