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$20 million malicious prosecution lawsuits should go to trial in 2014

The malicious prosecution lawsuits filed by Bryan Oliff, Westmoreland County’s popular restaurant owner, and two of his employees against Westmoreland County Deputy Sheriff Anthony Darby, should go to trial in 2014.


Retired Circuit Court Judge William D. Hamblen has been selected to hear the cases. Oliff and two of his employees, Josh Sanford and Lois Wright, are seeking a total of $20 million in compensatory and punitive damages in their suits against Darby.

Hamblen was appointed to hear the cases after Westmoreland County Circuit Judge Harry Taliaferro recused himself, following a motion by the plaintiffs’ attorney, James Thorsen, asking that none of the judges sitting on the 15th Circuit be allowed to hear the cases.

The lawsuits are the result of actions taken by Darby, a detective with the Westmoreland County Sheriff’s Office, and other officers that caused the filing of five felony complaints against Oliff on May 9, 2012. Oliff was publicly arrested at his catering business 13 days later. Also arrested that day were Oliff’s employees, Sanford and Wright.

Oliff was charged with five complaints of selling, giving or distributing a controlled substance which imitated a controlled substance, a Class 6 felony under Virginia law. Sanford was arrested on one count of the same charge, and Wright was arrested on two counts of the same.

Oliff and his employees have consistently and vehemently denied all charges filed against them. Darby and the Westmoreland County Sheriff’s Office said that the charges were the result of an undercover investigation resulting from information supplied by James Calvin Newsome, a confidential informant, who was facing felony charges for grand larceny at the time and who was seeking a plea bargain.

Four months after the arrests, Matthew Ackley, a special prosecutor from Henrico County, who was handling the cases for the Commonwealth of Virginia, decided not to proceed against Oliff and his two employees and terminated the prosecutions because of a lack of evidence to support the charges.

The lawsuits claim: that Darby and other sheriff’s officers knew or should have known that Newsome was “unreliable and untrustworthy”; that Darby and others sought “to injure Oliff personally”; that Darby brought the charges without probable cause; and that the prosecution was “malicious, done with bad faith, done with a reckless, willful and wanton disregard” of the rights of Oliff and his two employees “with actual malice and intent to injure”.

Oliff, now 49, is a former W&L High School football player who is well-known and well-liked in the community. He is a former member of the Westmoreland County School Board and the owner of Angelo’s Pizza. Oliff had no criminal record prior to the arrests.

The lawsuits also claim that Darby and other officers, working with the Tri-County Narcotics Task Force, between February and April 2012, gave Newsome more than $900 to purchase drugs from Oliff and his employees. Newsome entered Oliff’s restaurant in Montross five different times with money provided him by Darby and returned to give officers a plastic baggie of white powder that Newsome said was cocaine.

The lawsuits allege that Darby claimed to have the drug sales on audio and video recordings, and that Darby also claimed he had conducted positive field tests of the substances provided by Newsome. However, according to the lawsuits, on April 4, 2012, a report from the Commonwealth of Virginia Forensics Department in Richmond advised officers “the substance was not a controlled substance” in any of the five incidents.

According to the lawsuits, a review of audio and video recordings of the alleged drug sales did not show any criminal activity.

Oliff’s suit seeks compensatory damages of $10 million and punitive damages of $2 million.  Sanford’s suit seeks $2 million in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages. Wright’s suit seeks $4 million in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages.

 

 

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