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Shawn Walker, director of Alcoholic Beverage Control, said “an altercation” at a firing range led to John Taylor being moved.
Sunday, July 14, 2013
Leading up to April 11, Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control was an agency in transition.
Over a 15-month period ending in January, the director of law enforcement made some 50 personnel changes among the roughly 120 special agents who make up the bureau, according to internal agency memos. The moves largely were tied to a reorganization that shuffled services in Richmond, consolidated some offices and expanded others.
John Taylor was part of the makeover. Less than a year before he led an operation in which agents swarmed University of Virginia sorority sisters wrongly suspected of buying beer while underage, the head of ABC’s law enforcement wing invited Taylor to dinner to break the news: Taylor had lost command of his troops in Lynchburg, court records state.
After nearly 20 years of working in the agency’s Lynchburg office, Director Shawn Walker said Taylor no longer was capable of leading the agents there and would be sent to Staunton “for the good of the bureau,” according to records filed as part of an appeal of an employee grievance.
Walker said he made the decision about Taylor after seeing “an altercation” during a training exercise at a Lynchburg firing range. The confrontation was the latest in a series of problems that Walker witnessed that day, he testified.
“Just watching the physical reactions, the eye rolling, the turning away, the very closed type of body language of [Taylor’s] agents,” Walker said. The behavior involved “a number of [agents and was] enough to be significant, where I realized I’ve got to intercede and do something here.”
Neither Taylor nor Walker responded to interview requests.
“Just know that, as I told you before, even though this is my decision I pledge that I will do everything I can to help you be successful,” Walker wrote in an email to Taylor on July 31, 2012, the day before Taylor took command of the agency’s Staunton office. “This is a great opportunity and I am very pleased that you are accepting this as such.”
Nearly a year later, Taylor was the one sending words of encouragement:
“Deputy Director [Chris] Goodman and I have had several discussions about the case today,” Taylor wrote in a June 28 email with the subject line, “Elizabeth Daly Case.”
Authorities charged Daly, 20, with three felonies after she and two frightened sorority roommates fled six plainclothes agents who’d fanned out around her SUV in a parking lot at the Barracks Road Shopping Center. One of the agents drew his gun. Another used a flashlight to try to smash a window in Daly’s SUV, according to an ABC account. The agents suspected the women of buying beer while underage. In fact, the women had purchased sparkling water, cookie dough and ice cream.
Prosecutors dropped the charges June 27, but when the story of the case broke the following day, ABC was besieged by critics from across the country.
Taylor was undaunted.
“[Goodman] wanted me to reach out to all involved and let you know that he and [Walker] have reviewed everything and are 100 percent supportive of the actions that were taken by everyone that night,” Taylor wrote. “I also want to let each of you know that I am 100 percent supportive of everyone’s actions.”
ABC last week announced that it had called upon Virginia State Police to conduct an independent administrative review of the case. The agency initially said it would be reviewing the case for a second time, but officials backtracked last week to say no earlier review had been conducted.
Agency officials have repeatedly declined to answer questions about whether either the state police or internal review will be made public. State police have said their review will be delivered to ABC outlining findings of fact. Among those calling for the agency to disclose those materials is Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney Dave Chapman, who made the decision to withdraw the charges against Daly, accused of two counts of assaulting an officer and one of eluding police.
The prosecutor acknowledged in an email to Secretary of Public Safety Marla Decker that making such a review public would go against agency norms.
“Setting a precedent is a concern, but this is a unique case in my experience and there is an important need for the public to receive more accurate information about the facts at the earliest opportunity,” Chapman wrote.
In addition to calling for disclosure, Chapman sent to Walker a seven-point list of questions that the prosecutor said a review should address. The questions largely center on whether ABC’s actions on the night of April 11 match agency policies and training.
Two questions in the July 3 letter target suspicion: “Is there a uniform standard of suspicion” dictating when agents approach people? Is there a standard to determine “sufficient suspicion” to detain people in a vehicle? Two other questions inquire about the drawing of the weapon and the attempt to break the window with a flashlight.
The agency on July 5 announced a change in practice addressing another point raised in Chapman’s letter and the complaints of Daly and her roommates, who said they didn’t know who the agents were because they were in plainclothes rather than uniform. ABC said in future operations like the one that netted Daly, an agent in uniform will be there to act as a “contact person.”
That announcement came a day after the July 4 release of a 911 recording from April 11, when one of Daly’s roommates made a frantic call to dispatchers as the women prepared to drive to a police station.
ABC policy on vehicle stops requires plainclothes officers in unmarked cars to request assistance from a “marked police unit whenever attempting to stop a motor vehicle.”
Daly and her sorority sisters say they pulled over for a vehicle with lights and sirens. The stop can be heard on the 911 recording.
A dispatcher asks the women to put an agent on the phone. One answers, identifying himself as John Taylor.
After the dispatcher advises that the women were scared and didn’t know the agents were police, Taylor answered, “Well, everybody’s showing badges and everything and she stood there right in front of them and they pulled off trying to run over people.”
Taylor’s email to the six agents involved said he and Chapman discussed the Daly case “at length” on the day the prosecutor withdrew charges.
“While we may disagree with his decision, we all know that it is his decision to make,” Taylor wrote. “Thanks for all of your efforts during the operation in Charlottesville.”
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