On March 10, in a closed session of the Middleburg Town Council, Police Chief Steve Webber announced that he would retire from the force effective June 28, 2011.
At the time questions had been raised by this newspaper and others about Webber’s professional judgment and personal conduct during the arrest and parade down Federal Street of Middleburg Eccentric co-founder and Editor-in Chief Dee Dee Hubbard on November 30.
Subsequently, questions were raised about the recruitment and vetting process that resulted in Webber’s hiring as a part-time officer in the spring of 1996, and his subsequent promotions to full time officer, acting chief, and Chief of Police.
Upon the advice of counsel, Middleburg has not yet begun an investigation of Webber’s role in the incidents of November 30, pending the clearing of the Hubbard case from the Loudoun County Circuit Court dockets.
Press reports from 1996 and other documents uncovered by the Eccentric, however, now reveal more about the end of Webber’s career in Leesburg, and what was known, or not known about those events by those in Middleburg who later hired and promoted him.
Termination and First Appeals
According to Loudoun County Circuit Court documents, roughly two years before Webber first came to work as a Middleburg police officer, in the spring of 1994, a police officer under Webber’s command “ . . . was investigated by the Department for raping and assaulting a young woman and ultimately was dismissed from the Leesburg Police Department.”
The same documents reveal that officer’s superior, Steve Webber, was “ . . . investigated by the Department for failing to report the attack on the victim when it was reported to him and for covering it up.”
“After the charges against him were sustained,” the Court filings continue, “he too was dismissed from the Town Police Department.’”
Both officers appealed their terminations.
On or about October 27, 1994, records indicate, a grievance panel heard and upheld the decision to terminate the officer investigated for rape and assault.
Webber then retained a new lawyer, Peter D. Greenspun.
As a result, Webber’s hearing, initially set for November 22, 1994, was postponed for six months, until April 26, 1995.
On April 25, a day before the hearing was scheduled to begin, Webber’s attorney had “hand delivered,” a request that the Civil Division of the Loudoun County Circuit Court compel the Town of Leesburg and the Leesburg Police Department to reconstitute the panel that would hear Webber’s appeal.
On July 19, 1995, Judge Thomas D. Horne denied Webber’s request, though with an admonition that the panel overhearing the his appeal should be careful in its approach and “ . . . render a decision . . . solely on the evidence presented.”
The Grievance Panel’s Ruling
In early September 1995, after what Leesburg Today described as “several hearings,” the grievance panel that had upheld the firing of Webber’s subor dinate ruled that Webber himself should not be fired.
Instead, they recommended that he be reduced in rank from Sergeant to Private and re-hired, with back pay and reimbursement for the insurance payments he had covered from his own pocket while out of a job.
“Acting on the basis of the panel’s ruling,” the Leesburg Today account continued, “Webber reported for work on September 11,” but to no avail. Leesburg Town Manager Steven C. Brown, the paper reported, “claimed that the grievance panel had exceeded its authority.”
Back to Court
Webber then went back to court. On October 27, 1995, Judge Horne ruled in his favor, ordering “that the Town must reinstate Webber under a grievance panel ruling.”
But Leesburg again demurred, claiming that they had no job to offer Webber.
“Although a private’s position was vacant when the [grievance] panel’s ruling was made in September, it was filled,” according to Leesburg Today, “and there are no vacant private positions now with the Town.”
Fairfax attorney Jack Gould, retained by Leesburg as a special counsel in the Webber case, then filed a motion in Loudoun County Circuit Court to “reconsider or vacate the [reinstatement] ruling, because of confusion over what [Judge] Horne had initially ruled.”
In November 1995, Judge Carleton Penn, substituting for vacationing Judge Horne, ruled in Leesburg’s favor, vacating “an earlier order requiring the Town of Leesburg to reinstate former Police Sergeant Steven L. Webber on the force”.
“A new hearing on Webber’s position,” Leesburg Today reported, “will be heard in Judge Thomas Horne’s court in early December.’
Rebus Sic Stantibus
In December 1995, however, there was a fundamental change in the conditions surrounding Webber’s appeal and Leesburg’s opposition to rehiring him: a private’s position finally opened up on the Leesburg Police Force.
“Letter to the Editor”
With a private’s position now open Webber wrote a long, open letter to the editor, published on January 3 in Leesburg Today.
“I had no direct involvement in the alleged assault,” Webber wrote. “I have been assured that I violated no laws. I was accused of failing to report a crime, a crime which I did not witness nor could articulate had ever occurred.”
Noting that other senior officers on the Leesburg force had known about the incident and that he had himself had offered to take a polygraph test, Webber wrote that he thought “an apology and explanation is owed to the taxpaying citizens of Leesburg, myself included, for the outrageous amount of money the town has spent on outside legal assistance during this ordeal.”
Back to Court
Webber also went back to court to prevent the newly opened position in Leesburg from being filled before his case was resolved.
On January 5, according to Leesburg Today, Judge Horne heard a request from Webber’s Attorney, Peter D. Greenspun, that he issue a temporary restraining order preventing Leesburg “from hiring any more officers until Webber’s case is determined.”
Horne denied the request for the temporary restraining order, according the Loudoun Times Mirror, but set January 31 as the date for yet another hearing “ . . . in which the town can defend its position in the case.”
Leesburg Today was more direct. Judge Horne, it noted, had ordered “that the Town appear to show why it should not be held in contempt of court for not having rehired former Sgt. Steven L. Webber as Horned ordered in In October and again in December.”
The Times Mirror had also gained access to other court documents, reporting for the first time that “The records also state that Webber was demoted in 1994 because he failed to report that fellow law officers were intoxicated at the scene of an altercation at Payne’s Old Town Pub.”
As of January 24, 1996, however, the Loudoun Times Mirror was reporting that ,“ . . . despite a court order instructing the town to rehire Webber as a police officer, he has not yet been placed back on the force.”
As of press time, the story continued, “Fairfax Lawyer Jack Gould, speaking on behalf of the town, said “a notice of appeal has been filed with the court since December 29 . . . the first step in appealing Horne’s decision to a higher Court.”
Last Minute Settlement
Then, on January 30, 1996, the day before Leesburg was to appear before Judge Horne to show why it should not be held in contempt, the Town reached an out-of-court settlement with Webber.
After 15 months of hearings, rulings and counter rulings, Leesburg finally re-hired Webber, not as a private, but at his old rank of sergeant.
The town also gave him “an undisclosed cash settlement” and, in the words of one Leesburg Today reporter, Webber was “completely exonerated of any wrong doing.”
But there was a catch. The settlement also required Webber to resign from the Leesburg Police force . . . “immediately.”
He did so, and in May, started his new career in Middleburg, part time, serving as a private, under former Chief David R. Simpson.