Henrico County leaders quietly quashed plans to hire a prosecutor dedicated to investigating complaints of police misconduct after learning earlier this month the lawyer selected for the job made frequent social media posts supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.
The new position would have been the first of its kind in the state, according to Commonwealth Attorney Shannon Taylor, an independently elected constitutional officer who said she was aware of the posts and saw nothing disqualifying about them when she extended the job offer to Misty Whitehead, an Army veteran who has been practicing law in the county for 13 years.
But in an unusual turn of events, Taylor was effectively overruled by County Manager John Vithoulkas, who has no formal say in hiring decisions in the prosecutor’s office but froze county funding for the position when he was alerted to Whitehead’s public postings on Facebook, where she wrote about the need for police reform, praised departments working to build bridges with activists and offered sharp criticism for departments resisting change.
“When I saw what I saw I immediately thought, you know, this is not what Shannon Taylor and I discussed,” Vithoulkas said, calling the writings a clear indication of anti-police bias. “A county manager can’t tell a commonwealth’s attorney who to hire, but he can recommend whether or not local funds are included to supplement that salary. And in this case, I absolutely will not do it under any circumstances.”
The dispute offers a window into just how contentious and polarizing matters of police reform can become as they filter down from the General Assembly to the local level, raising questions about who will be allowed to serve in new oversight roles state lawmakers plan to create and what perspectives they should bring to their jobs.
In an interview, Whitehead said she considered her life experience and point of view an asset in a position where she would be expected to represent the rights of victims of police misconduct. And she stresses none of her writings are anti-police — just anti-police brutality, calling it troubling that county officials would conflate the two.
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