Bryan Oliff, owner of Angelo’s Restaurant in Montross, and two of his employees, Josh Sanford and Lois Wright have filed “malicious prosecution” lawsuits in Westmoreland County Circuit Court against Westmoreland County Deputy Anthony Darby seeking a total of $20 million in compensatory and punitive damages.
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. The lawsuits were filed by Attorney James Thorsen with the Richmond law firm of Marchant, Thorsen, Honey, Baldwin and Meyer LLP.
According to the lawsuits, “The criminal charges have had a severe negative impact on Oliff’s reputation, his business, Angelo’s Pizza, and his financial and personal well being.”
The lawsuits make similar claims regarding Sanford and Wright.
Darby was given 21 days to file a response to the suits which ask “leave to amend these pleading or add parties as further evidence and circumstances may dictate.”
The suits refer to 2012 arrests which the plaintiff’s claim were “malicious, done with bad faith, done with a reckless, willful and wanton disregard” and “with actual malice and intent to injure.”
On May 24, 2012, Oliff was publicly arrested on five charges of selling, giving or distributing a controlled substance which imitated a controlled substance. Sanford was arrested on one count of the same charge and Wright was arrested on two.
At the time, Darby and the Westmoreland County Sheriff’s Office said an undercover investigation including information provided by a confidential informant yielded sufficient evidence for the arrests.
The informant, James Calvin Newsome, was seeking a plea bargain for felony charges of grand larceny and was an informant for the sheriff’s department. The lawsuits claim that between February and April 2012, Darby and other officers gave Newsome more than $900 to purchase drugs from Oliff and his employees.
On five occasions, Newsome entered Angelo’s, Oliff’s restaurant, with money provided to him by Darby and each time gave officers a bag of what he said was cocaine.
But a report from the Commonwealth of Virginia Forensics Department in Richmond showed the substance Newsome provided was not a controlled substance. Yet, according to the suits, the sheriff’s office continued efforts to prosecute Oliff.
According to the lawsuits, Newsome said he had a conversation with Oliff about the cocaine in Kinsale as Glenn Branch of Westmoreland witnessed. Yet none of the 16 cameras at the alleged Kinsale location showed a meeting between the two. At the time, the suit says, Oliff was hunting with Branch more than 20 miles away.
The lawsuits claim Darby should have known that “Newsome had lied to him the entire time and had stolen the monies used in the investigation.” Yet three weeks later, the suits claim, Darby “falsely represented to the grand jury” that Newsome was trustworthy and that the audio and video recordings of Newsome showed Oliff engaged in “unlawful activity.”
Four months after the arrests, special prosecutor Matthew Ackley, who was handling the cases for the state, terminated the prosecutions because of a lack of evidence.