Former deputy admits destroying evidence

Jury finds Delaplane woman guilty of drug possession

In circuit court last Thursday (Nov. 5), former Rappahannock County Sheriff’s deputy Daniel Stevens pleaded guilty to a charge of destruction of evidence. He was sentenced to 12 months in jail, all suspended; 100 hours of community service; and 12 months of supervised probation. The 38-year-old Huntly resident resigned in May after an investigation by Virginia State Police.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Art Goff told the court that in May Stevens stopped an 18-year-old girl for a traffic violation. Smelling marijuana, Stevens searched the car and found a container with what appeared to be marijuana. He field-tested the substance to confirm that it was marijuana, took it as evidence, and issued a summons to the girl. “Later he contacted the girl by Facebook and asked her to meet him at midnight and to bring the summons,” said Goff. “When they met, Mr. Stevens tore up the summons and dumped the marijuana on the ground.”  

Stevens and the girl then started communicating, sending inappropriate photos, until a school counselor discovered the relationship and contacted police.

Stevens, who had served as a deputy in the county for almost a decade, apologized to the court and to his former coworkers, several of whom were in the courtroom. “It’s a sad day today,” he said. “Moving forward, family is my priority. My career is over. I wasn’t growing in my faith and it led me down a wrong path.”

In light of Stevens’s “unblemished record,” said Goff, “no incarceration is called for.” He then recommended that Stevens perform community service.  

Before sentencing, Judge Jeffrey W. Parker told Stevens, “This case is very troubling to the court. Fortunately, it’s only a misdemeanor. You violated the public trust for a prurient interest. It’s very troubling.”

The meaning of possession

After deliberating for about an hour and 15 minutes, a jury Thursday returned a verdict of guilty for Ashley Dawn Sweeney, charged with possession of a schedule I or II drug. Sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 17.

The 29-year-old Delaplane resident was arrested in May on outstanding warrants obtained by RCSO Deputy M. Dodson following an incident in Rappahannock County on Jan. 27. Besides the felony possession charge, Sweeney was also charged with possession of a schedule III drug and possession of controlled paraphernalia. She pleaded guilty to the two misdemeanors and will be sentenced for those offenses also on Dec. 17.

In his testimony, Dodson told the court that in the January incident, “I responded to a domestic disturbance call on Fodderstack Road about 11:40 a.m.,” where Sweeney was staying with a friend and the friend’s boyfriend. “I handled the dispute [between Sweeney and the boyfriend].” Because the boyfriend requested that Sweeney be served with a protective order, Dodson said he took her to the magistrate for processing and “then back to the house. I told her I would drive her to where she wanted to stay as long as it was in Rappahannock County.”

Dodson said that when they arrived back at the Fodderstack house, “Sweeney collected her belongings. It took about 10 to 15 minutes. She had several bags and a large box. I told her I would have to search her belongings before they could go into the squad car.”

Going through one of Sweeney’s bags, Dodson found a eyeglass case. He asked if it belonged to Sweeney and if he could look inside. She replied yes to both questions. Inside were insulin, a small spoon with residue, and three syringes, one of which had a little liquid in it, Dodson testified.

He then found a small painted metal box. “Inside was a baggie containing a plant-like material,” said Dodson. “I asked her what it was and she said she didn’t know, that her friend had given her the box. I suspected the material to be mushrooms, but I didn’t know for sure.” He took the box and its contents as evidence and drove Sweeney to the other residence. Later, Dodson testified that the material was lab tested and proved to be psilocin, a psychedelic, mushroom-derived controlled substance. He also testified that he had not requested that the lab do a fingerprint or DNA analysis of the box and its contents.

Under cross examination by Sweeney’s attorney Kevin Gerrity, Dodson said he did not go upstairs in the Fodderstack house to help Sweeney bring down her belongings. He also stated that he did not search Sweeney when he arrested her for the domestic disturbance and that Sweeney had been very cooperative during the search of her belongings.

When Sweeney took the stand, she corroborated the basic information about the incident, adding that before leaving the magistrate’s office, she had phoned her friend at the Fodderstack house. “I told her I was moving out,” she said. “[The friend] told me she would pack up my items.” When she arrived back at the house, most of her things were packed up. She only had to retrieve a few other possessions.

Sweeney testified that the boyfriend was still there and still angry and that Dodson had “come part way up the stairs” to help her carry down her belongings.

“When the deputy opened my bags and found the glasses case, I told him the [syringes] were my stuff, but that I was not using them,” said Sweeney. They had been in a locked box in the house to keep them away from her friend’s children. She also testified that “I did not retrieve the metal box at the house. It was in the bags already.”

Under questioning from Goff, Sweeney explained that her friend had given her the metal box along with a shoebox of other trinkets that had belonged to the friend’s grandmother. “I put the shoebox in a dresser and I never looked inside the metal box. We were too busy with her grandmother’s estate, taking care of four kids, and holding yard sales,” said Sweeney.    

Before closing arguments, Parker instructed the jury that “the Commonwealth must prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant knowingly and willingly possessed the drug.” In addressing the jury, Goff claimed that Sweeney did knowingly possess the substance. “The box was hers, kept in her room,” he said.

Gerrity argued that Sweeney had “constructive possession” meaning that the items were not found on her person. “Ms. Sweeney cooperated with the deputy,” he said. “She had no knowledge of what was in the box. If Ms. Sweeney had been high, if she had been uncooperative, if she had concealed the items—that would tell you something.” Because the deputy had not asked for a fingerprint analysis, he said, there was no evidence that Sweeney had even handled the box.

During the 75 minutes that the jury deliberated, they requested information from Parker on two matters—did their verdict have to be unanimous and did they have to rule based on both the presence of the substance found in the box and the character of the substance? Parker answered yes to both questions.

After finding Sweeney guilty, they recommended that her sentence be a $500 fine.

In district court

In district court Nov. 3, Pamela Denise Lang, 41, of Marshall, pleaded guilty to a charge of failing to report to the Rappahannock Shenandoah Warren Regional Jail to serve out a sentence for a first offense of driving under the influence with a blood alcohol level of .15 percent to .20 percent. On July 7, she pleaded guilty to the charge and was sentenced to 90 days in jail with all but five days suspended, to be served on weekends; and 12 months’ suspension of her license. She was sentenced to 30 days in jail for the failure to report charge. Another charge of contempt was dropped.

Devon Antonio Durant, 27, of Chester Gap, was arraigned on a misdemeanor charges of marijuana possession, driving under a revoked or suspended license, and reckless driving. His case was continued to Dec. 1.

Charles Mark Frinks, 53, of Huntly, was arraigned on a first incidence of DWI, failure to stop at the scene of an accident, and operating a vehicle while texting. His case was continued to Dec. 1.

Akira Zhane Irving, 18, of Front Royal, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of marijuana possession and was sentenced to 30 days in jail, all suspended.

Paul Allen Wenner, 57, of Annandale, was arraigned on a first incidence of DWI and drinking while driving with an open container. His case was continued to Dec. 8.

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