Prince William County Police Chief Peter Newsham is defending his decision to investigate a critical email sent to the Board of County Supervisors.
Meanwhile, Potomac Supervisor Andrea Bailey said she was “astounded” by attacks on her role in the situation. Her comments came during the board’s meeting Tuesday as several residents blasted the board and Newsham was grilled by Republican supervisors about the situation.
Last month, county resident Bob Hand sent an email to the board with the subject line “Government Target.” The email was sent to all eight supervisors.
The email is critical of Bailey and Democratic Chair Ann Wheeler and references claims by local resident and frequent board critic Alan Gloss, who says he has been targeted by the two for his critiques of Democrats, who hold a 5-3 majority on the board.
Bailey forwarded the email to her husband, the Rev. Cozy Bailey, who then sent it to Newsham for the chief’s “situational awareness.”
During the meeting, Cozy Bailey defended his decision to send the email to Newsham.
“I made a complaint to our great and wonderful police department when I felt an implied threat had been transmitted to my spouse,” he said. “I’m not going to take what I consider a threat; I’m not going to ignore that and cower away from that. I will not tolerate even the impression of a physical threat on me and my family.”
A police sergeant visited Hand, saying that Hand did nothing wrong but that he wanted to speak with him. A follow-up email from the officer to Hand included links to sections of Virginia code regarding computer harassment and threats.
Republicans and critics said they were concerned the police were being politicized to suppress speech and that Newsham either abused his power or was pressured by the Baileys into sending an officer to Hand’s house.
“There’s been a lot of communication over this issue. There’s been allegations that this has been done by the police department for political purposes,” Newsham said. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
The longest exchange Tuesday came between Newsham and Gainesville District Supervisor Pete Candland, who reviewed the sequence of events in detail to determine why an officer was sent to Hand’s house.
“I’m here to make sure you’re not abusing your power as chief of police,” Candland said.
Candland asked Newsham several times what in the email was threatening. Newsham said the subject line falls into a gray area where it could be interpreted as threatening.
“Are you saying if stuff falls in the gray area you don’t want us to follow up?” Newsham said. “I believed there was concerning language in the email that required followup.”
Newsham and Candland became testy with each other before Wheeler intervened and urged decorum.
“I am disappointed in the confrontational nature you’ve shown here today,” Candland said. “It definitely seems like you’re trying to double down on this. I appreciate that. You feel like you were in the right and I appreciate your comments.”
Brentsville District Supervisor Jeanine Lawson said she has received a death threat, and it would be clearly distinguishable from a routinely critical email. She implied that the Baileys pushed Newsham to take action.
“It’s important that everybody knows that Supervisor Bailey has a pattern in doing this,” she said. “Does Mr. Hand sometimes use rhetoric that is bothersome to me? Yeah, I think so. But that’s his First Amendment right.”
Newsham said he was not influenced by anyone and did not abuse his authority.
“Certainly we didn’t think it would be this much of a stir about this particular incident,” he said. “It’s hard to pressure me into doing something like that. I felt it was the right thing to do.”
During public comment, Hand referred to Andrea Bailey as “Supervisor Baloney.”
“You’re wrong, you’re caught and you’re pretending to be stupid,” Hand said. “You want decorum? Show us that you’re worth it. … You were never under threat.”
Andrea Bailey thanked Hand for speaking at meetings and for routinely reaching out to her but said she was “astounded” that her colleagues attacked her for the situation.
“I offer you the opportunity to talk, not attack, because I think when you do that you break down the fiber of what makes Prince William County great,” she said, then referring to Lawson. “Women in this country have a hard time leading so we don’t need to take the opportunity to tear each other down as we are leading.”
The board did not take any formal action on the situation.