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When is a push an assault? Can't we all be friends again?

Editor's Note: For some time The Journal refrained from reporting on the alleged assault of Police Chief Christopher Hawkins by Colonial Beach Vice Mayor Trish King, as a result of interviews held shortly after the incident. Having been informed by authorities that the matter did not rise to level of a story, but was more a matter between two councilpersons in the privacy of a back room, The Journal let the matter stay between the two persons involved. When the issue developed into a full-bloom investigation by a Commonwealth's Attorney, The Journal took another look. As far as the paper is concerned, the matter should have stayed between the two persons involved in the privacy of a back room. Since that was not to be, here are the facts.

Recent reports in local papers have facilitated the need to clear up some misinformation. Confusion and speculation was spawned from articles that make unnecessary inferences as to what took place regarding actions of officials who are obligated to look into the matter for the purpose of following procedures.

In an interview a few days after the incident, Chief Hawkins stated that a loud discussion ensued between Vice Mayor Trish King and Mayor Fred Rummage shortly after a recent town meeting after all of the public and press had left.

Hawkins stated that members of the council outside the room asked if he should go in when the conversation got loud. When Hawkins started in the door, he said King told him he wasn’t needed and shut the door. He did not elaborate on whether she pushed, shoved or even touched him. He told The Journal that he did not believe that any of King's actions were done out of malice.

Councilman David Coombes said King had asked him prior to her conversation with the Mayor to join them in the room. Coombes said he did not know why.  During a phone interview on Monday, when asked what happened that night Coombes said, “I would like to comment but I can’t.” He explained that it would not be ethical or proper for witnesses to comment while the incident is under investigation.

“When Trish King shut the door, the chief laughed heartily, the whole council got a chuckle out of it,” Councilman Sparkey Ridgely said.
Westmoreland Commonwealth’s Attorney Dean Atkins said he heard of the incident from an undisclosed source and was asked what he was going to do about it. Atkins then asked Hawkins for a report for procedural purposes.

“It is the Commonwealth’s attorneys’ job to review any incidents where a crime may have been committed,” Atkins said in a phone interview Monday morning.

“Matters that involve investigating an elected official require the consent of the attorney general,” Atkins said. “When the matter was referred to the State Police, they declined to seek consent, so it was passed on to me.”

Atkins obtained statements from all who were present and requested that Judge Designate Buford M. Parsons assign the case to someone else. Atkins felt that investigating the matter would be a conflict since he works so closely with all the officials in Colonial Beach on a regular basis.

Judge Parsons has assigned the case to King and Queen County’s Commonwealth’s Attorney Charles E. Adkins to investigate the matter; He did not receive the file until today.

In a phone interview Monday, Rummage said, “She [King] invited me back in the coffee room. I thought she was going to put an end to this nonsense. She got so loud that at some point the Chief came in; she approached him, put both hands on his chest and shoved him out the door.”
Rummage said the next day he called Hawkins and asked if he had filed an incident report.

Rummage said Hawkins told him that he had not. Rummage also said Hawkins “regretted not having taken action, in his 19 years of police work he has never allowed anyone to put their hands on him without taking appropriate action.”

Hawkins reply to this statement was that the appropriate action he was referring to was procedural paper work.

“It was an unfortunate incident,” Rummage said. “Trish King got all riled up. She just exploded.”

Rummage said she was wrapped up in their argument. When asked if he thought she would have reacted the same way if any one else had tried to enter the room Rummage replied, “She may have had the same reaction.”

Chief Hawkins
In a telephone interview Tuesday morning, Chief Hawkins explained that the matter is complicated because it involves a member of the police force as well as a government official.

Chief Hawkins said he is in a catch-22, because he works for the council, made up of public officials, and he has an obligation to uphold the law pertaining to physical contact with law enforcement personnel.

“If it is determined that a law was broken I am obligated to enforce the law.” Hawkins said, “I took an oath.”

Hawkins said he would not press charges if he were not a member of the police force and King were not a member of council.

When asked, “If the same incident took place but you were not a member of the police force and Trish King was not a member of council would you press charges?” Hawkins answered “No I would not.”

Hawkins said that in his career he has been in altercations with citizens and had three ribs broken and a finger cut off.
“I’ve had a lot worse done to me,” he said.

He understands the need for laws to prohibit citizens from making physical contact with law enforcement officers, but Hawkins said he’s “the victim in this case, no one else. It’s gotten to a point that it doesn’t need to be.”

Hawkins continues to maintain the belief that there was no intention of malice on the part of Trish King, “It’s in the hands of the Commonwealth, it’s up them to decide if a crime was committed.”

Linda Farneth

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