Prosecutor packing pistol after security breaches, threat
Culpeper County Commonwealth’s Attorney Megan Frederick says her first 100 days in office have been trying at times.
Twice, she alleges, someone gained entry to her office; once, apparently attempting to access a box of files from the 2001 trial of Michael Hash and on another occasion leaving a note that read “Die bitch” taped on an office door.
She also said she has been harassed since taking office following a special election Nov. 9.
“Sadly, there is one local attorney in particular who has been filing nuisance complaints, engaging in name-calling and attacking my character,” Frederick said Friday, without naming the individual. “Clearly, some individuals are still going through the stages of grief in dealing with the election.”
The security breaches and the harassment have prompted the new commonwealth’s attorney to install video-surveillance cameras and to carry a gun on her hip.
“We just don’t scare that easily in my family,” Frederick said, recalling that her late mother, Margie Scott, had been a deputy sheriff.
Frederick has also asked the Board of Supervisors to provide $60,000 for a special investigator for her office and has sought to have the conventional locks to her office replaced with a key-card system that will record the name of anyone entering her office and the time they gained access.
She said the key-card system has become bogged down in red tape, and that supervisors are balking at paying for an investigator on the grounds that it would duplicate services already funded for the Sheriff’s Office.
Frederick said a number of prosecutors’ offices—including Fauquier County’s—have their own investigators. She said having such an investigator would make probes of police officers or Sheriff’s Office employees more impartial than internal affairs investigations, and would help her office track down witnesses.
The security breach seems to be Frederick’s greatest concern, since she often works late at night in her office. She said she has no idea how someone got into her office twice.
“I was told the keys couldn’t be copied,” she said.
She discounted the possibility that any of her current employees were involved.
Even harder to explain, she said, is how a large box of files and evidence relating to the 1996 slaying of Thelma Scroggins and the prosecution of Hash in the case turned up in the basement of her building.
Frederick said that when office Christmas decorations were taken from the basement after Thanksgiving, the box of files was not there. When one of her employees returned the decorations on Jan. 2, however, the file box was sitting there, she said.
“They couldn’t have been there when the decorations were removed,” Frederick said. “There wasn’t room on the shelf for both that box and the Christmas decorations.”
She said she is equally concerned how word of the discovery spread through county offices.
Frederick said the box with the Hash-Scroggins files was placed in a locked storage room until it could be turned over to federal authorities. She said someone gained entrance to her main office several days later, but failed in an attempt to gain entry to the locked room.
It was a few days later that the sign was taped to an inner-office door.
During a news conference Friday, Frederick noted that a second box of Hash case files has also turned up.
She also told reporters that she has made several policy changes, including cutting down on plea agreements. She said she told employees that defense attorneys, while to be treated with proper respect, “are no longer buddies of the commonwealth attorney’s office” and no longer will have access to the inner-office area, where there are often witnesses and victims.
“I will not join the good-old-boy team,” Frederick said.
She also talked about doing more public relations work with schoolchildren and having her office get a larger cut of drug-forfeiture money.
Frederick defeated Paul Walther in one of the biggest political upsets in Culpeper history. Walther served for eight months as commonwealth’s attorney following the resignation of Gary Close, who stepped down following a federal judge’s decision to set aside Hash’s 2001 murder conviction.
Judge James C. Turk cited prosecutorial misconduct in granting Hash’s habeas-corpus request.
A special prosecutor found no evidence on which to retry Hash, who is now suing Close, Sheriff Scott Jenkins and several others.