WOODSTOCK — Following the arrest of a local pastor on a charge of brandishing a weapon, Judge Amy Tisinger on Friday approved a motion of nolle prosequi from the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office not to prosecute.
The decision was made to the objection of Roanoke attorney Chris Kowalczuk, who is representing Pastor Leon McCray Sr.
Though the nolle prosequi motion technically means that the case against McCray could be revived within 12 months of the inciting incident, which happened on June 1, Tisinger said her decision came in part to avoid forcing Commonwealth’s Attorney Amanda McDonald Wiseley to continue prosecuting a case that she has decided not to prosecute.
“I think this case should be done today,” Tisinger said. With the nolle prosequi motion, she said, “For all intents and purposes, the case goes away.”
McCray, who is African American, was arrested on June 1 after he called 911 to report an assault on property he owns in Edinburg.
McCray, of Woodstock, wrote in a statement to the Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office that two people trespassed on his property, dragging a refrigerator to a dumpster near an apartment building at 110 Printz St. After he told them to leave, one stayed and the other left, bringing back three others. McCray pulled out his gun to “protect my life,” he wrote in a statement to police.
The Sheriff’s Office charged McCray with brandishing a weapon, later that night releasing McCray on his own recognizance. On June 11, the Sheriff’s Office arrested five people and charged them with assault by mob. Four were also charged with abduction and additional charges included simple assault-hate crime. All five are white.
Kowalczuk, who defended McCray at the Shenandoah County General District Court on Friday, said the motion of nolle prosequi is insufficient because it leaves open the door for his client to dispute the charge again at a later date.
“I am very disappointed that the commonwealth's attorney, on Juneteenth of all days, does not recognize that Mr. McCray’s humiliation now continues,” he said following the decision.
Kowalczuk also disputed wording in the motion filed late Wednesday afternoon that said McCray and his attorney “never” objected to the nolle prosequi.
Kowalczuk said he emailed Wiseley on Tuesday evening and then delivered physical documents to the court on Wednesday morning to request a complete dismissal of the charge with prejudice “in the strongest possible terms.”
“It’s not just inaccurate, it’s a false statement,” he said of Wiseley’s motion. “It's shocking; it’s stunning … I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Defending the motion was Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Amanda Strecky, who Tisinger pointed out regularly serves as a prosecutor at the court on Fridays.
Strecky, who said she didn’t see Kowalczuk’s hand-delivered documents until the end of the day Wednesday after the motion had been filed, took issue with what she called “very harsh terms.”
“To call Ms. Wiseley a liar is out of line,” she said.
Nowhere in the document did it say “my client objects, my client intends to object,” she said. Furthermore, she said a turnaround rate of 18 days for a motion of dismissal is challenging during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That is rapid in the best of terms, and we are not in the best of terms or in the best of times,” she said.
Kowalczuk argued that the sentiment of his objection was there in his documentation; however, Tisinger chose to avoid having McCray return to court for his July 24 date when more than one of the people accused of attacking him are now scheduled to appear in court.
Christopher Kevin Sharp, 47, and Dennis James Salyers, 26, are due back in court at 9 a.m. July 24 and Donny Richard Salyers, 43, at 11 a.m. on July 24.
Amanda Dawn Salyers, 26, is due back in court at 9 a.m. July 17.
Appearing in court on Friday with her attorney, Dragana McCleary, Amanda Salyers, of 108 Printz St., was out on bail for one count of hate crime-simple assault and one count of simple assault by mob, according to court information. She was released on a summons for the trespassing charge.
Sharp, Donny Salyers, Dennis Salyers and a fifth defendant, Farrah Lee Salyers, 42, were each charged on simple assault by mob and one count of felony abduction.
Donny Salyers, also charged with assault and battery, and Sharp, also charged with trespassing, attended their bond hearings Friday via live video from the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail.
Sharp, represented by Bradley Pollock, and Donny Salyers, represented by attorney Aaron Graves, were released pending a $5,000 secured bond each after their attorneys argued their ties to the community. Tisinger said neither may have contact with McCray or his property and both are restricted from using alcohol and illegal drugs. Donny Salyers is ordered to stay off social media, as well, after a suggestion from his counsel out of concern for his well being.
Dennis Salyers, who in addition to abduction and assault by mob was charged with hate-crime simple assault and assault and battery, appeared in court later in the day and was granted a $5,000 secured bond. His bond comes with conditions that he have no direct or indirect contact with McCray and to stay off his property.
Already on unsupervised probation stemming from a disorderly conduct charge, Dennis Salyers must also attempt to maintain his employment, stay in the state and avoid consumption of intoxicating substances.
He was previously represented by Big Valley Law, a firm that has withdrawn from the case, and is now represented by William Man of the Leesburg-based Simms Showers LP.
Farrah Salyers, who was charged with abduction, assault by mob and hate crime, was supposed to appear in court Friday. When asked, Strecky said she could not answer whether or not Farrah Salyers would appear that day and that there was an unspecified issue related to attorneys. According to the General District Court's website, Farrah Salyers' Friday hearing was continued to 2:30 p.m. June 23.
Tisinger also dismissed a protection order that Farrah Salyers requested against McCray that she preliminarily allowed because of the brandishing charge against him.
On Friday, Shenandoah County Sheriff Timothy Carter said he has completed an administrative review of two supervisors he previously said had been on administrative leave without pay following McCray’s arrest on June 1.
“I’ve taken punitive action regarding two staff members,” he said. He declined to name the staff members or elaborate on the actions taken, citing threats made to the Sheriff’s Office.
“I know that we have a lot of work to do with our relationship with the black community,” he said.
“My staff are committed to improving that relationship and we’ve already started that process.”
Reporter Josh Gully contributed to this story.
The headline on this story has been updated.
A headline that ran on 1A on June 20 should have read "Judge accepts nolle prosequi motion; pastor's attorney objects".
The story also has been updated to remove the name of attorney Jerry Talton. He is not connected to Donny Salyers' case.