Augusta County: Criminal Complaint Reveals Web of Alleged Lies, Manipulation, Crimes by Supervisors
Written by: Sam Orlando
October 31, 2023 - In Augusta County, a citizen's right to voice concerns has been thrust into the spotlight amidst allegations of unsavory and potentially criminal behaviors. Sheryl Helsel, an animal care inspector and concerned resident, has become the target of alleged retaliation by two members of the Augusta County Board of Supervisors (BOS) after she vocalized her concerns. The modern digital landscape has both amplified her voice and become a tool for her alleged harassers. Helsel has reportedly been harassed and her livelihood threatened by Augusta County Supervisors Gerald Garber and Jeffrey Slaven. Helsel has filed a criminal complaint asking that the Supervisors be criminally charged for their allegedly illegal acts.
Intimidation in the Digital Age
Sheryl Helsel, an animal care inspector with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, has taken legal action against Supervisors Gerald Garber and Jeffrey Slaven, accusing them of "prohibited conduct" under the State and Local Government Conflict of Interests Act. The two supervisors are alleged to have used their positions in a retaliatory effort, aimed at discrediting and silencing Helsel. But what stands out from the narrative isn't just the alleged retribution; it's the lengths to which the two are believed to have gone in their attempts to monitor and manipulate.
Retaliation Over Transparency
Helsel, employed by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, filed a legal complaint against Supervisors Gerald Garber and Jeffrey Slaven. She accuses them of a "malicious maneuver of retaliation," using their influential positions to silence and discredit her after she voiced her concerns on issues related to animal care. This very act of speaking out against perceived injustices seems to have put her job, and her reputation, on the line.
The Disturbing Trail of Surveillance
Highlighting the depth of the alleged obsession, Helsel’s complaint describes a private social media post that was captured by an unknown individual. The following day, this screenshot was photographed on a mobile device, and the image was subsequently sent to State Veterinarian, Dr. Charles Broaddus, identified as being sent from Garber’s phone. This chain of actions paints a chilling portrait of how easily digital tools can be misused for surveillance and intimidation by those in power.
Can You Prosecute Someone You Represent?
The twists in this unfolding drama don't stop there. The ability of Augusta County Commonwealth’s Attorney Tim Martin to impartially assess the criminal complaint is also under scrutiny. Martin has had previous professional engagements with the BOS, offering them legal advice. Just last year in remarks to the Board about body cameras, Commonwealth's Attorney Martin said this:
"First of all, I'd have to say I wouldn't be a lawyer if I didn't tell you, you represent the county. They've threatened to sue the county so it's a good idea to be quiet, but what you said at that time was you opined as to whether those citations caused them to stop protesting. Keep in mind the citations weren't about the words they were saying, but about the volume at which they said it." Augusta County Commonwealth's Attorney Tim Martin
In speaking to the Board, and Board member Seaton specifically, Martin advised the Supervisors as to the law and how they should respond under the law. It is important to note that, according to Virginia law, political subdivisions can be represented by attorneys they hire to represent them. A Commonwealth Attorney is an independent constitutional officer existing to manage the prosecution of criminal offenses. There appears to be no statutory provision to support the Commonwealth Attorney giving a Board of Supervisors legal advice, unless the attorney is representing the members in some capacity. This intermingling of roles might compromise Martin's objectivity and ability to investigate the allegations against Garber and Slaven without bias. That decision, ultimately, belongs to Martin. The Commonwealth permits attorneys to make their own determinations about conflicts of interest, at least initially.
Awaiting Justice in Augusta
As this story develops, the residents of Augusta County, and indeed all Virginians, will be watching closely. The implications are vast, from the ethics of those in positions of power to the integrity and security of our digital communications. If you dare speak at the Augusta County Board of Supervisors or advocate for a change in the law, are you to expect harassment, perhaps losing your job and the ability to care for your family? It seems this is the questions posed by Helsel's criminal complaint.
For now, these unanswered questions linger and the public awaits a thorough, transparent investigation.