Home Augusta County leader on deputy assault allegations: ‘I got my butt beat for not listening’
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Augusta County leader on deputy assault allegations: ‘I got my butt beat for not listening’

Chris Graham
Augusta County
(© Rex Wholster – stock.adobe.com)

Three Augusta County sheriff’s deputies are currently under investigation for allegedly assaulting criminal suspects.

Michael Shull, the chair of the Board of Supervisors, has their back.

“I grew up in an age when I come to school, I got my butt beat for not listening, I got my butt beat at home for not listening, and I know we don’t do that anymore, I don’t know that that’s a good thing, but you know, there were consequences for not listening,” Shull said at Wednesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, after a lengthy discussion among board members about the need for body and dash cameras for the county sheriff’s office.

It sure sounds there like Shull is saying, the suspects got what was coming to them.

Is this why Augusta County leaders keep backing away from efforts backed by more than 90 percent of county residents to outfit the sheriff’s office with body and dash cams?

The issue has been an unlikely political football for county leaders dating back several years, most recently coming to a head this past spring, when it seemed that the board was poised to finally approve funding for the cams, but then reversed course at the last minute, with one of the two board members who flipped from their earlier support, Beverley Manor Supervisor Butch Wells, suggesting that the county couldn’t afford the cost.

Critics of that penny-wise, pound-foolish move have come out in droves on social media since the most recent allegations involving a county sheriff’s deputy, which occurred on Saturday in Verona.

Deputy Andrew Simonetti was caught on video tackling a suspect without any apparent provocation, and as the video made the rounds on social media over the weekend, pressure mounted on Sheriff Donald Smith, who finally acted on Tuesday, announcing that he had placed Simonetti on paid administrative leave, and asked the Virginia State Police to investigate the incident.

This comes on top of the Nov. 22 arrest of another deputy, William Mikolay, on malicious wounding and assault and battery charges stemming from the Sept. 29 arrest of a wanted Gordonsville man that ended up putting the subject in the hospital.

Mikolay is also on paid administrative leave.

The third incident under review involves Deputy CJ Taylor, who is facing two assault and battery charges from an Aug. 31, 2022, incident in the City of Staunton.

Taylor is, you guessed it, also on paid administrative leave.

With those three ongoing investigations as the backdrop, Wayne District Supervisor Scott Seaton, at Wednesday’s board meeting, brought up separate motions aimed at jump-starting a move by the county to apply for grant funding that could be used to fund the implementation of a body- and dash-cam program.

The first motion, which failed by a 6-1 vote, would have authorized county government to apply for grant funding as soon as would be possible, to ensure that funds would be available in a timely manner to use alongside local funds, should the board decide to move forward with the purchase and implementation of body and dash cams.

After that motion failed, a second motion, to authorize the county administration to research what grant options are out there, passed by a 5-2 vote – with Shull and Vice Chair Jeffrey Slaven voting no.

Slaven didn’t explain his no vote, but Shull did, though perhaps, in retrospect, he would have been best advised to remain silent.

Referencing the situation involving Mikolay, was among those involved in the arrest of Adam Ryan Martin, 38, who at the time of the Sept. 29 arrest was wanted on a fentanyl possession charge in Fluvanna County, Shull offered what amounted to a defense of the deputy, who was charged after an investigation by State Police that led to a criminal referral to the Albemarle County Commonwealth’s Attorney.

“The one that was leaving Augusta County was leaving, and he was either, blue lights running behind him, the blue lights come on, it means pull over, it don’t mean keep running,” Shull said. “There’s consequences to what we do. If you look at probably the crimes across this nation, when they say, halt, put your hands up, get out of the car, all you got to do is listen. But we’ve got away from that, when we don’t listen to our parents, we don’t listen to our teachers, and so, there’s consequences.

“I know we have some bad, there may be, I’m not saying we’ve got bad officers here, but every once in a while, you may have one. The sheriff or whoever’s responsible weeds those out,” Shull said. “Before we point the finger and say that they’re guilty, we ought to let the system work and see what’s going on. And from my understanding, I don’t know that the State Police charged the deputy. I think the charges were brought up by the Commonwealth Attorney in Albemarle County.

“So, before we pass judgment, let’s give the deputies the benefit of the doubt for doing their job,” Shull said. “Maybe we need to go back to the schools where we start whipping them. But there is no disciplinary action for the consequences that you’re put under today. And so, you’re just slapped on the hand, even from the judges and things, they slap them on the hand and let them go. And that’s not the thing to do.”

The comment from Shull about going back to “where we start whipping them” is the one making the rounds on social media today.

Seaton addressed the issue with Shull’s words in real time.

“I just need to make a statement. I don’t think we can endorse our police officers not following their rules and beating somebody if that’s what he did there,” Seaton said. “It sounded awfully like you were endorsing, I guess, whipping kids in schools, and endorsing police officers beating, not following standards, standards that are upheld by a court. I just can’t stand here and just not say anything.”

Shull jumped in to offer a “clarification” that was anything but.

“I did not advocate for our deputies to whip anybody,” Shull said. “I was using an example of back in the day, when we got whippings and things that were discipline and things, and parents made their kids, and the teachers made kids, to listen. They didn’t kill them. And when I got my whippings in school and things, it didn’t kill me.

“I’m not advocating for the deputies to whip anybody, but the consequences of when the lights come on, they should pull over, they shouldn’t keep running,” Shull said. “In no way did I advocate for the deputies to do anything that is harmful to anybody that’s out here in Augusta County or the state of Virginia. But they should respect you and the law when they have done something wrong. All you’ve got to do is surrender. Don’t make the situation any worse than what it is.”

Shull didn’t follow his own advice there; now the focus of critics of the Board of Supervisors is on what sounded like his throaty endorsement of frontier justice.

“We have four police officers, I trust them when they arrest somebody, here, all four of these guys do an excellent job,” Seaton said, nodding toward sheriff’s deputies on duty at the board meeting on Wednesday. “I don’t know if they arrest people, I’ve only had good experiences, never been arrested, thank you, but I wouldn’t think that any of these police officers either would endorse beating somebody just because it was a bad guy.

“There are factors that have to be taken into account when you’re taking somebody into custody,” Seaton said. “I don’t think advocating that people deserve what they get for doing something wrong … punishment should occur after the court, not before the court.”

This would seem to apply to criminal suspects and to the deputies under investigation for assault, one and the same.

“Now that we have at least three deputies on paid leave being investigated for, I believe, two assaults and one malicious wounding, this creates a bad trend for the office and the county,” county resident Randall Wolf told supervisors at Wednesday’s meeting.

“You had the opportunity to fund body cameras, body and dash cameras, for the office for an average of four dollars per homeowner, and you chose not to. I ask you to reconsider that vote,” Wolf said. “We need to have good deputies who may be facing false charges prevented or from being discharged or, you know, having that evidence for their side, but we also need to get bad deputies off the street.

“If they are doing what these videos are showing them to do, we need to get rid of them,” Wolf said. “Video evidence is also hopefully going to shorten trials with pleas, convictions, because the evidence is going to get used in courts, and there could be more plea deals and reduce court time.

“I’m just sad that we’re in this position. We have a lot of people who are losing trust in our law enforcement agency in this county,” Wolf said.

Seaton, in making a similar point on where we are right now in Augusta County on this issue, referenced the Mikolay situation, involving a suspect who is, from a look at his lengthy rap sheet, not a good guy.

“The man who was arrested by the deputy has been charged with what I would consider despicable crimes and certainly needed to be captured. Yet we know how we now have a deputy under a cloud of charges who has entered the slow judicial process that will clear his name or find him guilty, a cloud that could easily have been clarified if he was wearing a body camera,” Seaton said.

“I certainly hope he is not guilty,” Seaton said. “The Virginia State Police concluded enough evidence existed to recommend the Albemarle County Commonwealth Attorney bring charges against the deputy. A camera in this situation would have shown the evidence that would have cleared the deputy. He would have been exonerated if he didn’t do what they’re charging of, the evidence of the deputy from doing something that he may now regret. None of us know if the deputy is guilty or innocent, yet a body-worn camera could have easily clarified and prevented the situation.”

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].