Former police officer challenges firing again

STRASBURG – Former town police officer Aaron Lewis has taken the legal battle to regain his job to federal court.

Lewis has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Harrisonburg against Police Chief Tim Sutherly, who fired Lewis in early 2010. Sutherly cited excessive use of force, violating safety rules and making a false official statement as his reasons for firing Lewis. The town is also listed as a defendant.

Lewis denied the accusations in a complaint accompanying the federal lawsuit. He insisted, as he has previously, that the town failed to give him a fair chance to defend himself against the accusations and, in doing so, violated his due process rights under the U.S. Constitution.

Lewis is being represented by four attorneys from the Simms Showers LLP law firm in Leesburg.

The complaint accuses town officials of witness tampering, which prevented Lewis from presenting witnesses whose testimony he sought during grievance proceedings that led up to his firing.

The complaint states: “The termination by the (police) department in conjunction with the false allegation underlying the decision ruined Mr. Lewis’ hard earned reputation as an exceptional police officer. The false allegations were made public and have left a stigma on his reputation. Because of the department’s actions, Mr. Lewis has not been, and likely never will be, employed as a policeman.”

The complaint states that Lewis lost appeals to the Shenandoah County Circuit Court and Virginia Supreme Court, both of which found in favor of Sutherly and the town.

Sutherly also cited the previous court decisions in dismissing the accusations in Lewis’ federal lawsuit. Sutherly said he stood by the decision to fire Lewis.

“I would just say we were vindicated all through the appeals court process and all the way to the Virginia Supreme Court, and I feel we’ll be vindicated on the federal level,” Sutherly said.

Lewis was part of a tactical team that executed a search warrant on Dec. 18, 2009 as part of a drug bust.

A woman arrested as police searched her residence filed a complaint days later claiming someone hit her with a flashlight. She also stated that police kicked a man after they arrested him and he had surrendered. The woman later dropped the complaint.

Lewis denied hitting either of the defendants, but was placed on administrative leave on Dec. 29, 2009 while the department investigated the allegations against him. He never worked for the department again.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com