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  • Writer's pictureSam Orlando

Waynesboro Lawmakers Respond to Augusta County's Role in Overturned Convictions and Racial Bias

Written by: Sam Orlando

WAYNESBORO, VA - Mayor Lana Williams and City Council Member Kenny Lee have expressed their concerns regarding the recent Virginia Court of Appeals decision to overturn two criminal court cases, Commonwealth v. Justice Ahmad Carr and Commonwealth v. Arud Rashid Turay. In both cases, the court determined that the arresting officer, Augusta County Deputy Cody Stroop, had violated the defendants' rights by arresting them based solely on their race.

The Carr case was overturned in October 2022, with the Turay case following suit last Thursday. The Court found that Deputy Stroop had insufficient cause to arrest the two Black men, who did not match the description in the "Be On the Lookout" (BOLO) alert issued by the City Police, except for their race. According to the Court, the BOLO cited three Black male suspects wearing black clothing. When Stroop arrested Carr and Turay, the only consistent characteristic from the BOLO was their race. The men were arrested for merely being Black and walking outside in the City of Waynesboro, which the court ruled as unconstitutional.

In separate email exchanges with Breaking Through News, both Mayor Williams and Councilmember Lee addressed concerns related to the cases, the cost of the prosecutions, and the potential impact on the community. Both Mayor Williams and Councilmember Lee asserted that the Waynesboro Police Department "had solid evidence that Mr. Turay and Carr committed crimes in the City." They added that "the fact that the Court found that an Augusta County officer acted inappropriately, causing the convictions to be overturned, does not change the fact that Mr. Turay and Mr. Carr should have been prosecuted."

It is worth noting that both Carr and Turay initially pled guilty but reserved their right to appeal based on their argument that the evidence in the case should have been suppressed. Due to the actions of the Augusta County Deputy, the Appellate Court sided with the defendants, vacating their guilty plea convictions and suppressing a vast amount of evidence collected in the illegal arrest by Deputy Stroop.

Mayor Williams emphasized that the Waynesboro Police acted "by the book," and that the appeals were not based on any actions by City officers. Both the mayor and the councilmember expressed identical concerns about the training of officers from other jurisdictions and the ramifications of the overturned cases.

Regarding the potential waste of funds on the two prosecutions, Mayor Williams and Councilmember Lee each stated, "I am not only very concerned with the loss of funds but also on the training, or lack thereof, of officers by other jurisdictions that Waynesboro police officers must work with under Virginia law."

When asked about Waynesboro's participation in the Mutual Aid agreement with Augusta County, both Mayor Williams and Councilmember Lee emphasized that the agreement is "not active or viable," and that any cooperative work between the Waynesboro Police Department and Augusta County is governed by Virginia law.

Addressing allegations by former Augusta County deputies of racial slurs used by Sheriff Donald Smith and the impact of racist policing on the safety of Black residents in Waynesboro, Councilmember Lee expressed his disappointment: "To hear that a law enforcement officer, whose duty it is to serve ALL citizens, would use such terms, if true, is disheartening. I am saddened that we continue to live in a society where such behavior is accepted and even overlooked." He added, "As a Black man, I am concerned for the safety of Black residents when encountering ACSD (Augusta Count Sheriff's Department) officers."

The responses from both Mayor Williams and Councilmember Kenny Lee underscore the need for transparency, accountability, and improved law enforcement practices to ensure the fair treatment of all citizens, regardless of race, and to preserve the integrity of City prosecutions. The overturned cases have raised concerns about racial profiling and its impact on marginalized communities, both in Waynesboro and across the nation.

With the mutual aid agreement between Waynesboro and Augusta County now confirmed as inactive and not viable, the focus shifts to ensuring that collaborative efforts between jurisdictions adhere to the highest standards of professionalism and equal treatment for all citizens. The comments from both Mayor Williams and Councilmember Lee emphasize the importance of addressing these issues to build trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

As Waynesboro residents continue to grapple with the implications of these overturned cases and the allegations against the Augusta County Sheriff, it appears that the city's leadership is committed to fostering a safe and equitable community for all.

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