Louisa tradition: New police chief raises hackles

The tiny town of Louisa had four police chiefs in the last year. Continuing a tradition of controversy in the top law enforcement spot, the newest chief has drawn a petition and multiple complaints, including a stalking allegation.

Town officials dismiss the accusations as nothing more than grousing from a population unused to having speed limits and parking regulations enforced.

At a November 18 town council meeting, three citizens complained about Chief John J. Wilson. One was Joy Lloyd, who demanded the council fire Wilson that night. She read an eight-page statement alleging inappropriate conduct and intimidation by the chief, and she threatened legal action.

"When I first heard the complaint, I was surprised," says Wilson. "When she listed dates and times, I was even more surprised."

Lloyd mentions three incidents of stalking and two of intimidation, one of which was September 16, the date of an earlier town council meeting that resulted in her leaving without speaking.

"A reasonable person would call it stalking," says Lloyd, who claims the chief has blocked her car and prevented her from leaving. "Does a woman have to be raped to know a man looking at her has sex on his mind?" she asks.

She says on October 31, after filing a complaint with the Louisa County Sheriff's Department, Wilson "recklessly maneuvered his police cruiser in front of my moving vehicle and stopped in front of me in what is known as the t-bone position" when she had her 13-year-old daughter in the car.

Lloyd went from the sheriff's department to the magistrate's office to get a protective order. "They wouldn't touch it because it involved the chief of police," alleges Lloyd. "They sent me to the state police."

When she spoke to the Virginia State Police, Lloyd says the officer said the complaint sounded familiar, and that the state police had received a similar complaint and a phone call from Mayor Charles Rosson about another victim. The Virginia State Police did not return The Hook's phone calls.

Rosson denies he received a stalking complaint from another woman. "I don't know where she's getting that," he says.

He did talk to the state police and was told Lloyd's complaints about the chief did not reach the threshold of stalking. "The chief said he welcomed any agency investigating," says Rosson, because the allegations were an attack on his integrity.

Louisa Commonwealth's Attorney Don Short is aware of Lloyd's allegations, and says they're still being looked into. Will charges be filed? "I can't confirm or deny that," answers Short.

Town manager George Hayfield is less ambiguous about Lloyd's claims. "There's nothing to that," he says. "I've spoken to the state police. There's never been an investigation, and there's no real credence to [Lloyd's allegations]."

Other complaints about Chief Wilson have to do with his people skills. "Not a day goes by that I don't hear a complaint," says Louisa Mini-Mart owner Andy Lemon, who's gone to town council twice to voice concerns.

Lemon was unloading groceries while parked in a handicapped space in his store parking lot when Wilson wrote him a ticket. "I said this isn't a legal parking space," recalls Lemon. "He got in my face and told me to step down."

A petition circulated about the new chief was presented to town council. Mayor Rosson estimates the number of signatures at 30 to 40. "We sent letters to everyone who signed to ask if they wanted to file a formal complaint," says Rosson. No one did. "You would think if it was a real burning problem, someone would come forward."

Lemon wants the town council to do something about Wilson. "I hold them responsible if something happens, if something goes bad," he says. "This man is going to hurt somebody... I've lived here all my life and never seen anything like this."

Debora Shifflett, who manages the Pizza Hut on U.S. Route 33, also appeared at the November 18 meeting to complain about Wilson, and stressed that she was speaking as a private citizen, not for Pizza Hut.

Shifflett was less concerned about Wilson ordering her to put up a handicapped parking sign than the manner in which he approached her. "My issue has been with his PR skills," she says.

Wilson defends his people skills and says complaints happen anywhere.

And Rosson is satisfied with Wilson's performance. "From a standpoint of law enforcement, he's been extremely good. He's raised the police profile and enforced parking and speeding."

Rosson calls Wilson "extremely well-qualified," with 28 years of law enforcement experience and a master's degree in public administration. He was chosen out of more than 15 applicants, and Rosson says they examined his past carefully because of the turmoil the town experienced last year.

In June 2002, the newly hired chief, John Cetrulo, immediately made news when he suspended an officer for not adhering to a new dress code. Cetrulo was suspended, then demoted, and in October, fired. While Cetrulo was suspended, the interim chief, Stephen Irving, also was suspended. And after Cetrulo was fired, the town manager and two other town employees resigned.

"Louisa has a habit of picking bad chiefs," declares Lloyd.

New town manager Hayfield thinks the basic reason some people are down on Wilson is that they "aren't used to strict enforcement of the town codes and moving violations. Town council pressed the police to enforce the law. No one enjoys receiving parking and speeding tickets."

"Some people don't like his demeanor," says Rosson. "He might not be like Andy Griffith, and a couple of people are not getting along and want him fired."

Former town councilor Doug Miller has never met Wilson, but he believes the enforcement of traffic laws should have started a long time ago.

"If we had the Lord down here, somebody would complain about that, too," says Miller.


Not Andy Griffith: The ticket-writing prowess of new Louisa police Chief John Wilson has drawn complaints.
PHOTO FROM TOWN WEBSITE


Joy Lloyd, with daughter Abigail, says Louisa's new police chief has stalked and attempted to intimidate her. "I really am trying to get him fired," she says.

PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO

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