Reed fires opponent in sheriff’s race

Published 5:02 pm Friday, September 11, 2015

Prince Edward County Deputy Sheriff Brandon S. Cummings was fired last week by Sheriff Wesley W. Reed, who faces Cummings on the Nov. 3 ballot.

In a letter to Cummings dated Sept. 8, Reed wrote, “I, Sheriff Wesley W. Reed of Prince Edward County Sheriff’s Office, in accordance to Virginia code section 15.2-1603, your services are no longer required as of today, 8 September 2015.”

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Reed declined to comment on Cummings’ dismissal. “It’s a personnel issue and I’m not going to make any comment,” he said.

A photograph of the letter, sent to The Herald by Cummings, has a handwritten time of 1:30 p.m. beside its date.

Weeks ago, Cummings applauded the Aug. 16 release of a photo by supporter Brandon Whitehead that depicted a person reclining under a blanket in the sheriff’s dispatch center.

“I made comments on the photo … . Ever since any of that happened, basically it became a hostile working environment,” Cummings said.

The candidate, who said he was reassigned from patrol to courtroom security before being fired, said that “the hostile work environment continued when the (Herald) article came out that ran with the photo.”

Cummings said Reed didn’t give him a verbal reason for his firing. “All he did was hand me the letter. He didn’t say anything,” Cummings said.

“Rather than running an honorable race and trying to compete against me fairly, he decided to eliminate me from the equation by letting me go,” he said.

Cummings called the action an abuse of Reed’s power, though he said he wasn’t planning on any litigation pertaining to his dismissal.

According to the section of the Code of Virginia that Reed cited in his letter, the sheriff “may at the time he qualifies … or thereafter appoint one or more deputies, who may discharge any of the official duties of their principal during his continuance in office, unless it is some duty the performance of which by a deputy is expressly forbidden by law … Any such deputy may be removed from office by his principal.”

Reed told the Herald last month that distribution of the photo Cummings endorsed was politically motivated. The sheriff cited climate-control issues in the dispatch center as a possible reason for the employee’s reclining beneath a blanket. He also said the employee might have been praying instead of sleeping.

When The Herald asked Whitehead how he obtained the photo and who took it, he replied, “The person doesn’t want that released, however it was very concerning to me and I thought it needed attention.”

County Supervisor Robert M. “Bobby” Jones, who represents the Lockett District on the Prince Edward Board of Supervisors, said he wasn’t aware of any issues related to climate control in the sheriff’s office.

“I just think that’s an issue that the sheriff needs to take care of and see if it was a problem and if it is, get it corrected,” Jones said of the photo.

Jones said that if “the person was napping, then that definitely needs to be straightened out.”

He said that, some time ago, supervisors looked into combining the county’s dispatch system with the Town of Farmville’s.

“If we could combine it … I thought it’d be a good idea,” Jones said. He said he’d support looking into the idea if the matter comes back up.

“I think looking into it again … It wouldn’t cost a lot of money. It might take a little time and effort, and maybe we would clear up some of the questions about this situation while we’re doing that too,” he said.

When asked about the climate-control issues, county Supervisor Jim Wilck who represents Farmville (District 701), said he was unaware of such a problem, “but I don’t spend that much time in the courthouse itself.”

“As it was depicted, I was sorry to see it,” Wilck said of the photo. “It was such a poorly taken picture [that] it was kind of hard to make out, actually.”