Rising tensions between Republican Prince William County supervisors, the county’s new police chief and the local NAACP president are showing no signs of abating after police investigated a citizen’s email with the subject line “Government Target,” that criticized some Democratic county supervisors.
The email at issue was sent by Dumfries resident Robert Hand to all eight Prince William County supervisors on Aug. 3 shortly before an afternoon board meeting. The next day, police sent an officer to Hand’s home to question him but ultimately determined the email violated no laws.
The board’s three Republican supervisors questioned whether the investigation was politically motivated after emails were released that showed police interviewed Hand after Supervisor Andrea Bailey, D-Potomac, forwarded Hand’s email to her husband, Prince William NAACP President Cozy Bailey. Cozy Bailey then forwarded the email to Police Chief Peter Newsham.
Cozy Bailey also serves on the police department’s citizen’s advisory board.
After the emails came to light, Supervisors Jeanine Lawson, R-Brentsville, Pete Candland, R-Gainesville, and Yesli Vega, R-Coles, demanded that Newsham provide a “full accounting” in public about why he chose to investigate the email.
Lawson has since taken it a step further, publicly criticizing Newsham for his role in the ordeal in recent a radio interview on WMAL’s Vince Coglianese Show.
“If anybody is to blame, in addition to [Supervisor Andrea Bailey] and her husband, it’s Chief Newsham, who I’ve already had a discussion with. I did not agree with his judgment call. He’s going to speak before the board on Sept. 7, and we’re going to air this dirty laundry in the public eye,” Lawson said on Coglianese’s Aug. 25 show.
Lawson said she believes “the police chief was pressured and, unfortunately, he caved.”
Lawson is one of six candidates running for the Republican nomination in Virginia’s 10th District congressional seat.
Newsham is scheduled to address the board Sept. 7 about the annual crime report and will be available to answer supervisors’ questions, board Chair Ann Wheeler, D-At Large, said last week.
On Aug. 30, Prince William County Police spokesman 1st Sgt. Jonathan Perok responded to Lawson’s comments. Newsham and Lawson have “an excellent working relationship” and “have thoroughly discussed her concerns regarding this matter,” Perok said.
Hand is a local gun rights activist and frequent critic of the board’s Democratic supervisors. His email’s subject line “Government Target” did not refer to county officials, however, but to another county resident who Hand believed was being targeted by county officials.
In an interview with Prince William Times last week, Hand said he was confident that he “did not say anything threatening” and “had not crossed a line.”
County documents show that shortly after Hand sent the email on Aug. 3, Andrea Bailey forwarded it to Cozy Bailey, who then sent the email to Newsham with the accompanying note: “For your situational awareness. More malice in the subject line than in the rant contained in the body of the email, but we take all communicated threats seriously.”
A day later, a police sergeant arrived at Hand’s Dumfries home and questioned him about his communication with the board. The police officer said during their conversation that Hand had not violated any laws.
In an interdepartmental email obtained by Prince William Times, the investigating police officer wrote that Hand acknowledged during their conversation that he used “poor wording” in the subject line of the email but “insisted it was referring to citizens being a government target and not ‘targeting the government.’”
Newsham explained his decision to investigate Hand’s email in an Aug. 5 email to County Executive Chris Martino, Lawson and Candland. “It is our law enforcement responsibility to follow up when residents of the county believe they are the victim of online threats or harassment,” Newsham said.
Cozy Bailey said in an Aug. 25 interview on Fox 5 that his decision to report the email to Newsham was largely because of the email’s subject line.
“It was primarily the subject line of the email that bothered me,” Bailey said. “It said ‘government target.’ I couldn’t discern what that had to do with the content of the email, so out of an abundance of caution decided to forward it to the police department.”
Reach Daniel Berti at firstname.lastname@example.org