Written by: Sam Orlando and Bonnie Chapman
In Augusta County, nestled in the scenic Shenandoah Valley, a series of alarming allegations and a recent disturbing endorsement from the Board Chair have disrupted the tranquility of this Virginia community. The Augusta County Sheriff's Office, once a symbol of safety and order, is now at the center of controversy and skepticism. With a growing number of excessive force and police misconduct cases coming to light, residents are increasingly questioning the integrity and practices of their local law enforcement, signaling a deepening rift between the community and its protectors.
Latest Incident: Deputy on Administrative Leave Amid Serious Allegations
The Augusta County Sheriff’s Office is again in the spotlight following a distressing incident involving Deputy Andrew Simonetti. In a widely-circulated video from December 9, Simonetti is seen tackling suspect Frank Allen Schulpman during an arrest in Verona, with Schulpman's head distressingly bouncing off the pavement. Schulpman was a person in need of medical services, who ironically had previously survived two aneurisms. This type of indiscriminate violence, portrayed on the video, escalates fears among many residents about potential excessive force in situations that may not warrant such aggression. The circulated video has been confirmed and re-released by the Augusta County Sheriff.
Sheriff Donald Smith's Response
Sheriff Donald Smith, in response to the incident, has placed Simonetti on administrative leave and initiated a criminal investigation by the Virginia State Police. It is standard procedure in such cases to ensure impartial investigation. However, Breaking Through News has obtained information from an inside source, an Augusta County deputy sheriff, who alleges that Sheriff Smith once told a training class that he could handle their excessive force complaints as long as they "didn't kill anyone." If true, this statement raises critical questions about the department's attitudes towards use of force.
A Decade of Controversy
Under Sheriff Donald Smith's leadership, the office has been marred by numerous allegations over the past decade, ranging from mishandling evidence to connections with a convicted human trafficker. The recent assault charges against Deputy CJ Taylor and the arrest of Sgt. William Mikolay only add to this troubling history.
Systemic Issues and Public Distrust
The increase in complaints against the sheriff's office for illegal actions, including excessive use of force, points towards potential systemic issues. These incidents have resulted in declining public confidence in Smith's ability to lead effectively and impartially. Accusations of racist behavior and differential treatment based on race, particularly evident during the Black Lives Matter protests, have further fueled concerns about the department's commitment to serving a diverse community.
Controversial Support from the Board of Supervisors
On December 13, the Augusta County Board of Supervisors met, led by Board Chair Michael Shull. The Chair expressed support for the accused deputies, drawing on his own experiences of childhood physical discipline, which he claimed was beneficial. He then drew a controversial parallel between his own childhood experiences and the allegations of police violence, specifically following public comments about Sgt. William Mikolay's curb stomping allegations. Shull's comments inferred that the victims perhaps had deserved to be attacked.
Shull's perspective potentially explains the Board's reluctance to implement body cameras for deputies, hinting at a tolerance for unrecorded police violence that could expose the County to liability.
Reactions to Chairman Shull's Comments
Board member Scott Seaton immediately rebuked Shull's comments, challenging the notion that unnecessary police violence could ever be justified. Shull clarified he was speaking for himself, not the Board, but his choice to address this during the "Matters to be Presented by the Board" segment cannot be overlooked.
Urgent Need for Accountability
The pattern of alleged violence within the Augusta County Sheriff's Office underscores the urgent need for a reassessment of the department's culture and practices. Sheriff Smith's unwavering support for the accused deputies, despite the mounting allegations, highlights a critical need for systemic change and accountability. Community demands for justice and reform are necessary steps towards restoring trust and integrity in the sheriff's office.
The legacy of Sheriff Donald Smith's tenure, marked by these controversies, will leave an indelible mark on the history of law enforcement in Augusta County. As the community seeks answers and justice, it becomes increasingly clear that a significant overhaul is required to address the deeply rooted issues within the sheriff's office. Only through transparency, accountability, and a commitment to ethical practices can the department hope to regain the trust of the community it serves.