HANOVER COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — A former Hanover County sheriff’s deputy who was decertified is suing the county’s local NAACP branch and its president for defamation.
The lawsuit from Christopher Ryan Payne, filed Monday in Richmond Circuit Court, claims Hanover NAACP President Pat Hunter-Jordan falsely labeled him as an “officer who violated the civil rights of citizens” during a press conference in late February.
Hunter-Jordan pushed for an investigation into Payne’s conduct, claiming the Hanover NAACP received dozens of complaints about him, including some alleging false charges were filed by the former sheriff’s deputy.
Public records show Payne’s decertification was for reporting inaccuracies and the sheriff’s office confirmed that an internal investigation was initiated after an audit found discrepancies between body camera footage and Payne’s reports.
The sheriff’s office said it could not provide details about the investigation’s findings because it was “a personnel matter,” but did say in February that Payne “resigned with cause.”
“This internal investigation that we initiated is an example of law enforcement holding ourselves accountable and only wanting the very best to be a part of this profession,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement in February.
The defamation lawsuit argues that Hunter-Jordan made false statements about Payne during the press conference and in a letter to the Hanover Commonwealth’s Attorney.
“Prompted by no governmental requirements or inquiries, going well outside the context of a typical public forum (such as a City Council Meeting), and eschewing any private communications with governmental authorities, Hunter-Jordan told the viewing public in reference to Payne: ‘We are concerned with some injustices that are occurring here in Hanover County,'” the lawsuit states. “She then called for a formal investigation into all of Payne’s cases, clearly implying he had acted unlawfully.”
Payne’s lawsuit claims he “never filed false charges against anyone,” violated Hanover County citizens’ civil rights or “engaged in a pattern of misbehavior.” The suit also asserts that Payne never took part in any criminal or unlawful behavior when he was a sheriff’s deputy.
“He has, however, suffered substantial reputational harm from these false accusations, and he now brings this lawsuit against Defendants to hold them liable for the wrongdoing,” Payne’s suit states.
The lawsuit filed by Payne adds that the Hanover County Sheriff’s Office “concluded in the fall of 2021 that he had inaccurately completed some paperwork.”
Payne didn’t appeal the sheriff’s office’s decertification submission to the Department of Criminal Justice Services even though he felt the “inaccurate paperwork accusation was unfounded and/or exaggerated,” the lawsuit adds.
Commonwealth’s Attorney R.E. Chalkley said after the Hanover NAACP press conference in February that he had no plans to pursue criminal charges but that his office reviewed cases handled by the sheriff’s office and some people had their charges dropped.
Payne, who worked with the sheriff’s office from January 2015 to December 2021, was decertified after the sheriff’s office filed paperwork with the Department of Criminal Justice Services. He was named the sheriff’s office’s “officer of the year” for 2017 and 2019, the lawsuit states.
Payne has demanded a trial by jury and is seeking compensatory, presumed and punitive damages in an amount not to exceed a total of $2.35 million. The Hanover NAACP did not respond to a request for comment.
Payne’s attorney Richard F. Hawkins shared a statement on behalf of his client in an email to 8News announcing the lawsuit: “He looks forward to restoring his reputation and having his day in court.”