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Henrico County Manager freezes funding for 'police integrity' job after social media posts

Posted at 7:06 PM, Oct 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-01 22:38:02-04

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- Henrico County Manger John Vithoulkas abruptly pulled county funding for the attorney hired by the Commonwealth's Attorney to oversee police misconduct complaints telling CBS 6 she could not maintain objectivity and he was misled about the scope of the job.

The story, which was first reported by the Virginia Mercury, involves a Henrico criminal defense attorney named Misty Whitehead.

Whitehead said she could not wait to take the brand new position, and received her offer letter September 1 with a start date of September 28.

Watch Melissa Hipolit's full report on CBS 6 News at 11.

"I was excited, invigorated," Whitehead said.

But, on September 17, she found out funding for the position had been frozen.

"I broke down in the courthouse, during recess of a trial I broke down, and it's still hard when I think about because I was heartbroken," Whitehead said about finding out the news.

County Manager John Vithoulkas froze county funding for the position, which accounts for half of the salary.

Vithoulkas declined to do an interview but said in a statement he froze the funds because:

A) Henrico Commonwealth's Attorney Shannon Taylor misled him on the scope of the position and

B) Statements that Ms. Whitehead repeatedly made on social media caused him to believe that she would not be able to maintain any objectivity in a role that requires her to judge the actions of police officers.

We asked Whitehead if she would have shown bias in the job.

"Absolutely not, absolutely not," Whitehead said. "I cannot reiterate enough that I know and work with so many really great, really strong, really ethical well-intentioned police officers. Because most of us have the same goal of making life safe for the community and making us feel we are equally treated."

The posts show Whitehead telling her followers that under the law murder charges were not appropriate in the Breonna Taylor case, however, she believes the law needs to change.

She also talks about her support for the Colonial Heights Police Department partnering with a Black Lives Matter activist, and her criticism of Richmond's new police chief for opposing the diversion of police funding to social services.

"I post what I post, why I post when I post it as much as I post it for a very specific reason. I truly believe that the only way to actually effect change is to remove the stigma from talking about accountability for law enforcement," Whitehead said.

Vithoulkas said he’s built a professional reputation for doing the right thing, for the right reasons, and he believes this is one of those times.

He added that he has the responsibility of ensuring local funding is not used as a political pawn for personal gain.

"I find great irony in that statement because I think it's clear to the citizens of Henrico that eliminating the funding for this position in the way that it was done was absolutely politically based," Whitehead said.

CBS 6 investigative reporter Melissa Hipolit asked several Henrico board members what they thought of the decision, and only Pat O'Bannon in the Tuckahoe district, and Tyrone Nelson in the Varina district, responded.

O'Bannon said she trusts the manager and supports him.

"His job is to review employees and they're hiring, and when this possible employee was reviewed the recommendation was that they would show bias in that position," O'Bannon said.

But, Nelson said he disagrees with the decision and believes Whitehead is passionate about equality.

"When I see these posts I don't see someone who would have been biased," Nelson said. "I don't see somebody who was anti-police. I wish it wouldn't have played out this way."

Here is the full statement of County Manager John Vithoulkas:

"The story regarding Ms. Shannon Taylor’s Deputy for Police Integrity and Compliance position begins with the Commonwealth’s Attorney expressing a need for an additional attorney to review body-worn camera footage because of the volume of work -- a request I have supported throughout Ms. Taylor’s terms. It was not until Ms. Taylor had a press conference that I learned her real intentions to attempt to expand the purview of her office.

Statements that Ms. Whitehead has repeatedly made on social media cause me to believe that she will not be able to maintain any objectivity in a role that requires her to judge the actions of police officers. This is my conclusion based on the body of work that was posted online. Of course, Ms. Taylor has the ability of hiring this position in her office at the state-supported minimum salary.

I have worked for many years to build a professional reputation of doing the right thing for the right reasons. In my heart, I believe this is one of those times.

Just like Ms. Taylor has the responsibility to address criminal matters in the county, I have the responsibility of ensuring local funding is not used as a political pawn for personal gain."