After being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019, Regina Stanley, a records manager for the Rocky Mount Police Department in Virginia began a period of tests, doctors visits, hospitalizations, chemotherapy, and surgeries.
But instead of receiving support from her boss—then-Chief of Police Ken Criner—Stanley alleges in an ethics complaint that Criner began a campaign of insensitive comments about her condition and her time away from work. “The bitch gets a little bump on her titty and has to be out five weeks,” Criner said, according to her complaint reviewed by The Daily Beast.
Karry Hodges, a records clerk, said in her own complaint that during the same time period Criner referred to herself and Stanley as “two bitches” he wished he could get rid of and replace with “hotties” and had said “I would tap that” after seeing attractive women in the office.
Both complaints were made in May 2020, and were among four lodged by members of the 20-person department against Criner that year. They alleged Criner regularly referred to female town officials and police department employees as “bitches” and “cunts” and that he’d created a hostile environment that left employees on pins and needles.
Criner was suspended from his post for five weeks while the complaints against him were investigated, but according to court filings and those familiar with Criner’s conduct who spoke to The Daily Beast, his behavior continued afterward.
In January, Criner and his police department made national news when two of the first active police officers arrested for illegally entering the Capitol on Jan. 6 were officers who worked under him at the Rocky Mount Police Department: Thomas Robertson and Jacob Fracker. Last month, Criner resigned after serving seven years as chief in the town, though insiders said he was likely forced out. A new lawsuit, filed by one of Criner’s former officers last week, has now brought much of the inner turmoil surrounding his alleged misconduct into the public eye.
Criner did not respond to a request for comment.
Joseph Stanley, a local critic of Criner’s who operates three parody websites related to the police department, told The Daily Beast that he hopes the lawsuit will bring needed scrutiny to a town of 5,000 that he says has been trying to sweep its troubles over the past year under a rug.
“Criner didn’t act in a vacuum,” Stanley said. “Accountability is something that Rocky Mount fights.”
Officials for the Town of Rocky Mount did not respond to a request for comment.
In September, ABC13 reported Criner retired from the police department after seven years of leading it and nearly 35 years in law enforcement. But Stanley said he believes Criner may have been “forced out” because of the attention brought to the town over the past three years and his souring relationship with officials who Stanley said once protected Criner.
James Erwin, the former town manager who handled the complaints, declined to speak on the matter, telling The Daily Beast it was a “personnel” issue.
Nonetheless, the claim that Criner was pushed out was reinforced by Terry Grimes, an attorney who represents one of Criner’s former officers in the new lawsuit against him.
Justin Smith, who joined the department in 2017, became vocal about Criner’s comments to and about women in 2019 and made his disapproval known to town officials at the time, according to his lawsuit. Smith later helped two women in the department file ethics complaints against Criner.
When Criner found out about Smith’s involvement in the complaints, he “retaliated” against him by allegedly putting his overtime on hold and later demoting him after he learned that Smith might have provided information about his misconduct to a local reporter, the suit says.
In June, a search warrant for both Smith and Stanley’s Facebook and Google history was filed by the Virginia State Police, according to warrants reviewed by The Daily Beast. Smith’s suit alleges the warrants were filed after Criner and other officers in the department attempted to find the source of a leaked video that Stanley posted on one of his websites.
This month, days before the suit was filed, Smith also alleged Criner drove his motorcycle past Smith’s home and stuck the middle finger at him.
Smith did not respond to a request for comment.
“I think he views Justin as a major reason that he was forced to resign,” Grimes, the attorney, told The Daily Beast of Criner and his client. “There’s a lot of negative stuff out there on the chief. Like an iceberg, you only see part of it.”
Grimes said the arrest of the two officers working under Criner during the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection is just one example. “That’s who was working there,” he said. “That’s the caliber of the people in this police department that this chief was running.”
The Daily Beast previously reported that Robertson and Fracker were off-duty when they traveled to D.C. and took a selfie flipping off a statue of John Stark inside the Capitol. The selfie was sent to department employees and later ended up on social media.
Before his arrest on Jan. 13, Robertson defended his actions, saying he was “fucking proud” and was “willing to put skin in the game,” The Daily Beast previously reported. Meanwhile, The Daily Beast reported Fracker bragged to a friend on Facebook about pissing in Nancy Pelosi’s toilet, according to an FBI search warrant application. He also seemed to revel in the chaos of the day, writing in a message that he was one of the first people into the building. “Flash bangs going off, CS gas, rubber bullets flying by. Felt so good to be back in the shit…”
On Jan. 10, the town of Rocky Mount released a statement acknowledging they were aware of the photo of both officers making the rounds on social media and said they had both been placed on leave.
On Jan. 26, the town announced both officers had been fired. “We hear those who have communicated their anger and frustration about the actions of these individuals or our response to those actions,” a statement said.
It added that the riot was “challenging” to the town, but distanced themselves from the officers’ actions.
“The actions by two have driven our beautiful town into the national spotlight in ways that do not reflect our whole community and the people who call Rocky Mount home.”
Stanley, the local critic and thorn in the side of officials like Criner, said the officers’ arrest and Criner’s actions suggest the three are more than simply “bad apples” that the insular town can ignore.
“What you permit, you promote,” Stanley said.