Assault charge stems from GOP Senate nomination dispute

Published 12:26 pm Wednesday, March 29, 2023

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An ongoing dispute over the method of selecting a Republican nominee for Virginia’s new 17th Senate District turned physical at a March 8 meeting of the district’s city- and county-level GOP chairs, court filings allege.

Ousted Suffolk GOP Chairwoman Dawn Jones, who’s fighting her removal and suing the state to force the scheduled June 3 convention in Franklin to change to a June 20 primary election, has filed a criminal complaint against another person who attended the meeting.

The complaint alleges Jennifer Boykin of Isle of Wight County grabbed Jones’ arm as the two were leaving the Ruritan clubhouse in Walters, where the meeting occurred.

Jones herself did not immediately respond when contacted by the Times. Boykin referred a reporter to her attorney.

Jones’ complaint alleges that while Boykin was grabbing Jones’ arm, Boykin held her cellphone in Jones’ face to record her, then yelled at Jones.

According to Capt. Tommy Potter, spokesman for the Isle of Wight County Sheriff’s Office, deputies served Boykin with a warrant for misdemeanor assault and battery and a temporary protective order.

The incident report indicates that Jones called deputies on March 10, two days after the meeting. The complaint Jones signed in the presence of Suffolk Magistrate Alanna Rawls is dated March 14.

It is unclear why Boykin was at the meeting, as she is not Isle of Wight’s GOP chair. Bill Yoakum, who did not immediately respond to the Times request for comments, holds the Isle of Wight GOP chairmanship.

Boykin’s attorney, Fred Taylor, told the Times he was also unaware of what, if any, position Boykin holds within the county-level GOP or the 17th District’s committee. Boykin is a member of Isle of Wight County’s Planning Commission, an appointed 10-member body tasked with making recommendations on land-use decisions to county supervisors.

“We wholly dispute the accusations, and look forward to demonstrating Mrs. Boykin’s innocence at the trial in this matter,” Taylor said.

Boykin is scheduled to appear July 13 in Isle of Wight General District Court for a 1 p.m. hearing.

At the heart of Jones’ lawsuit is an allegation that Gov. Glenn Youngkin, Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares and other “high-ranking Republican Party officials” have unlawfully been “working to support” one candidate over the other in the 17th District’s GOP race, and believe “a small convention would favor this candidate more than a primary.”

Del. Emily Brewer, R-Isle of Wight, is running for the party’s nomination against retired NASCAR driver Hermie Sadler of Emporia. The new district, created in 2021 based on the 2020 Census, encompasses 10 localities, including Isle of Wight and Suffolk.

According to a court filing by state Republican Party Chairman Rich Anderson, the 2nd Congressional District Legislative Committee met Feb. 25 and appointed Steve Trent – a Brewer supporter – in Jones’ place as Suffolk GOP chairman. Trent had given Brewer a $500 donation in December, according to campaign finance reports.

Sadler, in a March 10 email to the Times, contended that since Suffolk, at 34%, holds the largest weighted vote of the 10 localities, Suffolk’s GOP chairman would have “control over the mass meeting” at a convention and could decide “who can vote.” Jones, who called herself the “rightful chair” in a March 1 letter published to the Suffolk GOP’s Facebook page, decried the change in chairmanship as an effort to “suppress conservative members” of the chapter.

According to the Virginia Republican “Party Plan,” a bylaws document, congressional district committees have the authority to replace a local Republican Party chapter’s chair if it determines the local unit or its current chair has “failed to function.” The 2nd Congressional is composed of all city- and county-level GOP chairs in U.S. Rep. Jen Kiggans’ district, which shares some of the same jurisdictions as the state-level 17th Senate District.

Anderson contends in his filing that Jones, who remains chairwoman of the 17th District despite her ouster from Suffolk’s chapter, acted beyond her authority when she called a special March 1 meeting of the 17th’s committee, “refused to recognize” Trent, and cast Suffolk’s vote herself in favor of changing the convention to a primary.

The March 8 meeting, Anderson’s filing alleges, had been called by Trent, but saw Jones “again usurp” Trent’s Suffolk vote and overrule “valid points of order challenging her voting authority.” 

Anderson’s filing alleges the meeting ended with Jones approving an “improper vote to adjourn” in an “effort to block a vote by 77% of the weighted votes of rightful members.”

Richmond Circuit Court Judge Claire Cardwell heard arguments from Jones’ lawyer, an attorney for Sadler and the Attorney General’s office on March 27 and expects to rule on Jones’ lawsuit by March 29.