Prince William Police Chief Peter Newsham fielded questions from the Board of County Supervisors, Tuesday, regarding the appropriateness of a police officer’s visit to a resident’s home on Aug. 4. An officer visited a county resident Mr. Hand, to determine whether a message he emailed to the supervisors with the subject line, “Government Target” was intended as a threat.
The email, sent on Aug. 3, was addressed to the entire board. Reverend Cozy Bailey, the husband of Potomac Supervisor Andrea Bailey-D, forwarded the email to the Chief of Police. Rev. Bailey also serves as President of the NAACP, the Chair of the Citizens Advisory Committee, and is a member of the Jail Board.
Despite the subject line, the content of the email indicates that Mr. Hand believes that Supervisor Andrea Bailey was in someway targeting a resident. She was previously caught on a hot mic, saying to Chair Ann Wheeler-D, “What are we going to do about Allen Gloss?”
“‘What about you going to do about Alan Gloss?’” wrote Hand. "The smart answer to that is ‘nothing.’ If anything happens to him, you will face even more investigation and scrutiny than has already been revealed.”
According to FOIA records, Rev. Bailey requested the Chief investigate the email, saying his wife found it to possibly be threatening. He did not provide further context via email to the Chief.
Also via email, Newsham requested one of his officers follow up. The officer visited Mr. Hand’s home on Aug. 4 to question him about the email in a congenial manner.
In transcript of that visit* the officer repeatedly said, “you did nothing wrong,” and told him he is free to exercise his first amendment rights. However; he let Hand know that some found the phrase “Government Target” to be concerning.
Republican members of the board questioned whether the visit was in keeping with standard operating procedure, or if it was politically motivated. Was the visit meant to intimidate a critic of Supervisor Bailey? Was the Chief pressured into making a followup to a seemingly harmless email?
“Allegations that this was done by the police department for political purposes. Nothing is further from the truth,” Newsham said, addressing the board.
Gainesville Supervisor Peter Candland- R grilled Newsham on whether the email violated Virginia Code § 18.2-60, concerning threat of death or bodily harm, or § 18.2-152.7:1 harassment by computer.
Newsham said "no," not directly but that the phrase "Government Target" could possibly be a threat. Newsham became exasperated by how Candland conducted his questioning, not allowing him to give a full answer.
"I don’t know how they did things in D.C.,” Candland told the Chief, "but here in Prince William County we take it very seriously when a member of the police department shows up at a citizen’s house with a firearm.”
“I believe there was concerning language that required follow up,” said Chief. “Government Target’ could be construed [as a death threat.].”
Newsham elaborated that following 911, police categorize communications as either "clearly a threat,” “clearly not a threat,": or falling within a grey area. He believes this email fell within that “grey area," and often not following up on grey area communications have led to dire consequences.
But Candland asked if the email was, in his opinion, threatening, why did the officer tell him repeatedly that he did, “nothing wrong?"
Newsham said they consider if the recipient feels threatened by a communication. However, it is less of a concern than the language and content. He said when evaluating the intention of a communication, it is best to go directly to the source. Only they know the intent of the communication.
Coles Supervisor Yesli Vega-R asked if was a double standard was applied. She said Allen Gloss reported to police that he felt threatened by Supervisor Bailey’s comment [although perhaps not directly to the Chief.]
The Chief said “what are we going to do about…” was not in itself indicative of a threat. “Government Target” is much more so, and furthermore, he did not know the circumstances of the mic incident.
Brentsville Supervisor Jeanine Lawson-R said she had once been more clearly threatened that she and her children would be put in “a body bag.” She said, since this communication was less clear, she believed the Chief had been pressured by the Baileys and the Chief was “disingenuous” in referring to Rev. Bailey as simply “a citizen,” whose wife felt threatened as he did within an email to County Executive.
The Chief said he is not easily pressured, and he was trying to keep a resident’s privacy.
Lawson said they would have to “agree to disagree” as to whether he had been pressure; However, she said that otherwise the police department is doing a great job as clearly indicated by residents surveys.
Chief Newsham, who had just previously presented the department’s annual report, said they can, “agree to agree on that.”
FOIA information, including emails and transcripts were obtained by Potomac Local news organization.
In a previous request Supervisor Bailey declined to comment on the incident.