COLONIAL HEIGHTS, Va. (WRIC) — Following accusations from parents and students of inappropriate touching, text messaging and social media interactions, former Colonial Heights Police Chief Jeff Faries has not been charged with any criminal offenses, despite a special prosecutor on the case stating there was evidence that a crime was committed.
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.
- May 2021 — Colonial Heights school officials were made aware of potentially inappropriate behavior on the part of then-Police Chief and Varsity Girls Softball Coach Faries. City Attorney Hugh “Chip” Fisher told 8News that parents, students and another coach alerted the Colonial Heights High School principal and athletic director to their concerns.
- Feb. 26, 2022 — Colonial Heights Councilmember Dr. Laura Poe said that she and her fellow councilmembers became aware of the allegations against Faries. Poe told 8News that a combination of female students — both on and off the softball team — and parents came to her with recorded testimonies, social media exchanges and text messages. Faries also resigned as the softball coach sometime in February of 2022.
- March 2, 2022 — Fisher said that City Manager Smith called a special meeting in which he placed Faries on administrative leave, appointed an acting chief and told Faries about the allegations raised against him. Fisher said it was also on that date that Smith requested access to Faries’ city-issued iPad and phone.
- March 3, 2022 — At the request of city leadership, a VSP spokesperson said the agency initiated its investigation into “allegations of inappropriate behavior and interactions in an off-duty capacity” by Faries.
- March 30, 2022 — Faries submitted his resignation to Smith and a member of the city’s human resources department.
- April 1, 2022 — Faries’ retirement went into effect.
- Sept. 12, 2022 — Special Prosecutor Harrison sent a letter to Poe and Smith, noting that there was not enough evidence to proceed with criminal prosecution because of the delay in reporting the accusations against Faries to the police. However, Harrison did add that “if further evidence is developed, we can re-open this matter and may be able to proceed with select misdemeanors as certain sexual offenses committed against a minor may be prosecuted by up to 5 years after the minor reaches the age of 18.”
- Sept. 19, 2022 — Fisher sent an email to Harrison to clarify the aforementioned letter, and Harrison responded.
- Sept. 30, 2022 — Harrison sent a complaint to the Chesterfield County/Colonial Heights Department of Social Services regarding Faries’ alleged conduct.
- Oct. 4, 2022 — The Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) decertified Faries, pending an appeal process.
- Oct. 5, 2022 — Harrison sent a letter to Smith and Colonial Heights Public Schools Superintendent William Sroufe, stating that she did not believe mandatory reporting was violated.
Communications obtained by 8News through the Freedom of Information Act show Harrison confirmed there was “evidence that former Chief Faries committed a misdemeanor or misdemeanors but that the statute of limitations has expired.”
“The accusations made to the school personnel were that he was being ‘creepy’ and too ‘touchy-feely,'” Harrison 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.”
8News Legal Analyst Russ Stone said there are a number of possible misdemeanors that attorneys could have been referencing in speaking about the potential charges that could have been raised against Faires.
“Probably the most common misdemeanor of a sexual nature would be called sexual battery, and basically that is you have to use some amount of force. It’s not the same as an assault and battery, which is just unwanted touching,” he said. “If you’re talking about a coach, though, there is an argument that could be made that that force is just the supervisory role that a coach has over a minor.”
City Attorney Fisher said that additional allegations surfaced around the time of Faries’ resignation as the softball coach in February of 2022.
“In a small community especially, the word got around that he resigned as the softball coach,” Fisher said. “The young ladies on the team were commenting about it. They were telling their parents. Their parents were passing the word. City councilmembers became aware of it, and I think there was some agitation in the community that there’d been these complaints made to the school system of inappropriate conduct by the police chief, and, as I said, that was really the reason why the [city] manager and I began our investigation.”
Over the course of that investigation, Fisher said that he and the city manager uncovered text messages between then-Chief Faries and two girls. Fisher did not specify whether those girls were students on or off the softball team, but described the texts as “concerning” and enough to corroborate the allegations that had been made to the school system.
Fisher told 8News that during a special meeting on March 2, 2022, Faires was placed on administrative leave. It was at that time that City Manager Smith requested Faries hand over his city-issued iPad and phone.
“I know that the [former] chief has publicly stated that the city got his city-issued iPad and city-issued cell phone and did not find anything incriminating on those devices. Well, there’s a reason for that,” Fisher said. “He never gave us the password to his phone, so we could never access his cell phone to see what specific communications might’ve been on there because, obviously, there could’ve been some communications with young ladies, which would’ve been very relevant to the investigation.”
At that March 2 meeting, Fisher said that city officials also requested access to Faire’s iPad, but that he did not have it with him at the time.
“Acting Chief [Rob] Ruxer asked one of his captains to take Chief Faries back to his residence and pick up the iPad,” Fisher said. “When the captain got to Chief Faries’ residence, the chief refused to give him the iPad.”
Fisher said that the city manager and then-acting police chief made subsequent attempts over the next several hours of that evening to get the iPad.
“Finally, after several attempts, the chief’s wife, I think, actually made contact with the city manager and said that the iPad could be collected,” Fisher said. “The captain and Acting Chief Ruxer picked up the iPad, which was on the porch of the chief’s residence, and determined that the iPad had been wiped and put on factory settings.”
According to a DCJS spokesperson, the department was notified by the Colonial Heights Police Department that Faries met the statutory requirement for decertification under Virginia Code 15.2-1707. In keeping with those requirements, Faries was decertified on Oct. 4.
“The decertification comes about as a result of the fact that the Department of Criminal Justice Services has concluded that his resignation was related to these accusations, and it practically means he cannot be a police officer somewhere else,” Stone said. “Most of the statute talks about being convicted or pleading no contest to actual criminal charges, and we don’t have that here. But there is a section in that statute that also allows DCJS to decertify somebody when they resign in advance of charges.”
The decertification is not yet considered final, however, as there is a process for appeal. As of Oct. 27, that mandated timeline had not yet been exhausted.
“To our knowledge, an appeal has not been received as of yet,” DCJS Law Enforcement Decertification Coordinator Jon Banberger said in an email to 8News on Wednesday. “Mr. Faries has a relatively short amount of time left to do so.”
The day after Faries’ decertification, Harrison sent a letter to Colonial Heights City Manager Smith and School Superintendent Sroufe, commenting on the role of school officials after the initial allegations against Faries were brought to their attention:
After reviewing the investigation into the complaints involving Jeffrey Faries from the spring of 2021, I do not find that officials with the Colonial Heights School System violated the mandatory reporting provisions of VA Code Sec. 63.2-1509. The complaints reported to school officials did not rise to the level of creating a suspicion of child abuse or neglect as defined in VA Code Sec. 63.2-100.
The criminal investigation into this matter revealed further detail about the conduct of Mr. Faries that I believed warranted a report to the Chesterfield County/Colonial Heights Department of Social Services which I made.
But the previous letter from Harrison to city officials from Sept. 12 noted that there could be grounds to move forward with a prosecution “if further evidence is developed.” She also noted that the case could be reopened if evidence of a felony was uncovered.
“We don’t know all the details,” Stone said. “Maybe there are other people that haven’t been interviewed. There could be other reports that come forward. There could be other evidence that is discovered that raises something that is a felony. If you get to something that is a felony-level offense, then there is no statute of limitations.”
Fisher said that, as far as the city is concerned, the case against Faries is closed.
Poe noted that she hopes Colonial Heights will be able to restore the “honor and integrity” of its police department under the new chief.
“One of the reasons we don’t know a lot of these facts is because no charges have been placed,” Stone said. “The law tries to protect people from being accused of things publicly that they never get actually convicted of. But also, you’ve got an additional layer of secrecy surrounding it in that the alleged victims in this case were, apparently, minors at the time of whatever happened, and the law also tries to protect them, as well. So it may be a situation where we just never find out exactly what happened.”