COLONIAL HEIGHTS, Va. (WRIC) — A state lawmaker has asked Virginia State Police (VSP) to investigate accusations that allegations of inappropriate conduct by former Colonial Heights Police Chief Jeff Faries were mishandled by school officials.
Delegate Mike Cherry, who represents the City of Colonial Heights and part of Chesterfield County, said he contacted VSP on Thursday. A VSP spokesperson confirmed their communication and said the agency is reviewing Cherry’s request for an investigation.
“When did the school know what?” Cherry said. “An assistant softball coach has come forward and said that she notified them, in writing, of these allegations and others back in ’21.”
As 8News previously reported, Faries has not been charged with any criminal offenses, despite accusations from parents and students of inappropriate touching, text messaging and social media interactions directed toward Colonial Heights High School students and athletes on the girls softball team there, which he also coached. A special prosecutor on the case also stated that there was evidence that a crime was committed, but because the statute of limitations had passed, Faries would not be charged.
“There’s two people telling a story and they’re diametrically opposed. Which one’s telling the truth, and was there steps or actions taken on the part of the school division, due to the role of the chief being the chief, that they didn’t take action?” Cherry said. “Truthfully, we don’t know, and the problem now is there seems to be the potential that people don’t trust the system; if something happens, our students are going to be taken seriously.”
Records show that Faries submitted his resignation letter to City Manager Douglas Smith and a member of the city’s human resources department on Wednesday, March 30, 2022, stepping away from the Colonial Heights Police Department after more than 32 years. As stated in the letter, his retirement notice took effect on April 1, 2022.
But the accusations against him were brought to the attention of school officials nearly a year earlier.
According to City of Lynchburg Commonwealth’s Attorney Bethany Harrison, who was appointed as the special prosecutor on this case, “school officials were aware of complaints of inappropriate conduct in May of 2021.” But she said that, at the time, those officials “did not have enough information for a reasonable person to conclude it was criminal conduct.” Harrison said that those details would not come out until Virginia State Police (VSP) launched its investigation.
A more complete timeline of the events in this case is available here in 8News’ previous coverage.
“The accusations made to the school personnel were that he was being ‘creepy’ and too ‘touchy-feely,’” Harrison previously said in an email to 8News. “Parents were also upset over text messages he sent to members of the girls’ high school softball team individually, commenting on the girl’s looks, and commenting on their social media photos.”
Colonial Heights City Attorney Fisher said that additional allegations surfaced around the time of Faries’ resignation as the softball coach in February of 2022.
“We want this outside agency to look at what did happen, who knew what, when, because if the [assistant] coach did, as she says, in writing, show her concern to the athletic director and to the principal, I think that would rise to the level of a reportable incident,” Cherry said. “I don’t know how much VSP looked into that in the initial investigation, as much as they were looking into the actions of the coach.”
Cherry said there are now questions about whether Faries’ alleged inappropriate contact with Colonial Heights High School students could have been prevented from continuing for an additional year, had school officials acted on earlier accusations.
“I don’t know that it was a criminal act,” he said. “It could have just been the fact of, in a judgment call, their judgment was off.”
8News has reached out to Colonial Heights Public Schools Superintendent William Sroufe multiple times over the course of the investigation into the accusations against the former police chief and how they were handled by those first alerted, but he has declined to comment. Sroufe could not be immediately reached for comment on Cherry’s calls for an investigation. But, according to the school division’s calendar, students and staff are on winter holiday until Jan 2.
“As I told the superintendent when I spoke with him yesterday, when you have a perception, that becomes the reality until there’s truth brought to light, and so the perception right now is the school division did not protect these students by reporting this when they first knew about it,” Del. Cherry said. “We can bring truth to this through an investigation by Virginia State Police that gives us clarity of what happened, when it happened, and should we adjust the system to make sure that it works in protecting these students?”
As 8News previously reported, on Oct. 5, 2022, Special Prosecutor Harrison sent a letter to the Colonial Heights City Manager and Sroufe, stating that she did not believe mandatory reporting was violated.
“If we don’t investigate it and find that there’s fault in the system, people just continue to distrust the system,” Cherry said, “And our students suffer because of it.”