The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Crowd blasts Culpeper sheriff
BY DONNIE JOHNSTON
More than 150 people attended Monday night’s rally against Culpeper Sheriff Scott Jenkins, an event that was part of an effort to boot Jenkins from office.
And the barbed remarks from the speakers were aimed at virtually the entire Culpeper law enforcement community.
The meeting, called by civil engineer Wayne Stephens, was designed to solicit signatures on a petition to have Jenkins, who was one of the lead investigators on the Thelma Scroggins murder case, removed from office.
Those who attended were more than willing to sign. In fact, many took blank petitions with them when they left to get other signatures.
Jenkins, like ex-Commonwealth’s Attorney Gary Close, who resigned under pressure last week, was the focus of scathing remarks by Federal Judge James C. Turk in an opinion issued when the court set aside the conviction of Michael Wayne Hash.
Hash was sentenced to life in prison for Scroggins’ 1996 murder and spent 12 years behind bars before being released on bond last week.
Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond Morrogh is serving as special prosecutor and will determine whether to retry Hash.
“I want to be able to trust our law enforcement community to do their job in an honorable fashion,” Stephens said when asked why he began the petition drive.
Those who showed up Monday night represented a broad spectrum of the Culpeper community, both in race and profession.
Most were middle-class citizens who expressed outrage at the circumstances surrounding the Hash case and Judge Turk’s opinion.
They not only repeatedly attacked Jenkins, they sought information about how they might go about having Close disbarred and have investigator James Mack, who worked with Jenkins on the Scroggins case, removed as a deputy.
One woman even declared that after this, Culpeper could no longer trust even the circuit court.
And the circuit court is where the signatures that are collected will be sent. From that point on, it would be up to a judge to decide whether Jenkins should be removed from office.
To get the petition to the circuit court, Stephens and his group must collect 924 signatures, according to registrar Michele White.
That would be 10 percent of the 9,241 voters who cast ballots in the sheriff’s election in November. Stephens is shooting for 1,000 signatures.
The petition charges neglect of duties and incompetence.
And while those charges did not occur while Jenkins was sheriff, Stephens said, he believes state law would apply because past performance would be an indicator of how the first-term sheriff might run his office.
“He would have to cop to either neglect or incompetence to justify his actions,” Stephens said.
Stephens and members of the audience also expressed outrage that Jenkins was quoted in Judge Turk’s opinion as having charged the three teenagers—Hash, Jason Kloby and Eric Weakley—when he didn’t believe three kids could have pulled off Scroggins’ murder.
“If you don’t think they’re guilty, you don’t pursue charges just because your boss [then-Sheriff Lee Hart] told you to,” Stephens said. “That’s the Nuremburg Doctrine and it should apply here.”
“In all my 27 years of law enforcement—at the highest levels—I have never seen a judge issue a condemnation of this magnitude,” said Bob Buettgens, who said he had worked for the Atlanta police and the federal government.
Those who attended the meeting included farmers, health care workers, educators and even policemen, several of whom were let go by Jenkins when he took office.
Also in attendance were members of the Innocence Project of the University of Virginia School of Law, which is preparing a petition to send to the governor to have Weakley’s name cleared (a jury found Kloby not guilty of Scroggins’ murder).
Others represented inmates who were convicted of crimes prosecuted by Close’s office in the past 20 years or investigated by Jenkins.
It is unclear if the recent circumstances will have any impact on those convictions.
Stephens said he hopes to have his 1,000 signatures within a few weeks or several months.