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VCDL Is Not Done With Manassas

By Greg L | 28 March 2007 | Manassas City | 22 Comments

The Virginia Citizen’s Defense League has received an official response from Chief Skinner, and they’re not at all happy with the results. I can’t blame them. This investigation has been a whitewash, obvious evidence of police misconduct has been ignored, and about the only thing that the department seems to be interested in is filtering foul language from it’s email system so the next time they’re caught doing something stupid there won’t be grossly unprofessional language to further inflame the situation.

First, here’s the response of Chief Skinner to one of the citizens who filed an official complaint reporting on the outcome of the Police Department’s investigation of the Police Department:

Dear Mr Troxel,

The purpose of this letter is to inform you of the police department’s findings concerning an internal investigation into your complaint regarding an incident at Tony’s Restaurant, 9108 Mathis Avenue, on the evening of January 13, 2007, You alleged misconduct and unprofessional behavior by several officers during and after responding to a citizen initiated complaint about six (6) subjects (non-law enforcement) openly wearing firearms in the restaurant (It was later determined there were seven (7) individuals in the armed group).

I will respond to the various issues raised in summary form as follows:

Issue #1

The officers were confused about the Virginia Code regarding “open carry” of firearms in an establishment licensed to sell and serve alcoholic beverages.

The investigation confirmed that the initial responding officer was unfamiliar and confused about the law(s) pertaining to “open carry” in Virginia, The officer suggested the group put the guns in their cars to lessen the impact on other patrons in the restaurant. The group objected, as there is no obligation by law to do so. This resulted in additional miscommunications and further frustrated the officer’s ability to effectively resolve the complaint.

The investigation also determined that a second,more senior, responding officer realized the developing confusion and interceded on behalf of the initial officer to clarify that “open carry” is permissible by law. This officer was more effective in communicating to all parties on the scene. According to Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) records, the call was handled and all officers left the scene in six (6) to nine (9) minutes.

Issue #2

The officers exceeded their authority by unduly persuading (forcing) the owner(s) of Tony’s to ask the group openly wearing firearms to leave the restaurant.

The investigation determined the owner was not coached or persuaded one way or another by the police concerning the presence of the group. The owner(s) confirmed they had received several complaints from concerned customers and that only one officer explained their property rights(options) to them. The owner(s) stated it was their independent decision to ultimately ask the group to leave because they felt it was bad for business. This was reemphasized again in a recorded television interview with NBC News Channel 4 on February 26th with Tony’s manager,Joe D’Agostino. A copy of the taped interview was obtained from NBC News 4 for the investigation.

Issue #3

The responding officers did not act with the appropriate demeanor, were hostile, loud and antagonistic.

The investigation concluded, as stated earlier, that the initial responding officer was confused and became frustrated and ineffective in resolving the complaint. Interviews with the owners and other independent witnesses(patrons) sitting a few feet away stated they were able to hear occasional words of the on going discussion between the police and the group. Uninvolved,independent witnesses heard no inappropriate,loud, hostile or antagonistic conduct by police at the scene and were in a position to do so. Witnesses did state that the interaction was non-confrontational and involved no profanity or derogatory comments.

Issue #4

The police response to the initial complaint was excessive.

The investigation concluded the response was not excessive and was deliberate given the preliminary information and number of non-law enforcement armed persons involved in the call. Officer safety is a paramount law enforcement concern when responding to and engaging armed persons under any circumstances and was responded to accordingly. It is very difficult to exactly quantify how many(or how few) officers are required to handle each type of call. In this case, it did not require this number of officers; however, this was not known until after the officers arrived on the scene. I would note again that all officers left the scene in six (6) to nine (9) minutes which is a very reasonable time frame with in which to conclude this type of complaint resolution.

Issue #5

There was a failure to properly supervise officers on the scene.

There is no evidence to support this allegation. The sustained violations took place outside of the supervisor’s immediate control. The supervisor arrived at the scene after the initial officer’s ineffective attempt to respond to the original complaint. Likewise, the electronic messaging occurred after she and all units had left the scene and she had no knowledge of the text messaging. Additionally,she identified herself to certain member(s) of the armed group as the on-duty supervisor asking any of them if they would like to talk to the supervisor. No one indicated an interest to do so and she also left the scene.

Issue #6

There were inappropriate comments in electronic messaging about the armed group and the Virginia Citizens Defense League following resolution of the initial call at the restaurant.

The investigation confirmed that some officers inappropriately made disrespectful, vulgar or unprofessional comments expressing their opinion of the armed individuals involved in the earlier call and their formal organization, the Virginia Citizens Defense League. This is unacceptable and a clear violation of the City’s computer policy concerning the use of electronic messaging. In addition, it is a discredit to the Department reflecting poorly on our professional standing and reputation and is in violation of our Code of Conduct.

As Chief of Police, I extend my personal apology to you and each of the group involved and to the Virginia Citizens Defense League. Conduct of this nature is not condoned and will not be tolerated. I will issue appropriate negative discipline in accordance with City policy. In addition, I will direct several actions related to remedial training concerning the Concealed Carry laws as well as the Open Carry laws contained in the State Code. Remedial training will include a review of the City’s Electronic Communications Policy.

Lastly, our random auditing of electronic messaging will be enhanced. It is my belief there will not be any similar future recurrence.

Regarding my apology, I have taken the liberty of forwarding a copy of this letter to Mr. Philip Van Cleave, President,Virginia Citizens Defense League.

Additional Issues

A. The investigation found no evidence to substantiate that the initial responding officer suggested that members of the armed group conceal their weapons, thereby placing them in violation of the law, The initial responding officer did suggest the group put the guns in their cars to lessen the impact on other patrons in the restaurant in an attempt to resolve the complaint. This request, which was objected to, was deemed consensual, appropriate and reasonable and would not have created any conflict with the State Code regarding carrying concealed weapons; once objected to, the officer did not pursue further.

B. The investigation determined that officer(s) declined to accept literature from member(s) of the group, however, the officer(s) are not obligated to receive literature from individuals and this issue is solely at the officer’s discretion;

C. It was concluded that it was appropriate for an officer to suggest the armed group voluntarily leave the restaurant. This was a suggestion made in the spirit of diffusing the situation and resolving the complaint. It was a reasonable consensual request that was declined by the group without further discussion.

D. Further,the investigation confirmed that the initial responding officer had asked for identification from the armed group, actually in the form of badges/credentials because he believed they were law enforcement officers. This is a legitimate initial request which was not pursued further by the officer once members of the group objected to being required to provide identification upon request. Again, it should be noted that an independent witness who was seated within earshot of this exchange described it as nonconfrontational and nonadversarial.

In closing, I want to assure you, other members of the armed group, the Virginia Citizens Defense League, and our fine community that the Manassas Police Department is a professional agency with men and women of high integrity. committed to providing quality police services. We regret this negative incident and will work diligently to maintain the high levels of community confidence the department enjoys, have taken the necessary steps to address this matter as well as initiated actions to preclude any future reoccurrence and trust this experience will make us a better agency.

If you have further questions, please feel free to call me directly at (703)257-8001.


John J. Skinner

Chief of Police

This letter is ludicrous. An officer is “confused and frustrated” and as a result abuses citizens, and it’s not a violation of department policy? In an email to fellow officers Thompson, Hittle, Hyland, Sutton and Pannel, Officer Clodfelter admitted that they coerced the business owner into kicking out these citizens. But Chief Skinner conveniently ignores this evidence from his own officers and instead focuses on the shocking language while ignoring the content. Similarly the Chief believes that no abusive or threatening language was used by the police towards these citizens despite eyewitness accounts and the content of the emails subsequently exchanged by these officers relating the events. And while the Chief describes this as a potentially dangerous incident that warranted a substantial number of units to be dispatched in order to harass a bunch of guys peacefully eating a meal, it wasn’t dangerous enough for Officer Hyland to wait for backup to arrive before charging into the restaurant. Similarly Officer Pannell, acting as the onsite supervisor, was anything but an approachable higher authority which to appeal for assistance, but an active participant in the wrongful behavior the citizens were subjected to.

The additional issues noted in the letter contends that the officer did not ask the citizens to illegally conceal their firearms, which the citizens vigorously dispute. This officer, who admittedly did not know the law regarding open carry, and later had to be educated by Officer Clodfelter, couldn’t possibly have demonstrated his incompetence on this point of law, and seven citizens are apparently lying about this? And since when it policy that Police Officers begin their conversations with citizens by asking them for their law enforcement credentials? This isn’t an investigation, it’s a whitewash.

VCDL President Philip Van Cleave summarized the letter like this:

The main thing the police did wrong was to be stupid enough leave a ‘paper trail’ of their abuse of those seven gun owners.

The officers were wrong to use abusive language in referring to VCDL and the seven gun owners. However, the only foul language was in the emails. Contrary to statements from the seven gun owners, the officers used no foul or derogatory language while talking to the gun owners.

Other than those things documented by the officer’s email, the seven gun owners, who have excellent credentials and some probably better than the Manassas Police Chief, were all lying and the police officers were all telling the truth.

The Chief will punish the officers for making those offensive and incriminating emails and will see that future incriminating emails are not made. (That way the police can more easily deny and whitewash future abuses of power.)

On April 9th, VCDL will be back at the Manassas City Council Chambers, and until this is properly resolved, I’m pretty sure they’re going to keep coming back. While many folks are not going to be happy that we have to keep trudging through this issue, in the long run it will definitely improve the city of Manassas to ensure that incidents like this will be fairly handled and that the police department will be interested in improving the quality of the force rather than playing CYA every time the warts get shown.

UPDATE: It looks like VCDL members will attend the April 23rd meeting instead.

The opinions expressed here are solely the views of the author, and not representative of the position of any organization, political party, doughnut shop, knitting guild, or waste recycling facility, but may be correctly attributed to the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. If anything in the above article has offended you, please click here to receive an immediate apology.

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  1. Gurduloo said on 28 Mar 2007 at 2:32 pm:
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    Why is it that the manager of Tony’s has testified that no coercion took place? Is he lying too? And why don’t you and the VCDL boycott Tony’s like you do that bank that keeps getting robbed?

  2. citizenofmanassas said on 28 Mar 2007 at 2:50 pm:
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    It figures Skinner would do this. He has no shame.

  3. Greg L said on 28 Mar 2007 at 3:25 pm:
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    When the police officers involved say in their emails that they coerced the owner into asking these citizens to leave, I think that evidence carries more weight than what the business owner says to the police during a police investigation of the event. But feel free to call the officers liars.

  4. Gurduloo said on 28 Mar 2007 at 3:30 pm:
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    I think the email says they “asked” the owner. I don’t call that coercion. Police have asked me to do plenty of things, and I’ve never considered it harassment.

    Anyway, aren’t you the one calling the officers liars?

  5. Thumper said on 28 Mar 2007 at 6:17 pm:
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    Some evidence Chief Skinner used was a interview on February 26th by news team. That’s over a month old and officers eat at Tony’s on a pretty regular basis. I’m not surprised Tony came down on the side of the officers. He had plenty of time to be coached.

    As for boycotting Tony’s, I’ve already chosen not to go back. He’s crazy if he believes I’m going to visit the part of town unarmed after dark.

  6. neighboring citizen said on 28 Mar 2007 at 6:30 pm:
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    Chief Skinner and his Department appear to have performed a full investigation of this incident. As a completely neutral bystander who has no ties to the department or to the City, I believe what I see is a bunch of men compensating for what they don’t have by carrying their guns, and now they want to act like a bunch of crybabies! You people really need to get a life. Keep showing up at the City Hall and the Council will keep smiling at you and tlling you what you want to hear and then they will do absolutely nothing. And you want to know why? Because Chief Skinner is obviously a well educted man with a professional law enforcement background who has always served the community. No police department is completely void of officers who need additional training or may have a bad day, but it appears to me from your accounts, the news accounts and the police departments internal investigation that the only thing the officers did wrong was vent some steam in some internal e-mails. Not a sermon, just my opinion. By the way, I guess all the citizens in the restaurant and the owners are all liars. Who should I believe, law enforcement officers or a bunch of men who have shown nothing for themselves other than they know how to cry loudly.

  7. neighboring citizen said on 28 Mar 2007 at 6:54 pm:
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    [Ed note: comment edited.]

  8. citizenofmanassas said on 28 Mar 2007 at 7:03 pm:
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    Boy, you take the cake. So, just because skinner is a police chief, he never does anything wrong? I suppose you think it is fine for people who are not breaking the law to be harassed by the police? And, then not complain about it? The men were not doing anything wrong. Yet, as someone who claims to not have any connection whatsoever, you come down hard on them. Hmm.. it would not surprise me if it turned out you were one of the “officers” who showed up and did not know the law. And, now you feel you have to overcompensate for something you don’t have.

    I suppose last year when the very educated skinner wanted to take it easy on the illegals, and the Citizens complained to the City Council, he stood his ground right? Well, I the City Council did not listen to the very educated skinner, but the Citizens. So, if you think the well educated skinner gets a free ride you are mistaken. In fact, I would not be surprised if the very educated skinner is working somewhere else soon. Sounds like you the one that is overcompensating for the police, guess you must have something for men in uniform.

    BTW, did you happen to listen to the 911 call? Or, read the foia report? If you did, you would know the men did nothing wrong, and even the calling said they did nothing wrong, but because he was not “comfortable” with the men, he just had to call the police, of course after he had finished eating.

  9. citizenofmanassas said on 28 Mar 2007 at 7:04 pm:
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    If you do not live in the City, how do you know the City does need the money?

  10. citizenofmanassas said on 28 Mar 2007 at 7:04 pm:
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    HA HA, you delated your post too late. Just come clean now.

  11. neighboring citizen said on 28 Mar 2007 at 7:17 pm:
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    Citizen of Manassas, HUH! I never said Chief Skinner doesn’t do anything wrong. Also, the Chief was against his officers recieveing ICE training and for the training be supplied to the Jail officers. That is exactly what the Council voted for until they found out that the Federal Govt. does not permit regional authorities such as the regional jail board to obtain the training, so the Chief did recieve what he asked for, it just wasn’t possible. I did read the foia report and listen to the 911 call and I still believe what I wrote before. I have always been told, if I do not feel right about a situation, then call the police, whether or not anything illegal is happening. That is what this citizen did, I guess this is all his fault because he wasn’t comfortable and it just didn’t seem right to him. Many a people have ignored their intuition and later wished they hadn’t and called the police.

  12. citizenofmanassas said on 28 Mar 2007 at 7:28 pm:
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    skinner was against any program to combat illegal immigration, because in his words, he did not want to ruin the relationship between the police and hispanics. He also said his officers were too busy, yet on a Saturday night, seven officers showed up at Tony’s, while a real crime was taking place elsewhere in the City. skinner now, has no choice in the matter regarding ICE and what the Council does. Sure, he can talk with them, but as you said, the Council will smile at him and do what the Citizens want. Which is something skinner does not.

    So, if you see someone driving the speed limit, you will call the police? That does not make sense to me. Do you realize what that type of attitude would do the police department? Instead of preventing and investigating real crimes, they would be too busy tracking down people driving the speed limit, and turning right on red after stopping.

    Why did the guy wait until after he finished eating to call the police? Had these men been up to no good, he wasted time by eating instead of calling the police when he first entered the restaurant.

    I am all for reporting criminal activity, but I can’t support someone who will call the police when there has not been a law broken, or any hint of a crime is about to happen.

  13. neighboring citizen said on 28 Mar 2007 at 7:57 pm:
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    COM, You are completely WRONG. Chief Skinner was not against the regional jail recieving the training. 7 officer responded because there was a call of 6 men with guns. You need to get that through your head. What other crime was occuring at that time? I am writing as I am trying to read your nonsense. When did I ever say you should call the police if people are driving the speed limit? If I need to explain it to you I will. If you see someone looking in the windows of cars in the mall parking lot, then you should call the police. It may be completely innocent, but you should call. Maybe the citizen didn’t see the guns until he finished. I don’t know, you don’t know and the police don’t know so they responded and handled the situation. Whether or not you and I agree, the owner, and several neutral patrons give a completly different tale of the events than do you, the VCDL and other bloggers on this site. I wasn’t there, it appears as if you weren’t there so the only ones who know for sure what happened are the people who were there and the over whelming majority say the police did nothing wrong. What more do you want?

  14. Greg L said on 28 Mar 2007 at 8:28 pm:
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    Skinner actually bitterly opposed any adoption of the Section 287(g) program in a work session with the city council, and only agreed to it when he could have the program initiated entirely within the Adult Detention Center over which he has no authority or responsibility. As long as he could pass this off to the Jail Board for action, he was all for the program. Just watch when the city council tries to effect an MOA with ICE for Manassas.

    Start getting your facts straight.

  15. Greg L said on 28 Mar 2007 at 8:31 pm:
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    COM, it was not neighboring citizen who deleted that comment, it was me who removed it. I left a stub instead of removing the post in order to send a message that the content of that post went over the line.

  16. neighboring citizen said on 28 Mar 2007 at 8:31 pm:
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    I do have my facts straight and Chief Skinner was NOT against the jail board having ICE training and stated so in the public session.

  17. Greg L said on 28 Mar 2007 at 9:02 pm:
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    I agree, but my point was that Skinner doesn’t make policy for the Jail Board and was adamantly opposed to participating in the 287(g) program with the Manassas City Police Department over which he DOES have authority.

    His opinion about what the Jail Board should do is no more authoritative than any random resident of Manassas. Don’t be fooled.

  18. citizenofmanassas said on 29 Mar 2007 at 7:29 am:
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    Again, did you listen to the 911 call? The dispatcher told the caller the men were not breaking the law, the caller said he was not sure if any law was broken, just that he was not comfortable with the guns. The dispatcher put the call out but not as one where a crime was about to take place or had just taken place. In other words the responding officers knew very well there was not a situation going on. Nobody else called police from the restaurant that night, only one guy and that was after he finished eating. Had he not called, this would have been a none event. Like many other times people have open carried at Tony’s. You just seem to be very anti-secont Amendment. Why don’t you just come clean on who you are, and what your agenda is.

    If you respect the law, you would realize what the men were doing was following the law, just as someone who is doing the speed limit. If someone is looking in the windows of cars in the parking lot, that is suspicious behavior. You are attempting to somehow link what the men did to shady behavior, you have failed to do that, but that does not stop you from trying to criminalize what these men did.

    I am not sure if it appears in the foia report, or as a later follow-up but the City admits there was a crime occurring elsewhere in the City while all seven officers were at Tony’s investigating law abiding citizens.

  19. Mike Austin said on 29 Mar 2007 at 9:16 am:
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    “…why don’t you and the VCDL boycott Tony’s …”

    Already done!

    My family has frequented Tony’s both locations since before moving to Manassas in 1994. We are shocked at the unprofessional disrespectful behavior of the MCPD officers in this case and very disappointed that someone at Tony’s would fall for this act of intimidation and order law-abiding citizen customers out.

    I have not been back to Tony’s since, but I do plan one more visit to let them know personally that they have made a mistake that cost them income.

    Do you think they have picked up any more customers who go there now because they feel safer that these gentlemen are not open carrying in the establishment? I don’t!
    Or do you think the reason for the absence of long time customers, such as my family, has dawned on the owners? It will!

    Tony’s still makes wonderful food but frankly I do not trust taking my family to an eatery that has been publicly advertised as a “NO CARRY ZONE”.

    Remamber Luby’s Cafe?

  20. citizenofmanassas said on 29 Mar 2007 at 12:55 pm:
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    I would also add that because Tony’s does not have a wait staff, people have to go up to the counter and order their food, and then return to the counter to pick it up. Seven armed men went up to the counter at least twice while at Tony’s on a Saturday night. If they were up to no good, do you suppose they would have ordered, gone up to the counter again, and then sat down as a group to eat? If there was so much concern, why were there not more phone calls made? Why did the manager not ask the men to leave at the time they were ordering food, or when picking up the food from the counter, where it gets pretty busy on a Saturday night?

  21. Philip Van Cleave said on 29 Mar 2007 at 7:11 pm:
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    Tony left for Italy shortly after the incident and was going to be gone for several weeks. I doubt they interviewed him. Instead it seems like they interviewed a manager. That’s not the same as interviewing Tony.

  22. Ray Snyder said on 29 Mar 2007 at 8:21 pm:
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    Citizens raise their hands in support of open carry of


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