BEDFORD — Following a conference earlier this month, lawsuits centered on sexual misconduct by a former Bedford County Fire & Rescue lieutenant have been dropped by the victim.
Larry Scott Hawkins, 54, was convicted in February 2019 of soliciting a minor and assault and battery against fire and rescue volunteers who were 17 years old at the time. He’s currently serving a three-year sentence for those convictions at the Bedford County Adult Detention Center.
One of the victims filed three lawsuits against Hawkins, Bedford County and Bedford County Fire & Rescue Chief Jack Jones during the course of 2019.
The suit against the county — the only one that proceeded in U.S. District Court — alleged the county had a “de facto policy of deliberate indifference to the rights of volunteers … to be free from sexual harassment, abuse, and assault.” Doe initially demanded more than $30 million in that case, represented by attorney Gary Bowman.
Central to the case was the report from an investigation of the “county Fire & Rescue Department’s ‘policy and personnel weaknesses,’” as described in the lawsuit. An investigator from the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office conducted it in spring 2018, after Hawkins was arrested and charged in February 2018.
Bowman quoted the report as finding “a male dominated culture in which females feel pressure to prove themselves before they are accepted” in the department, along with other “cracks” and “failure[s]” in terms of policies and training.
Much legal ado was made over the report’s confidentiality, with the county claiming Bowman obtained it illicitly and attempted to wipe it from the case. In late May, U.S. District Court Judge Norman Moon found Bedford County officials inadvertently included the report with documents Bowman requested on Doe’s behalf for the case.
Moon denied the county’s motions to wipe the report from the case and issued a protective order which would prevent the report’s release. He did allow the county to revise its motion, and the report was effectively sealed throughout the proceedings.
Meanwhile, Doe had sought further evidence from the county and both sides had scheduled depositions for parties involved with the case, including the investigator who compiled the confidential report. Bedford County fought back, trying to prevent the release of personnel files and prevent the investigator from being interviewed.
Following the judge’s opinion, the federal case was scheduled for a jury trial in March 2021.
Federal court records from the case show a settlement conference took place July 17. Three days later, Doe filed a stipulation of dismissal of the lawsuit and indicated she wouldn’t be bringing it back before the court.
Bowman said he and his client agreed to dismiss all three lawsuits following the July 17 conference, and motions filed since then in Bedford County Circuit Court reflect that. In addition, he said the investigation report since has been declared confidential and “neither my client nor I are allowed to discuss it.”
Jennifer Royer, who has represented Bedford County and Chief Jones, said neither party entered into a settlement with Doe.
A fourth civil case, filed at the end of April, sought to exclude Hawkins from Bedford County’s insurance through the Virginia Association of Counties Group Self-Insurance Risk Pool, or VACORP.
Hawkins demanded legal defense and indemnification under the policy in response to Doe’s suit against him, according to court documents, but VACORP claimed he didn’t qualify as a “covered person” and wasn’t “acting in his regular course of duty” when the alleged sexual battery occurred.
Published as an exhibit in VACORP’s case, the county’s policy has an exclusion for “[p]ersonal injury … brought about or contributed to by the malicious, willful, wonton [sic] or criminal behavior by any Covered Person.”
When asked about the status of that case, an attorney representing VACORP declined to comment. Court records indicate no documents have been filed seeking its dismissal.
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