IOW sheriff under fire

Published 9:40 am Wednesday, June 23, 2010

ISLE OF WIGHT—A civil rights group calling for Isle of Wight County Sheriff C.W. “Charlie” Phelps to step down has also filed a complaint against Commonwealth’s Attorney Wayne Farmer with the Virginia State Bar.

The state Coalition for Justice for Civil Rights alleges that Farmer “committed prosecutorial misconduct” by not notifying defense attorneys that Jonathan Burns, a four-time convicted felon, was involved in some arrests.

Farmer, however, has said that he didn’t find out that a felon was working for the sheriff’s office until last month when he called for an investigation.

Coalition President Rudy Langford asked the county’s Board of Supervisors to support the coalition’s call for Phelps to step down during its meeting last Thursday.

“I’m here to ask you to support our recommendation,” Langford said. “This county does not have the trust and the confidence that you had before May 26.”

The board took no action after hearing the coalition’s request. Because the sheriff is elected, the board doesn’t have the power to govern the sheriff or his office.

Phelps has come under fire since it was revealed last month that Burns was working for his office and was involved in some arrests, according to Farmer.

Phelps maintains that Burns was simply a volunteer with the department. In a letter published in the June 13 edition of The Tidewater News, Phelps wrote that Burns “was never given authority to act in any capacity other than as an aide to the deputies and to office staff.”

Langford alleges that Burns’ involvement in arrests may have violated citizens’ civil rights.

“All folks that live within the jurisdiction of the United States deserve to have their rights protected,” Langford said.