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The long, winding road to Augusta County finally approving body, dash cams

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

For three years, Augusta County leaders forcefully resisted approving money for the purchase of body cameras and dashboard cameras for the Augusta County Sheriff’s Office.

Last night, the Augusta County Board of Supervisors, without a word spoken on the issue, finally relented.

Buried in the minutiae of the fiscal-year 2025 county budget approved on Wednesday by the Board of Supervisors is $877,049 to pay for 110 body-worn cameras, 60 in-car cameras, and two associated IT personnel for the sheriff’s office, and two staff positions in the Augusta County Commonwealth’s Attorney office to work on cam footage.

And so, I guess, after three years of back-and-forth, contentious public hearings, weeks of protests in front of the sheriff’s office a couple of summers ago, that’s it.

What took so long, would seem to be a good question here.

Local activists have been raising the body and dash cams issue since a pair of officer-involved shootings in Augusta County in 2021, one of which led to the death of a Grottoes man who had told family members of his desire to die by suicide-by-cop.

County Sheriff Donald Smith was the first and most significant roadblock on the cams issue. In the wake of the outcry over the officer-involved shootings, Smith insisted that he simply had other budget priorities, highlighting communications capabilities and salary improvements for his deputies and support staff as ranking higher on his wish list than the cams.

Thing is, both were actually reasonable points, considering the wide expanse of the county, which stretches 971 square miles, comparable to the state of Rhode Island, and the low pay for county sheriff’s deputies relative to other law enforcement agencies in the state and nationally.

The underlying issue there is, the Board of Supervisors, for too long, has taken perverse pride in spending the bare minimum to provide public services to county residents, though, to be fair, the people who elect the people who take that perverse pride seem to demand the bare minimum.

There’s a reason the schools aren’t up to snuff, basic infrastructure is held together by spit and tape, why it can take an hour for a deputy to show up for a 911 call.

This is what county residents have been voting for, for years, decades.

In other words, yep, you get what you paid for.

And so it was that the Board of Supervisors used Smith’s convenient other priorities as its excuse for not providing funding for body and dash cams.

But there was something else, aside from the penny-wise, pound-foolishness, going on not far beneath the surface that dragged the cams issue on longer than needed to be the case.

The something else was the near-decade-long feud between county leaders and Nexus Services, whose executives have targeted Smith and Commonwealth’s Attorney Tim Martin both in rhetoric and legal actions, and also backed the contentious local Black Lives Matter-sponsored protests at the county sheriff’s office in the wake of the 2021 officer-involved shootings.

Those protests would later provide another convenient excuse for the county to hold off on funding the body and dash cams. One member of the Board of Supervisors, Gerald Garber, cited the protests as an effort to try to, in effect, bully the county into taking action on the body and dash cams issue, and a reason why he was, thus, not in support of funding the cams in the fiscal-year 2024 budget cycle.

The big break in the logjam, perhaps, is that the Nexus Services part of this story seems to be on its way to being neutralized. A federal judge, last month, ordered the company, its subsidiary, Libre by Nexus, company CEO Mike Donovan, former company executive Richard Moore and Libre by Nexus vice president Evan Ajin to pay more than $811 million in restitution and civil penalties stemming from irregularities in its immigration bonding business.

Part of the fallout from that has been the attempt by Nexus Services to find a new buyer. The status of the sale would seem to be at question after it came to light that the buyer, Vincent J. Smith, the president of the Reading, Pa.,-based Capital Bonding Corporation, failed to mention, in a required declaration in federal court, his convictions of forgery and conspiracy relating to bail bond fraud in 2015.

This is all going on as Donovan, Moore and Nexus Services executive Timothy Shipe face charges from a 2022 indictment in a local case in which it is alleged that Donovan and Moore stole $426,000 from Zachary Cruz, the brother of Parkland High School mass shooter Nikolas Cruz.

So, yes, there’s a lot going on there with the Nexus Services part of the story, including this additional matter, one that has gotten us here at Augusta Free Press caught up in the middle of this Augusta County-Nexus Services feud.

AFP and Breaking Through News, which features articles written by Donovan’s and Moore’s son, and former cast members of a Nexus Services-produced TV show – are the two parties bringing suit over a public-records request involving the resignation of former Board of Supervisors member Steven Morelli in 2023.

The surviving suit in that case is the one brought by Breaking Through News, and that suit, at last check, is still making its way through the state court system, though it’s unclear how the issues that have arisen in the aftermath of the $811 million federal judgement against Nexus Services may play a role in that case moving forward, just from a monetary standpoint.

So, that’s how we got here.

It’s been a long, winding road from the officer-involved shootings in 2021 making us realize that we need our deputies and their vehicles outfitted with cameras to, three years later, finally getting money in the budget to make that happen.

But hey, we’re finally there.

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].