CIVILIAN PD SEEKS TO INTERVIEW SOLDIER ALLEGING BRUTALITY MORE THAN THREE YEARS LATER
by Sharon Rondeau
In December of last year, a Virginia Commonwealth’s Attorney asked the state police to open an investigation into the Petersburg Bureau of Police (BOP) following allegations of “police misconduct” involving “controversial arrests” made the year before.
Founded in December 1748, the “independent city” of Petersburg has more than 30,000 residents, is home to a national battlefield operated by the National Park Service, and is in close proximity to the U.S. Army base at Ft. Lee.
The city is located approximately 20 miles from Richmond International Airport and is known for its advancement of “civil rights” in the modern era. In 2014, Petersburg launched a campaign to raise its profile through the “I Am Petersburg” revitalization campaign which remains ongoing.
On Tuesday, June 7, 2016, Petersburg Acting City Manager Dironna Belton fired Police Bureau Chief John Dixon, III “amid reports of corruption and administrative problems within the department.” On March 3, the former city manager was fired by the city council, and a city attorney tendered his resignation.
Belton did not provide any specific reasons for Dixon’s termination. Although at the federal level, Dixon had been appointed by Barack Obama “to serve on a national firearms commission on gun violence led by Vice President Joe Biden in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., school killings,” Dixon proved to be “locally controversial,” according to one account.
On December 2, 2015, WWBT reported that a former Petersburg police detective, Derrik Greer, accused the bureau of terminating his employment “for telling the truth about illegal police activity.” Greer was quoted as having said of his former employer, “When you open your mouth and speak the truth, then you’re getting penalized, being punished.”
In May 2015, a federal judge ruled that the Petersburg Bureau of Police violated two officers’ First Amendment rights by disciplining them after they expressed their disapproval on Facebook, reportedly as “private citizens,” with the department’s system of officer promotions as stated in a lawsuit they filed against the City of Petersburg.
“On October 1, 2013, Liverman and Richards made it known via letter that they planned to file suit against Chief Dixon and the City for being orally reprimanded and returned to probation for the speech at issue on Facebook. Subsequently after Plaintiffs’ [sic] sent such letter, Plaintiffs were the subject of several complaints and investigations by the Defendants,” the suit states on page 7.
In November of last year, Petersburg BOP admitted in a statement that more than $13,000 collected from several investigations and placed in the evidence room was “missing.” Then-chief Dixon additionally said that “Petersburg police commits itself to transparency and accountability. We work very hard to ensure the integrity of our officers. Our aim has always been to provide the best service to our residents, visitors and businesses.”
On June 7, retired Petersburg BOP 39-year veteran William Rohde was appointed acting police chief following Dixon’s departure. After his swearing-in, Rohde stated his intent to “try to make some changes” at the department to include a higher degree of “transparency” and improving officer morale during a time of financial hardship. Rohde also said that Belton had expressed her desire for the Petersburg police to “put more police officers on the street” despite a lack of funds with which to pay them.
Rohde’s return to the department occurred the day after a U.S. Army soldier gave a video deposition to the Army’s Criminal Investigative Unit (CID) at Ft. Myer in Arlington, VA regarding his allegations that on April 29, 2013, four civilian military contractors, one of whom might have been then-Chief Dixon’s son, brutally assaulted and robbed him, then threw him into oncoming traffic. According to a witness at the soldier’s video deposition, it was stated that prior to the rape, the perpetrator who bragged that his father worked for the Petersburg BOP was the same person who forced the soldier to “take off his clothes” and forced the rape.
Individuals close to the case believe that the brutality the soldier suffered at the contractors’ hands was an attempt to intimidate him after he attempted to blow the whistle on his former military chain of command for alleged sexual encounters involving his wife in 2012.
Early in 2013, the soldier was transferred to Ft. Lee to face a “med board” and impending discharge as a result of the Army’s diagnosis of him as “schizophrenic,” which he contested. He has filed a complaint with one of his U.S. Senators, Kirsten Gillibrand, who has advocated for legislation intended to address the widespread problem of sexual assault in the military.
Also on June 7, the Petersburg Progress-Index reported:
In 2013, Dixon’s son was found guilty of driving under the influence in Henrico County, and some Petersburg residents objected when they found out that the younger Dixon was employed by his father’s department. And in January of this year, 28 current and former police officers filed a lawsuit against the city claiming they hadn’t been properly paid for working overtime.
The P-I additionally reported:
Other Petersburg officials who have been fired or who have resigned in recent months include the former city manager, city attorney, finance director, general manager of public utilities and public information officer.
The city is currently seeking job applicants for all those positions except the last.
Conflicting statements appear in a Petersburg police report from the traffic accident, which was relayed to and reiterated by the military police. His POA stated that the soldier was never interviewed about the incident and that two Navy Federal Credit Union loans charged in his name could not have initiated with him given his medical condition and hospitalization at the time. Nevertheless, the soldier’s POA reported that the soldier has been forced to make payments on the loans.
A U.S. Army article about military identity theft states that victims “may contact a legal assistance attorney at 255-3482 for free legal advice,” a benefit the soldier has not yet received despite reporting the crime early on.
On the day The Post & Email published its initial report detailing the soldier’s allegations, the POA was notified by a SHARP attorney that a Petersburg BOP detective was asked to interview the soldier about the alleged assault after more than three years.