Town officials defend hire

Published 3:04 pm Wednesday, September 10, 2008

BOYKINS—Officials here continue to assert that they were following the wishes of their constituents when they hired a man convicted of having sex with a minor as the new town sergeant.

A petition with 123 signatures was revealed on Monday to have contributed to the decision of Boykins Town Council to hire James Henry “Hank” Fuller for the $26,200-a-year job.

“We’re looking at the people that vote,” Councilwoman Mary Elizabeth Washington said in a telephone interview on Monday. “We work for the town, and we work for the people. When the people speak, we’ve got to listen to them. The townspeople spoke, and they told us what they wanted.” Boykins had 391 registered voters at the beginning of this month, according to the Virginia State Board of Elections.

In fact, 13 people, including Fuller, spoke on the applicant’s behalf during a special meeting of the Town Council on Sept. 2. None spoke against hiring him for the job.

David Collins of The Pharmacy of Boykins began the petition drive in support of Fuller before there were even any other applicants for the job, he said Tuesday. Collins, who said he had “known Hank for a long time,” placed a petition on the counter at his store and “didn’t push it” on customers, he said.

Fuller, he explained, deserved the job because of his past service to Boykins, both as a trooper for the Virginia State Police and as a volunteer with the fire department.

Until his arrest in April, Fuller served as a trooper in the State Police Area 34 office in Courtland, with duties in Southampton and Isle of Wight counties.

Sources confirmed Tuesday that Fuller was at one time a member of the Boykins Volunteer Fire Department, but they said he is no longer associated with that organization.

“I know in my heart that Hank is a decent man, and he is going to be an asset to our town,” Washington said. “People are going to have to give him a chance.”

Second chances were the theme of many Fuller-related discussions this week, both in person and online, after news broke during the weekend that he had been hired to be Boykins’ only full-time law enforcement officer.

“He’s paid his dues; it’s over with,” Mayor Spier Edwards said Tuesday.

As mayor, Edwards was unable to participate in the 4-1 vote that resulted in Fuller’s appointment as town sergeant, and last week he was unwilling to say much about the decision. On Tuesday, however, he fired back at those who have criticized the decision.

“A whole lot of people wouldn’t be where they are now, if they hadn’t been given a second chance,” he said. “It’s time for him to get on with his life, and it’s time for (detractors) to get out of his life.”

Fuller came under investigation early this year, when an 18-year-old Newsoms woman reported that she had been in a consensual relationship with him since 2005.

The victim, whose name is being withheld in accordance with The Tidewater News’ policy of protecting the identities of sexual abuse victims, started the relationship with Fuller when she was 15 and he was 26, according to court documents.

The relationship quickly turned sexual, according to a courtroom description of the case by Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Cooke, who indicated there were at least three 2005 sexual encounters, one when the victim was 15 and the other two when she was 16.

The victim had recorded accounts of the encounters in two journals that she provided to investigators as evidence.

An affidavit supporting a request for a search warrant stated that the couple’s relationship continued until January of this year.

Fuller pleaded guilty in Southampton Circuit Court this spring to two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and one count of having consensual sexual relations with a minor. All three charges are misdemeanors.

Councilwoman Washington said in an interview and in an online posting at this week that the fact that Fuller had not forced the victim into the sexual relationship had mitigated her decision to vote in favor of his employment.

“It takes two to tango,” she said. Asked how she would respond if the victim had been her own daughter or granddaughter, though, she admitted that she would be “mad and upset” and said she “would probably want him to leave (them) alone.” In amplified comments online, she wrote, “I would also report him.”

Washington and Collins, the pharmacist, both said that detractors are missing the connection between hiring Fuller and the town’s motto: “A small town with a big heart.”

The council’s decision, they said, is proof of that big-hearted forgiveness.

Continuing coverage of that decision, not to mention the comments of many who disagree with it, they said, is unfair and paints the community in a bad light.

“We are trying to make this a positive thing,” Collins said. “This is behind us.”