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HILLSVILLE — A misdemeanor charge of impersonating a law enforcement officer would not lead to the mayor of Hillsville losing his elected position, even if it led to a conviction, according to state law.
Hillsville Mayor Gregory Nelson Crowder faces the charge after a Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control investigation into an as yet unspecified set of circumstances that arose on March 14 in Bristol.
The only statement made in the matter is from Crowder’s Bristol-based attorney, Bob Ward.
The attorney explained in a faxed message to The Gazette that he first met Crowder at a Virginia Tech football game and that he found Crowder “to be a good man.”
“I am in the process of investigating those allegations,” the message said.
“It is my hope and belief that these allegations result from a simple misunderstanding.”
Virginia ABC officials declined to provide further details about the case until it is heard in court. A hearing in the case is set for Sept. 5 in Bristol General District Court.
Felony convictions disqualify people from holding elective office in Virginia, and the state code has a specific list of misdemeanor crimes that could also derail an elected office holder’s term. None of those misdemeanor convictions listed under state code includes impersonating a law enforcement officer.
Virginia law names certain misdemeanors that could lead to a circuit court removing an elected official after a petition meets certain requirements — the possession, manufacture, gift or sale of marijuana; selling drug paraphernalia or advertising the selling of drug paraphernalia; or a hate crime.
State code says that a circuit court may remove an elected official after a petition reaches enough signatures from registered voters “equal to 10 percent of the total number of votes cast at the last election” for that particular office, if that office holder is convicted of those specific misdemeanors.
The law says that officials may be removed for neglect of duty, misuse of office or incompetence in the elective office.
Hillsville Town Manager Travis Jackson said he was not aware of anything in the town code that addresses the situation of a town official charged with a crime. Speaking hypothetically about no official in particular, he thought that state code would apply in the event of a conviction.
City of Bristol court records state that the offense occurred on March 14, and that Crowder, 47, was charged Aug. 23 after an ABC investigation by Special Agent G.M. Sewell.
Court records also show that his wife, Rebecca LouAnne Crowder, faces the same charge brought by the ABC agent.
Impersonating a law-enforcement officer is a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable
by a fine of up to $2,500 and/or confinement in jail for up to a year, according to ABC officials.
Virginia’s code for impersonating a law enforcement officer states that the law applies to someone “who falsely assumes or exercises the functions, powers, duties and privileges incident to the office of sheriff, police officer, marshal or other peace officer or any local, city, county, state or federal law enforcement officer, or who falsely assumes or pretends to be any such officer.”