All five Democrats on the Prince William Board of County Supervisors are facing a new lawsuit that alleges they held an illegal meeting with the police department, community leaders and citizens after police and protesters clashed during a May “Black Lives Matter” protest in Manassas.
Prince William County Commonwealth’s Attorney Amy Ashworth (D) said in June that the supervisors' attendance at the meeting was not illegal.
County residents Alan Gloss, Tammy Spinks and Carol Fox filed the lawsuit in Prince William County Circuit Court on July 31 against board Chair Ann Wheeler, D-At Large, and Supervisors Victor Angry, D-Neabsco, Kenny Boddye, D-Occoquan, Margaret Franklin, D-Woodbridge and Andrea Bailey, D-Potomac.
Conservative legal advocacy group Judicial Watch has teamed up with Gloss, Spinks and Fox in their lawsuit. Judicial Watch is “a conservative, non-partisan educational foundation, which promotes transparency, accountability and integrity in government, politics and the law,” according to their website.
“Now, more than ever, citizens need transparency in their government. Secret meetings on police policy undermines public confidence and violates the law,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton in a Friday press release.
Gloss, Spinks and Fox are represented by Christopher Kachouroff, an attorney with McSweeney, Cynkar & Kachouroff, PLLC.
Gloss first filed a lawsuit against the entire county board in June. Gloss withdrew the lawsuit during his first court hearing June 15 so he could return to file the lawsuit only against the supervisors who attended the meeting.
County Attorney Michele Robl represented the board of supervisors in court during the June 15 hearing. Robl said she believed she would “easily be able to prove there was no violation” of the state’s FOIA laws during the meeting.
Gloss alleges in his new lawsuit that the board’s Democratic supervisors broke Virginia’s FOIA law mandates. Gloss wrote that he was “denied the right and opportunity to attend that meeting and to observe the proceedings” as a result.
If the court rules that the supervisors willfully or knowingly violated Virginia’s FOIA laws, supervisors could be fined between $500 and $2,000 in civil penalties, according to Virginia law.
The meeting occurred the day after a May 30 “Black Lives Matter” rally in Manassas. The rally began peacefully around 5 p.m. and attracted around 250 protesters at its peak. Police eventually declared an unlawful assembly and attempted to remove protesters from the area.
Clashes occurred between police and protesters damaged several nearby businesses and vehicles. Police used tear gas and rubber bullets against protesters in an attempt to break up the protest and ultimately arrested five people. At least seven police officers were injured, as were numerous protesters.
The next day, a community meeting was organized by Prince William County police and its Citizen’s Advisory Board to discuss the police response the protest. All five Democratic supervisors attended the meeting, but the board’s three Republican members said they were not invited.
“As explained in the lawsuit, the Democrat supervisors violated Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act/open meeting law by holding a meeting in secret, without notice any Republican supervisor nor advance notice to the public as required by law,” according to a release from Judicial Watch.
Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act says any gathering of two or more members of the same public body is allowed as long as no public business is transacted or discussed.
The lawsuit alleges that, while no votes were cast during the meeting, Democratic supervisors posed questions and provided directives to the police leadership to curtail the use of crowd control measures in future disturbances, constituting a discussion of public business.
Prince William County Police 1st Sgt. Jonathan Perok said after the meeting that “nothing was discussed [at the meeting] that impacted later demonstrations.”
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