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Police chief sued town, officials after sham investigation – Confidential settlement

Purcellville Police Chief Cynthia McAlister filed suit against the Town of Purcellville, its former town manager, an independent consultant hired by Purcellville, and six current and former Purcellville police officers. Her claims stemmed from her employment, termination and subsequent reinstatement as chief of police in 2017.

As pled in the complaint, Alexander Vanegas, the interim town manager, organized a group of Purcellville police officers to come forward with a series of false and pre-textual complaints against McAlister as chief. Based on these complaints, Vanegas placed McAlister on leave in August 2017 and hired human resources consultant Georgia Nuckolls, his then-girlfriend, to investigate McAlister. The sham investigation resulted in an investigative report that allegedly substantiated the claims against McAlister. Based on Vanegas’ and Nuckolls’ report, the Town of Purcellville fired McAlister on Nov. 2, 2017.

On Nov. 5, 2015, news media outlets discovered evidence of the relationship between Vanegas and Nuckolls. Nuckolls’ questionable human resource credentials and her history as a convicted felon also were brought to light. Based on this information, the town fired Nuckolls and placed Vanegas on administrative leave. McAlister was re-hired, and placed again on leave, and the Town hired a law firm to investigate the prior investigation.

On April 11, 2018, the new investigation found there were “serious deficiencies” in the Nuckolls investigation which “undermined the reliability and accuracy of the report.” The new investigation later found that all allegations made against McAlister were unsubstantiated. McAlister was reinstated to her position as chief on Aug. 1, 2018.

McAlister brought claims on July 22, 2019 against the town, Vanegas, Nuckolls, and six current and former Purcellville police officers ,for tortious interference with contract/business expectancy, civil conspiracy, gross negligence, statutory business conspiracy pursuant to Va. Code §§18.2-499 and 18.2-500, and breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty. McAlister prayed for damages in the amount of $16 million.

The parties reached a confidential settlement. Prior to the global dismissal of the case, Robert Wagner and Paul Kakol, the two active Purcellville officers were dismissed from the suit with prejudice.

Type of action: Intentional tort

Injuries alleged: Tortious interference with a contract, tortious interference with a business expectancy, breach of contract, gross negligence, common law conspiracy, and statutory business conspiracy pursuant to Virginia Code 18.2-499 and 18.2-500.

Name of case: Cynthia McAlister v. Alexander Vanegas, et al.

Court: Loudoun County Circuit Court

Case no.: 2019-1779

Date resolved: Jan. 3, 2020

Verdict or settlement: Settlement

Amount: Confidential

Attorneys for plaintiff: Jacqueline A. Kramer and Thomas K. Plofchan Jr., Sterling

Attorney for defendant: Yoora Pak, McLean