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Roop v. Whitt

Supreme Court of Virginia

February 26, 2015

BRAD L. ROOP
v.
J.T. " TOMMY" WHITT, IN HIS CAPACITY AS SHERIFF

FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF MONTGOMERY COUNTY. J. Howe Brown, Jr., Judge Designate.

PRESENT: Lemons, C.J., Goodwyn, Millette, Mims, and McClanahan, JJ., and Russell and Lacy, S.JJ. OPINION BY JUSTICE WILLIAM C. MIMS.

OPINION

Page 693

[289 Va. 276] WILLIAM C. MIMS, JUSTICE.

In this appeal, we consider whether a sheriff's deputy is a local employee for the purposes of Code § 15.2-1512.4.

I. BACKGROUND AND MATERIAL PROCEEDINGS BELOW

Brad L. Roop was Captain of Criminal Investigations in the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office (" MCSO" ). In May 2012, an

Page 694

employee of the Virginia Department of Forensic Science (" DFS" ) [289 Va. 277] informed Roop that the laboratory had repeatedly failed to detect any controlled substances in evidence submitted by the MCSO Street Crimes Unit (" SCU" ). Roop met with Sheriff J.T. " Tommy" Whitt because Roop believed that the information from DFS could suggest corruption, impropriety, or malfeasance by MCSO employees. Whitt directed Roop to investigate the matter.

During his investigation, Roop discovered what he considered to be troubling irregularities in several cases involving controlled substances, domestic violence, and child endangerment. The alleged irregularities included misrepresentations to the Commonwealth's attorney's office, alteration of incident reports, use of a deputy's brother as a confidential informant, and controlled drug buys that failed to yield controlled substances.

On June 23, 2012, Roop reported his findings to Whitt. On June 26, Whitt met with the captain supervising the SCU. Later that day, Whitt met with Roop and informed Roop that his discoveries had been sufficiently explained. Roop disagreed, advising Whitt that the evidence contained in Roop's report could not be ignored.

On June 29, Whitt suspended Roop with pay and informed him that Whitt would initiate an internal affairs investigation by the Blacksburg Police Department into Roop's conduct. Roop was never provided with the results of such an investigation, if any. However, Whitt subsequently informed Roop that he believed Roop had initiated the SCU investigation for personal reasons, including a desire to discredit the SCU's incumbent supervising captain so Roop could command the unit himself. On August 28, Whitt terminated Roop's employment with the MCSO.

On December 7, 2012 Roop filed a complaint alleging that his termination was impermissible retaliation, in violation of Code § 15.2-1512.4, which protects the right of " any local employee to express opinions to state or local elected officials on matters of public concern." In May 2013, he filed a motion for leave to amend the complaint and a proposed amended complaint pursuant to Rule 1:8. Whitt opposed Roop's motion. In July, Roop filed a new amended complaint substantially different from the one he proposed in May with his motion for leave to amend.

Whitt filed a demurrer to the July amended complaint and a motion to dismiss, arguing that Code ยง 15.2-1512.4 created no right [289 Va. 278] of action. He further argued that even if the statute created a right of action, ...


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