Town troubles: Louisa loses another chief

It ain't easy for Louisa to hang on to her chief.

John Wilson made it almost a year before he resigned the town's top police job last week, a pretty good record in this burg that changes its police chiefs nearly as often as it changes the oil in its squad cars. Wilson's predecessor, John Cetrulo, held on for only five months before he was fired.

Signs of trouble for Wilson loomed publicly last fall. Several citizens complained about his ticket-writing zeal, and one of them, Joy Lloyd, accused him of stalking, a charge Wilson denied.

Then came the infamous alleged hitting-below-the-belt incident. That New Year's Eve wrangle led to both Wilson and another officer, Sgt. Robert Rigsby, filing charges of assault and battery against one another.

And now some Louisans are wondering why the town decided in April 2003 to hire a law enforcement officer who had been charged in 2002 with obstruction of justice in Newport News, a charge that would have shown up on the criminal background check done before Wilson was hired.

Wilson was charged then after he was stopped for speeding. The charges were dropped, and in September 2003, Wilson filed a $1 million lawsuit against Newport News and one of its officers.

Louisa Mayor Charles Rosson did not return calls from The Hook, but in December he said Wilson's past had been carefully examined because of the turmoil in 2002 when Cetrulo was fired and the town manager resigned.

However, the council couldn't have known about Wilson's six-week stint as chief in Shenandoah, where he was accused of driving a police car to North Carolina without authorization. That's because Wilson didn't include that job on his application, according to a story in the Daily Progress. Wilson denied using the car for out-of-state travel.

Louisa town manager George Hayfield declined to comment on whether Wilson was asked to resign. He did say the troubled five-man police force is down to three officers now that Rigsby is suspended, and Assistant Chief Stan Batten, the force's highest-ranking officer, is in charge until a new chief is found.

Wilson's resignation came after a closed session with the town council two weeks before he goes to court on the assault and battery charges.

In the December 31 incident, Rigsby claims that Wilson struck him in the groin. Rigsby reported the incident immediately, and when he felt the town was doing nothing about his allegation, he filed charges.

Rigsby was in the news in 2002 when former chief Cetrulo suspended him for wearing gold chains and showing too much chest hair.

"Officially, Rigsby followed proper procedures in reporting the alleged incident," says Major Donald Lowe, who was assigned to investigate the charges from the Louisa County Sheriff's Office. "The chief's resignation is probably the best thing he could have done."

Wilson filed assault charges two hours after he was arrested January 22, but he had never reported earlier his allegation that Rigsby grabbed him by the shoulder and shook him. Nor did he take any disciplinary action against Rigsby.

On January 22, he told the Progress his contretemps with Rigsby was "joking and horseplay." Wilson did not return a call from The Hook.

Louisa's next chief-finding strategy is to hire a professional consultant to do a management study and base hiring on "whatever comes out of that," says Hayfield. Will the town do anything differently as it hires its next chief?

"I couldn't say at this point," says Hayfield.

Joy Lloyd, who appeared before the Town Council and demanded that Wilson be fired for stalking and intimidation, isn't totally thrilled with Wilson's resignation. "I would have preferred for him to be fired with cause," she says.

She is happy Wilson will be leaving Louisa, "but I'm sad for wherever he goes," she says.

Lloyd has been subpoenaed as a witness in Sgt. Rigsby's case. She offers suggestions for what she'd like to see in a new chief: "One who doesn't spit, stalk, or nut crack."

Wilson, who frequents the message board on louisaonline.com as Chief054, posted a message February 19 saying he's heading back to the Hampton Roads area.

He signed it "Chief054nomore."


John Wilson's tumultuous tenure as Louisa police chief included charges of assault and battery.
PHOTO FROM TOWN WEBSITE


Joy Lloyd (right): "I'm sad for wherever he goes."

PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO

#