NEWS- Buckingham brouhaha: Party chair quits, sheriff sues PAC
The heated Buckingham sheriff's race got even hotter last week when Sheriff Danny Williams, who's in a fiercely contested race against William G. "Billy" Kidd, filed a defamation lawsuit against the "Buckingham Good Government League," a political action committee that supports Kidd.
And in further fallout over the allegations, the head of Buckingham's Democratic Party has relinquished her chairmanship until December 1 rather than support Williams, the Democratic nominee.
Williams' lawsuit claims that an August 10 full-page ad in the Farmville Herald contained "certain false, scandalous, and defamatory statements." In particular, the sheriff was accused of mishandling confiscated drug money, spending too many county funds with campaign contributors' businesses, and that deputies have been intimidating– even threatening– citizens.
"In Virginia, it is illegal to willfully attempt to damage one's livelihood and reputation by false statements," says Michael Lafayette, the Glen Allen attorney who's representing Williams.
When the ad was first printed, Lafayette asked the PAC to print a retraction or provide proof of its claims. "Their statements are so ludicrous, of course they couldn't prove them," says Lafayette. Sheriff Williams did not return a call from the Hook.
"We endorsed Billy Kidd because we didn't like what we saw in the other guy," says Don Shumaker, chairman of the PAC and one of the defendants to the lawsuit. "All the facts– we stand behind them because they're a matter of public record."
Shumaker says allegations about Sheriff Williams drug money spending came from county records and a Board of Supervisors-authorized audit and that Buckingham Commonwealth's Attorney E. M. Wright is investigating citizen complaints of intimidation.
Christine Senger-Bryan has been chairman of the Democratic Party in Buckingham for four years. She says she's friends with both Williams and Kidd (who is also a Democrat but is running as an independent).
Following the filing of the lawsuit, Senger-Bryan went on hiatus from the chairmanship. She explains that she wanted to avoid "mudslinging" over her decision to support a candidate other than the official Democratic nominee, Williams.
"My loyalty to my party and politics cannot outweigh my moral obligation," explains Senger-Bryan. The lawsuit was "the straw that broke the camel's back. I have evidence in my hand at this moment that shows [Williams] has not been honest."
While Williams has contended that he didn't know the proper procedure for appropriating drug money, Senger-Bryan says she has a January 2004 letter from the county administrator that outlined the proper procedures to Williams.
This is not the first time controversy has swirled around the Buckingham County Sheriff's office. In 2005, two people told the Hook about being strip-searched on the side of the road on separate occasions by Buckingham deputies. A drug-sniffing dog indicated a hit, but drugs were not found in either case. The Sheriff's office variously said the events didn't happen– or that the victims voluntarily took off their clothes.
In another incident, Tracey Banks claims that former Buckingham deputy Anthony "Tony" Lewis forced her to perform oral sex when he came to serve a warrant on March 23, 2005. She has filed a $700,000 lawsuit against Banks and Sheriff Williams, which may go to court in December.
Because they're considered public figures, elected officials rarely sue for defamation. Says Williams's attorney Lafayette, "A lawsuit is the last remedy. Frankly, if they hadn't published any more, we would have not sued."