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Manassas police detective resigns after misconduct involving federal officer charged with child pornography

Case prompts larger legal review by commonwealth's attorney

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Manassas police

Courtesy Manassas police

Prince William County’s commonwealth’s attorney’s office is reviewing more than a dozen active cases and past convictions involving the testimony of a City of Manassas police detective after prosecutors learned she was disciplined for misconduct in connection with a case involving a federal border patrol officer facing charges of child pornography. 

Former City of Manassas Police Department detective Anna Higgs, 10-year veteran of the force, resigned in May after a review of local police misconduct initiated by Commonwealth’s Attorney Amy Ashworth revealed she was disciplined in September 2020 because of her actions following the border patrol officer’s arrest, officials said.

The border patrol officer was arrested on August 24, 2020, by the multi-jurisdictional Northern Virginia-D.C. Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, which investigates online child exploitation and pornography. Higgs served on the task force, which is made up of officers from more than 30 Northern Virginia, state and federal law-enforcement agencies.

Higgs developed a personal relationship with the spouse of the border patrol officer and provided the border patrol officer with religious counseling services for pornography addiction through her church, according to a Sept. 21, 2020, internal City of Manassas Police Department memorandum obtained by the Prince William Times.

The NOVA-D.C. ICAC declined to disclose the border patrol officer’s name or additional information about the case and referred questions to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. A spokesman for ICE declined to comment Friday, May 28, about the border patrol officer’s case “due to ongoing litigation.” 

In the weeks following the border control officer’s arrest, Higgs reportedly shared Bible verses, texted with the border patrol officer’s spouse and set up a meeting between Higgs’ husband, their pastor and the border patrol officer at Higgs’ church to arrange counseling for pornography addiction.

Higgs also told the border patrol officer’s spouse that the Virginia attorney general’s office “did not wish to prosecute” and made “prosecutorial promises,” according to the memo, which was authored by a City of Manassas police lieutenant.

As a result of Higgs’ actions, the memo states, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring’s office would “no longer prosecute [Higgs’] cases due to recent interviews that shed an unfavorable light, as [Higgs was] too personally involved.”

The Virginia attorney general’s office is charged with prosecuting cases investigated by the internet task force. Charlotte Gomer, a spokesperson for Herring’s office, said in a May 27 email that the office “is still handling one of [Higgs] cases.” Gomer did not respond to questions about how many cases the office is no longer prosecuting as a result of Higgs’ alleged misconduct. 

The NOVA-D.C. ICAC task force removed Higgs from the border patrol officer’s case on Sept. 3, 2020. But Higgs did not inform Manassas police of her removal until Sept. 10 in response to questions from City of Manassas police, the internal memo said.

During the interview with Manassas police, Higgs confirmed details of her interactions with the border patrol officer as well as her removal from the case, the memorandum states. Higgs “took the stance that [she was] providing ‘community service’ to a family in crisis utilizing [crisis intervention team] skills,” the memo states. 

In addition to being removed from the task force because of her actions, Higgs as also accused of violating the City of Manassas Police Department’s rules of conduct and general responsibilities, including truthfulness, discredit to the department, standards of conduct, associations, and cooperation, according to the memo.

Most instances of police officer misconduct are not made public in Virginia because the state’s Freedom of Information Act exempts law enforcement agencies from disclosing “personnel information concerning identifiable individuals.” 

Higgs remained employed by the Manassas police department until May 2021 when she resigned, according to Officer Amilcar Barahona, a Manassas police spokesperson. Attempts to reach Higgs for comment have not been successful. 

Prosecutors not initially told of disciplinary action

The City of Manassas Police Department did not inform Ashworth about Higgs’ misconduct, and Ashworth did not learn about the incident until late April when she undertook a review of police officer misconduct in Prince William County, Manassas and Manassas Park, Ashworth said May 27 interview with the Prince William Times.

City of Manassas police did not respond to questions about why prosecutors were not informed of Higgs’ actions and the resulting disciplinary action.

Prosecutors are required by law to disclose information regarding police officers to defense attorneys, including disciplinary actions for dishonesty or excessive use of force. Ashworth’s office began taking steps to review police officer misconduct in 2020, a first in Prince William, because, Ashworth said, “We can't disclose [incidents of misconduct] if we don't know about them. And we don't know about them if we don't ask.”

Ashworth said she immediately notified defense attorneys with cases in which Higgs was the primary detective once she learned about the incident. Ashworth also said she issued a “Brady letter” stating her office will no longer use Higgs as a witness in criminal cases. Ashworth also shared the Manassas police department’s memo regarding Higgs’ discipline with local defense attorneys, she said.

Lists of officers who receive Brady letters are sometimes kept by commonwealth’s attorneys or district attorneys to identify officers whose criminal or disciplinary histories make them unreliable witnesses at trial.

Ashworth said it is possible another police department could hire Higgs, but they would be doing so “with the knowledge that she can't testify here in Prince William County.”

In light of Higgs’ alleged actions, prosecutors are now reviewing seven active cases in which Higgs was involved to determine whether they can move forward without her testimony and will review an additional six or seven cases resolved between September and April, Ashworth said.

“Anytime an officer has an integrity or a truthfulness issue, that raises concern for everybody. So of course, we're going to look back at that officer's charges,” Ashworth said. “... We have to go through a lot of them to make sure, because there were some cases that were resolved after the discipline had taken place, but before we were notified.”

Although Higgs can no longer act as a witness in Prince William, the cases she worked on might still move forward without her, Ashworth said.

“There are other ways that we can make the case because very often, especially when you deal with cases that have a detective, the primary evidence doesn't come from the detective, it comes from all the witnesses that they've interviewed,” Ashworth said.

Asked whether her office had discovered any other disciplinary action of local police officers, Ashworth said there were none that prompted a review of pending cases. 

“There's been a handful of other officers since I've taken office [with whom] we have had a similar problem [but] they didn't have any pending cases or things that couldn't be resolved,” Ashworth said.

Reach Daniel Berti at dberti@fauquier.com

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