Crosswalk case: Taxpayer payout ends cops' black eye

The injured plaintiff had already agreed to eschew hot-button terms like "Code of Blue" or "Code of Silence" when the lawsuit alleging a police conspiracy went before a jury. But the suit filed by the Charlottesville man struck in a crosswalk by a police cruiser won't reach trial. It has ended not with a bang like the one that began it four years ago but with a secret settlement. Along the way, it pried open several secrets, none of which shed favorable light on the Albemarle or Charlottesville Police departments.

"I've been accused of being a liar; I've been accused of being corrupt," says Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo, whose men made the controversial decision to charge not the Albemarle officer who drove into a citizen in broad daylight– but instead to charge the citizen, a man toppled from his wheelchair as he quietly headed home after buying groceries.

As the dashcam video showed, the overhead traffic light was green when Gerry Mitchell piloted his motorized chair through the crosswalk across West Main Street on the morning of November 5, 2007. As the defendants later pointed out, Mitchell may have ignored a red hand symbol at the Fourth Street intersection.

Yet the fact remained that Charlottesville authorities– who have issued scads of reckless driving warrants to drivers who injure someone, and who have the right to press charges for texting while driving and for violating pedestrian rights– chose instead to pile the weight of government on an injured man who crossed against a crosswalk light, lending credence to the concept that the best defense is a good offense.

"This is outright abuse of power for the purpose of protecting one of their own and for intimidating a witness and causing emotional distress," according to the lawsuit, which sought $850,000 and ended up cracking the case by showing how the incident might have happened: the Albemarle officer had been furiously texting his girlfriend that morning– 54 times according to one lawyer's account. Getting the information out of the officer, Gregory C. Davis, proved arduous. Although the dashcam revealed that he'd been listening to "My Humps" by the Black-Eyed Peas, he neglected to tell the investigator about the potentially distracting spat with his lady friend. Later, in his first interrogatory, Davis admitted that he'd been disciplined for excessive use of a cell phone but omitted to mention what his still-later deposition would reveal: that the disciplinary action came in response to that very morning's texting.

Albemarle Police never would let the public learn what punishment– if any– Davis received for his on-the-clock text-a-thon. But the suit did reveal that this wasn't Davis' first brush with Internal Affairs.

His first occurred when he allegedly taunted the husband of that same woman, with whom he was having a relationship. With revelations of sexual taunting and frenzied texting looming, the defense became so worried about a "tabloid" atmosphere poisoning the jury that in late September, Davis agreed to admit negligence rather than see his texts show up in open court.

By that point, fellow defendant and Charlottesville Police Officer Steve Grissom– the one who supposedly investigated the incident– had already told the court that if only he'd known about all the texting, he'd have probably issued the ticket to Davis instead of Mitchell. (In a filing, Davis calls this an "improper opinion.")

If a rift eventually erupted between the two men in blue, it was not obvious in the UVA hospital room where Mitchell was receiving treatment. There, several hours after the incident, the duo arrived while Mitchell was still in bed and still wearing a hospital gown, to issue him a summons.

"Get the hell out of here," Mitchell said, according to the official police report, when he realized the purpose of the unusual dual-Department visit.

In one of his filings, Grissom– noting that he'd didn't previously know either Mitchell or Davis– downplays any notion of conspiracy: "The essence of the case against Officer Grissom is that Mr. Mitchell received a traffic summons, and he was not happy about it."

Yet Mitchell was far from the only one unhappy with law enforcement's behavior. Long before citizens rallied to Mitchell's support, the case became a Hook cover story because the eyewitness seen rushing to Mitchell's aid in the dashcam video described what he considered official unwillingness to take his statement even though he allegedly lingered at the scene. The witness later suggested that officers interviewed him grudgingly only after media attention and then retaliated by reviving an old bounced-check charge.

"You can question the decision until the cows come home," says Chief Longo, wishing to point out that some press accounts, including those in the Hook, oversimplified his official report to City Council. For the record, Longo didn't claim that there were no witnesses, just that none presented themselves to Officer Grissom.

"It's a paramilitary organization, and I respect the chain of command," says Longo, who adds that in the future he'd like to be immediately informed of any incident involving a police officer.

In this case, taxpayers are paying for the settlement, but they'll never know how much they paid. Although the officer was a County employee, the Board of Supervisors did not get the opportunity to vote on the decision because the settlement comes from a self-insurance pool representing about 250 Virginia municipalities. Albemarle joined that group, known as VACoRP, in the 2007 fiscal year with an annual premium starting at $336,000.

Mitchell is a Yale-educated artist who is one of America's longest surviving AIDS patients. He has recently been diagnosed with inoperable kidney cancer, and a close friend says the settlement came not a moment too soon.

"We didn't expect him to be here this fall," says friend Marjorie Sunflower Sargent. "They found every reason to delay. I think they were just waiting for him to die."

Davis's lawyer declined to comment. As for Davis, who joined the Albemarle force in 2003, he's still on the job, but when a reporter called his cellphone twice after the settlement was revealed, the line went dead after the reporter introduced himself.

"He possesses high integrity and characteristics," Albemarle Police Chief Steve Sellers says of Davis. "I don't tolerate integrity violations."

Sellers says that what some might perceive as Davis' lack of candor in the traffic investigation is actually consistent with the right any citizen enjoys to remain silent, and he notes that Davis is a valued underwater search team member, a crisis intervention expert, and he volunteers for the Special Olympics.

Agreeing that this case should have been handled better, Sellers says that when he became chief at the start of this year he instituted a wave of reforms including putting Internal Affairs investigations directly under his purview, redrawing the Department's mission statement to emphasize diversity and individual rights, and demanding a debriefing on any "major incident in the community."

Mitchell's attorney declined to comment on the settlement amount, and the terminally ill artist did not return a reporter's calls but conveyed through his friend Sargent that he's now just trying to stay alive.

"I held on as long as I could," he says via Sargent. "Thank you all."

Sargent notes that in July she helped kick off a retrospective exhibition– a "last hurrah"– of Mitchell's earliest paintings at the Jeweler's Eye, a shop on the Downtown Mall, after learning of his inoperable cancer. Mitchell, she says, makes a habit of donating his shows' proceeds to those less fortunate including American Indians, AIDS sufferers, and tsunami survivors.

"He himself is in terrible shape, and yet he's always compassionate," says Sargent. "I wish the police had been as compassionate to him."


"when he allegedly taunted the husband of that same woman"

Adultery is still a crime in Virginia. I expect police officers to follow ALL the laws. If not, they should be dismissed from employment.

In his official report to City Council, Cheif Longo says, "I specifically asked whether the officer was either on his cell phone or on his computer; both questions were answered with a negative response."

So, exactly who lied to Chief Longo? And why were they not charged? They were not charged because the entire time a conspiracy was taking place to conceal the real cause of this accident, that's why!

§ 18.2-460. Obstructing justice; penalty.

D. Any person who knowingly and willfully makes any materially false statement or representation to a law-enforcement officer or an animal control officer employed pursuant to § 3.2-6555 who is in the course of conducting an investigation of a crime by another is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.

Albemarle County police chief Sellers agrees that this case should have been handled better? That makes him nothing but a photo copy of the now retired Chief John Miller who also said a few cases should have been better handled...... after years of litigation. I wonder if this rhetoric is taught at some kind of Police Chief academy? If they think things should have been handled better, why didn't they step in and nip it in the bud? Even better yet, why not admit things should have been handled better before the conclusion of a lawsuit?

Gerry, if you are happy with the settlement then I am happy for you. I am honored you went up against the powers-that-be and won. Sadly, the payout is cloaked from the public eye and it only damages the opinion of the powers-that-be, as sadly, they are still hiding something.

The public needs transparency and accounting.

Release the payout: The Taxpayer needs to know!

What are they scared of???

The Hook is always afraid there a conspiracy. Wow… I’m glad I’m not Hawes Spencer and the like. To live that way must really be sad. I guess Mr. Spencer never had any marital trouble huh? Why have I never read anything good about the police in this weekly? Did Mr. Spencer want to be a cop secretly and get turned down for some reason? As for you Gas bag… you are not worth a response. I think we should consider the feelings of Officer Davis here. Here he is doing a good job, as the police chief says, and we are throwing stones at him because he had an accident. At the end of the day that’s what it was. AN ACCIDENT. They happen every day. Leave the guy alone already. How about a positive police story Hawes. Can you do it?

Relax, Steve Shifflett. I didn't say a word about Davis.

I made 2 comments, 1) who lied to Chief Longo, and 2) why can the police chiefs not admit a case was handled wrong from minute one. Why do their admissions that cases are handled wrong only come after 4 years in this case, and 7 years in another case I am sure you are familiar with.

SS.. we are not throwing stones at him because he had an "accident" we are chastizing him because he did not man up and admit fault. Because he convinced another officer to write a ticket to cover his backside and for being untruthful when asked if he was using his cell phone. This officer played the same tired game that the local bums do when they are asked if they had anything to do with a break in the night before.... He should be ashamed.

A police officer should be above that kind of behavior at all times.

Chief Longo needs to man up and take control of his "paramilitary" group before they cover up a shooting and plant a gun. He should have publicly rebuked the entire force for allowing that kind of behavior among themselves. He is supposed to be a leader and his Offiicers make him a patsy. Just like when that punk officer jumped out and arrested the iraq war veteran who told him to slow down when he was driving stupidly. (you remember he shoved the guys pregnant girlfiend to the ground

And for those of you cops who are going to run my name and find my car and pull me over... go ahead, I have a dash cam and a lot of money for a lawyer so bring it on. I am the one with the black lexus.

The paramilitary comment from Chief Longo is more than a little alarming. If that's what he thinks he's running, then it's time for him to be replaced and soon.

The Cato Institute has an article on "Botched Paramilitary Police Raids" which can be filtered to show only Virginia cases if so desired.

The recent SWAT raid of the Cobbs family farm is only one of many examples of armed assault on harmless citizens by police with more guns than brains. We don't need Longo bring that sort of foolishness into the city.

I have rarely seen a police officer driving a car in a town or city without a cell phone to their ear...........not in Virginia, not in States where hands-free is the law- check it out. Who are they talking to?

Steve Shifflett says: "I think we should consider the feelings of Officer Davis here. Here he is doing a good job, as the police chief says, and we are throwing stones at him because he had an accident. At the end of the day that’s what it was."

What? A police officer mows over a pedestrian in a wheelchair with his cruiser, tries to intimidate the victim by charging him, lies about everything including other crimes, all this on public money, and public money pays to make the case go away and this "officer of the law" is still out there on public money, and that's what you got to say?

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Gasbag, your comments are right on. As for SS saying it was an accident, you're off target. In an accident, no one is to blame. Because the city made an out-of-court settlement, it recognized its liability for causing the incident, and the taxpayers get to foot the bill.

Maybe it's time for Chief Long to Go.

"His first occurred when he allegedly taunted the husband of that same woman, with whom he was having a relationship. With revelations of sexual taunting and frenzied texting looming".... "He possesses high integrity and characteristics," Albemarle Police Chief Steve Sellers says of Davis. "I don't tolerate integrity violations." Hmmm.....

The answer, the 'key' that will once and for all 'break the code' is the 'truth'.
Plain and simple.
Consentual polygraphing programs. Not only on hire, but every 5yrs and for internal affairs investigations.
If officers knew that this tool was in place, maybe they would think twice before breaking the very laws they are sworn to uphold.
If the local law can't or won't see that corruption and misconduct on any and all levels has become our world's biggest security threat, maybe the federal level can step in and change policies and laws for them.
DHS expanding polygraph program to fight corruption of CBP agents.

One time I was standing in a crosswalk on Locust Avenue, just before the now former Martha Jeffereson Hospital, and along whizzes a Charlottesville city police jeep, the officer at the wheel with a cell phone stuck to his ear. He never saw or acknowledged me, nor slowed let alone stopped. Had to step back out of the crosswalk lest I get mowed down. He was committing three gross offenses: speeding in a 25 mph zone, driving while chatting on a cell phone, and failing to yield to a pedestrian in a cross walk.

Just thought I'd put that out there.

Gotta love the double standard.

Mr/Mrs/Miss Really, Sellars is just another pretty face. He's finished one career with a nice healthy retirement check coming. And he's in Albemarle working on his second nice healthy retirement check. Considering he makes the same identical remarks (word for word) that Chief Miller used to make, I think it's possible Miller left notes behind for Sellars to use. Don't read me wrong though, there's nothing wrong with double dipping or triple dipping if they can get by with it.

tim taylor, smart man! I have always told everybody I know to at least carry a small pocket recorder with them. Video and audio is even better. After almost 30 years in law enforcement, I never once imagined I would be need to give out advice like this. A scanner is good medicine too, you can actually hear them talking about you too if you're having trouble with a few of them stalking you. Until recently the rookies were using the old low band frequency as a "secret squirrel" channel, a channel they thought people no longer monitored. The exact opposite is true though, most people still have old scanners that pick up the low bands even though they don't have the equipment to pick up the new 800 trunking system.

Restore the Republic, I am 99% sure the settlement was a non-disclosure. This means no party can release how much Albemarle County paid Mitchell. This settlement most likely includes a clause that says Albemarle County still does not admit any blame in any claims alleged against them by Mitchell. Mediation and settlement most always comes after they realize they don't really want to face a jury when so much wrong doing can be laid out on the table. After years of litigation, none of my lawsuits agaisnt the city, county or Alexandria were ever settled until a judge had finally set a jury trial date for them to be heard. And in the Mitchell case, you will notice a jury trial date was scheduled too. :)

As a native of this area, it has long been known that local police and sheriff departments were in this "good 'ol boyz club" and they were above the law. (Lest we forget Willie Morris and Greene County?) In today's world it doesn't fly. Steve Shifflett - leave Davis alone? No. As the others stated, he didn't "man up" and accident or not you take responsiblity for your actions! Ah but that is what is wrong with society today - everyone blames everything and everyone else for anything!

Chief Longo is altimately responsible for the actions of his officers and also should "man up".

Truth Hurts, I assume you are reminding us that Willie Morris brought real law and order to Greene County? He broke up the good ole boys club in Greene County. The incumbent sheriff sat around with his feet up on the desk smoking his cigar while assuming Willie had no chance in Hades of winning the election. Before Willie Morris people in Greene County were afraid to go out after dark. And there were sections of the county that even law enforcement would not travel to.

When you're wrong. you're wrong! Lots of points reveal themselves here:
1. Longo--he euphemistically stated that the buck does not stop with him, that he didn't know what was going on. If he respects the chain of command so much, why did he leave his family in Ocean City, MD to hastily return from vacation to personally handle a guy barricaded in the old coal tower? A silly comment from a man who supposedly is educated. Sounds like Buddy Rittenhouse with a bit more sheepskin.

2. Longo--I always wondered why he was on the "fast track" in B'more (youngest asst. commissioner/chief ever, I believe) and then left. I think his last assignment had something to do with creating a 311 system for the city; almost like being banished to the quartermaster's closet to handle issuance of department equipment.

3. Sellers--shows his true colors. Look, there are super cops, good cops, mediocre cops and then real creeps. Sometimes--in a gang mentality--the mediocre ones act like real creeps. Maybe this is what happened; I do not know Officer Davis. However, it is not hard to see what occurred here. Taunting the husband? Any of us close to LE knows that with the job and its pressures, boozing, adultery, depression are higher in police work than many other industries. So Davis is at least one of those. I hope the husband kept a lot of those messages...this Davis sounds like he might be up for the Patrick Star award for grey matter!

Gasbag - HA! You know very little - under Willie's "rule" Greene County had a higher murder per capita than NY City in 1982-1983. That is a fact. Real Law and Order - HA! You obviously don't know the truth - possibly a relative considering your comments and screen name!

Truth Hurts, think out loud here for a minute, OK? The key words being "higher murder rate per capita". When Greene didn't have but 10,000 residents in 1982/83, it didn't take but a few to reach the same "per capita" of New York City.

Liberalace, even though Longo and I haven't seen eye to eye on a few things recently, I would never ever put him on the same low level as Rittenhouse. I think Longo's hands are tied in cleaning up anything in his department. I am sure he knows darn well by now that former Chief John Wolford was run out of town by City Council after his own officers elected to give him a vote of no confidence. They can do the same thing to Longo.

ps - Truth Hurts, Willie first ran for election in November of 1983. He did not assume office until Janaury 20, 1984. So your 1982/83 statistics don't even apply to Sheriff William Morris.

Maybe it is time for Longo to go LONNNGGGGG

The main victim here, aside from Mr. Mitchell, is trust and respect for the police in this area. When they are more concerned about covering up their actions then ensuring that justice is done and when those in charge support and defend misconduct, there is little reason left to trust the integrity of those in charge. It is time for some folks to move on to the next phase in their careers and to re-establish trust in the local police. The fact that this all happens behind closed doors with non-disclosure agreements more important than public accountability speaks to the level of corruption.

shempdaddy, whether those involved had to pay Mr. Mitchell $200,000, $350,000 or $500,000, the city/county/police don't want the public to know. To know the amount might encourage more people to file lawsuits for wrongful actions. There's way too many rumors circulating that the city/county/police will pay $5,000 to $10,000 just to make a case go away. This is far from the truth. But it still makes people think it's not worth the effort to seek justice when wronged.

A non-disclosure agreement stating the city/county/police still admit no wrongdoing is pretty silly to begin with too of course. The city/county/police wouldn't be settlting out of court if they really felt they had done nothing wrong The only advantage to the city/county/police in settling a case out of court is not having a jury publicly proclaim, "this is what you did wrong, you shall pay Joe Public X amount of dollars for being so stupid!". After all it doesn't cost the city/county/police anything to go to court, the taxpayers are footing all their bills anyway!

Christian wrote "What? A police officer mows over a pedestrian in a wheelchair with his cruiser, tries to intimidate the victim by charging him, lies about everything including other crimes, all this on public money, and public money pays to make the case go away and this "officer of the law" is still out there on public money, and that's what you got to say?"

How did the police intimidate the victim? By charging him? What? Really? Davis didn't charge him! Other crimes? What other crimes? Because Davis was talking to a woman the was separated from her husband? That's a crime? Gerry crossed at the wrong time! Gerry was violating the law regaurdless if Davis was texting... which was not against the law.( but admittedly dangerous and not something anyone should do)

How soon you all forget that Gerry hired the Black Widow Firm and sued the police. He walks... well rides... off into the sunset with cash in hand and what do we as tax payers get? Higher insurance premiums likely.

As for Longo and Sellers? Jesus Christ could be police chief in this area and you "know it all self experts" would still complain! Walk a day in their shoes. Believe it or not there are a high number of mentally ill people in and around Charlottesville. ( I believe many of them frequently write on this site and will oppose what I am writing.) Do any of you really think you know the whole story? I think not. These cases are settled because it's cheaper to settle than to pay the cost of the attorney fees. Get real people. Gerry is a fraud.

No one is throwing stones at Gerry. Why? Was he texting? Was this a "get rich quick" scam? I'm not saying that is the case but... if we are assuming things and making up things... why not? Oh yeah... we dont get to see Gerry's cell records and all his life history except he is a law abiding angel sent from heaven above to bless us with his fight against AIDS and his ART. Mikey Tutel is a better artist than Gerry.

Accident. That's all it was. Beatng a dead horse Monday morning quarterbacks. Move along.

Rather than moving along, I think I will say this again.... if Mitchell had a large 20 foot by 40 foot sign with DON'T WALK letters lit up on it, you still don't run over a man in a wheelchair with a 5,000 pound car. And if you do, you fess up and accept responsibility for your actions.

And let me get this straight, you're saying that after paying attorney fees for SEVEN YEARS, it was cheaper for the Albemarle police to go ahead and settle out of court in your case, Steve Shifflett? Why did it become cheaper in your case Steve Shifflett, after SEVEN YEARS? Wasn't the real reason because the judge had finally set a jury trial date for you to present your claims to a jury, Steve Shifflett? Isn't this how it played out in the Mitchell case too, they only settled once faced with the jury seeing the truths?

And please, if you ever run over me, call a rescue squad. Don't run up and attempt to move me before you even know if I am injured or not, OK? If I have a broken neck or back you could kill or paralyze me by scooping me up and trying to set me back up.

Not sure what the fervor from Steve indicates, but if he was anywhere near law enforcement in his life, he would know....first rule if you screw up it to try to pad it. We know the rules were changed in this case versus if a civvy had hit the guy. We know that the driver was not in control of his vehicle at the time if he was texting and listening to music (was this guy off duty?). And of course, the defendant waited to the last minute and then settled; oldest game in the book.

And why did both the Cville cop and the Albie perp (cop) enter the exam room to approach the victim to issue the summons in tandem? Again, if I was a civvy who ran down Mitchell, would I be escorted into the victim's exam room by the investigating officer? This was a sickly guy in a wheelchair struck by a car. Even if the injuries seemed minor, what if he developed pneumonia and died as a result? Then we have a death, and this Cville cop brought the driver in to see the victim right after the accident? Does not make sense...except that the case was dealt with differently from the get-go.

And how much in attorney's fees have already been paid? It happened four years ago; if the govt. wanted to save money, it would have been settled within a year or two. It was really a simple case.

As for Sellers and Longo, I do not know enough about them to compare them to JC. But, again, this was not a complicated situation...a simple case. If Longo bollocksed this up, I'd hate to see him in a really complicated situation. I still am puzzled by his comment about the chain of command; the Cville PD is not a large one, and a case the involved an auto/ped involving injury and an adjoining PD as the striking driver should have been on his radar.

Finally, I cannot imagine Sellers's trying to cite Davis's Fifth rights as the reason he was not forthcoming and--in all liklelihood--lied about texting. The obvious two-step is all the silliness about Davis's other activities (dive team, etc.). Who cares?

Anyway, it is a shame that such a simple case came to this. Remember, it still has a lot of Miller's fingerprints on it as well.

This just in...Albe Police have announced that several DWT checkpoints will be posted in the area over the busy Halloween weekend. Officer Davis--who is going out for Halloween dressed as a faithful spouse--will be in charge of these Driving While Texting checkpoints.

Me? I ain't worried about the other DUI checkpoints...I have Amy Winehouse as my designated driver!

"He possesses high integrity and characteristics," Albemarle Police Chief Steve Sellers says of Davis. "I don't tolerate integrity violations."


Hey Chief Longo: Shame, shame, shame, shame, shame, shame, shame on you.