Cheriton Police Chief Sacked in August, Citizens Want Answers

By Stefanie Jackson  — At Cheriton’s latest town council meeting on Sept. 26, unrest among citizens persisted and questions remained unanswered about the police department and its future.

Marc Marshall was the chief and sole member of the newly formed Cheriton Police Department that had been in operation for barely one year when the council voted 5 to 1 on Aug. 29 to terminate his contract.

No reason for the termination was provided by the council or Mayor Larry LeMond, who cited a “personnel matter.”

Councilman Wesley Travis, who cast the only opposing vote, was not present at the Sept. 26 meeting. Instead, he left a resignation letter for Town Clerk Stacey Salenski to read into the record.

According to the motion to terminate Marshall’s contract, “The police chief was put on administrative leave with pay, pending an investigation,” Travis wrote.

“I voted ‘no’ because there was no investigation and no due process,” he explained.

“Since that meeting, I have experienced many forms of harassment by the general public and council members’ families. I have been cursed out, given dirty looks, been the subject of rumors and accusations. This pains me because there was no content to go along with the vote, and for that reason I am resigning from Cheriton council effective immediately,” Travis concluded.

LeMond responded, “I’m sorry to hear that. … He has his opinion. Five of the other council members didn’t agree with his opinion.”

About one month following Marshall’s termination, the council had no plan to replace him and voted to cancel an eSummons software maintenance agreement and return related computer equipment for refunds totaling more than $19,000.

During the public comment session, Jason Van Marter, a Cheriton resident and restaurant owner who some citizens hope will be appointed to the open seat on the council, said, “By canceling the eSummons and sending back all the equipment, at least to me, it appears that you’ve already made a choice on the Cheriton police force whether you voted on it or not.”

Councilman Matthew Yancy responded, “A final decision has not been made concerning the Cheriton police department. … it will be inactive until either A) a police officer is hired, or B) this council votes to disband it.”

“Relax your minds, we still have a police department, it’s just not active right now,” he said.

“And will remain so until we hire a certified, fully trained law enforcement employee, or send our employee to the police academy and get certified,” LeMond said.

According to LeMond, the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice said the police department could remain inactive indefinitely.

Neither LeMond nor the council provided the rationale for canceling the eSummons or deciding to return the equipment hardly a month after terminating the police chief.

In response to concerns that Cheriton is once again relying solely on the Northampton County Sheriff’s Office to patrol the town and provide revenue through traffic tickets, LeMond said, “The sheriff’s department is doing what they always have done. They’ve always patrolled this town. … Even when we had a police department, the sheriff’s department was patrolling the town.”

Travis’ letter stated, “I believe that Cheriton needs to move forward and not backward. We spent many years getting from out underneath the county and to run back to them as soon as there’s a problem shows a lack of leadership for our town.”

Citizen Joanne Fitchett said, “I was very taken aback with the way that the council didn’t include the town people before a lot of these decisions were made.”

“I feel like we don’t have a voice in the community. We just come here and sit, you make the decisions, and it’s a done deal,” she said.

Fitchett spoke out about Marshall’s termination. “We need to know why you fired him,” she demanded. “He lives in our community. His children, wife … it puts a burden on his family to be looked at, and everyone has a story to tell, but we never got the story.”

LeMond repeated that neither he nor the council can discuss personnel issues.

“Forgive us that we can’t bring you in on every decision … unfortunately, this was one of them,” Yancy said.

Fitchett also wanted to know why council had not followed through on its plan to form a committee to find alternative sources of revenue for the town, “so that you’re not putting pressure or putting a dollar amount or ticket amount on one person, which I thought was very unfair,” she said.

“We just haven’t had time,” Yancy answered. “I’m hoping after tonight … that we now can move on.”

Another citizen, Nancy Brown, had no harsh words for new council members Yancy and Mary Mears, but told Barry Downing, Norma Spencer, and Bo Lewis they have “done nothing” about revenue generation.

“You just put it all on Marc Marshall and said, ‘Yah, mule,’ kept cracking the whip, and told him to bring in more tickets,” which was “unfair” and “unsustainable,” Brown said.

She wanted to know why the investigation of Marshall was not done. “Where’s any accountability for that?” she asked.

“We’re not going to comment,” LeMond answered.

A few minutes later, a soft voice spoke up. It was Mears. “I hope we will move forward. We just haven’t got there yet, but we’re working on it,” she said.

Elaine Meil from the Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission will visit the council next month to discuss funding sources the town can pursue, Mears said.

Both Spencer and Downing admitted mistakes had been made, and Spencer said, “We definitely don’t want to repeat those, so we wanted to carefully move forward.” Downing echoed Spencer’s statement and asked citizens for their “cooperation to help us move forward from this situation.”

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