When an undercover police officer found Chris Waugh about to shoot heroin outside a Wawa in Chesterfield County last year, Waugh was living in a tent, barely surviving.
Waugh had quit using before, overcoming misery, a roach-infested apartment and the accumulated weight of years of bad choices.
He beat the odds, his addiction, his pain. He was free, until chronic injuries from a near-fatal car crash led him back.
“I lost every job that I had, burned every bridge that I had with friends and family, to the point where all I had was myself,” said Waugh, 37. “I wasn’t able to work or pay rent. All I could do for myself was do drugs.”
Now drug-free for more than a year, Waugh credits a sober-living home in Henrico County — which he moved to after four months in the Chesterfield County Jail — with helping keep his demons at bay.
Henrico officials are wondering if the homes could help address overcrowding in the county’s jails and provide an alternative for those in the throes of what is increasingly seen as a public health crisis.
The option is among several alternatives to building a third jail facility under review by a county task force, but two Henrico judges and several county officials have questions about the lack of oversight for recovery housing organizations, a growing industry that has been largely self-regulated.
The committee of law enforcement and health care officials, which is called the Recovery Roundtable, is also looking into building a new detox-oriented treatment center as it researches how to improve oversight of sober-living homes.
For Waugh, and those charged with engineering solutions to an epidemic that continues to claim hundreds of lives in the metro area each year, answers can’t some quickly enough.
“The best way for me to learn how to not get high and to become a better person, to learn how to live, is from somebody who is doing the same thing,” Waugh said of living in a house with others working on their recovery. “I can’t overstate how important it has been to me.”
Henrico’s jails are flooded with people grappling with addiction, according to a recent survey by the Henrico Sheriff’s Office. Thousands who’ve cycled through the county’s criminal justice system in the past 20 years have entered its drug treatment programs.
Whereas judges in Richmond and Chesterfield have been releasing those charged with low-level drug-related crimes on bonds, and with prosecutors there moving away from requesting cash bonds or declining to prosecute cases against defendants who enroll in select recovery treatment programs, some Henrico judges occasionally refuse to release defendants to ensure defendants receive addiction and detoxification treatment — even though that means jail time.
“One of the worst feelings I’ve had as a judge is to put someone out on a bond and find out prior to the next court date that they have overdosed and died,” said Henrico General District Chief Judge Craig Dunkum, a member of the Recovery Roundtable.
There were 256 drug overdose deaths in Richmond and the counties of Henrico, Hanover and Chesterfield last year. While that’s 24 fewer deaths than in 2017, there was a nearly fourfold increase in annual drug overdose fatalities between 2010 and 2017, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
“Right now, the only real option we have to protect these folks that can’t get into an inpatient facility to detox is to send them to jail,” Dunkum said of those entering his courtroom for drug-related issues. “That means we don’t let them out on bond until they’ve gotten to that point.”
In some cases, defendants are asking to go to jail to participate in the addiction recovery programs there, said Henrico Circuit Judge John Marshall, another Roundtable member.
Henrico Sheriff Mike Wade said he still suspects that 9 out of every 10 inmates struggle with an addiction; a survey his office conducted in December 2017 found that 87% of respondents said a drug addiction led to their arrest — regardless of whether they were charged with a drug crime.
County prosecutors said they’ve also been challenged by a large number of people who are not meeting conditions of their probation or pretrial release, which has resulted in people coming back to jail for those violations.
Aside from probation violations (497 charges), the second-most common charge for people in Henrico’s jails during a snapshot week in June was drug possession (471), followed by suspended sentence violations (465), contempt of court (288) and grand larceny (239), according to data the Sheriff’s Office provided the committee that month.
Criminal justice reform advocates and some local officials, including Henrico Board of Supervisors Chairman Tyrone Nelson, say jail is not the right place to treat those grappling with addiction.
Last year, the Henrico jails located on Parham Road and in New Kent County surpassed their functional capacity to hold 1,341 people, with an average daily population of nearly 1,450 people between them, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
Henrico officials have said authorities are often taking people to jail so that they can safely detox there. Even if authorities were to consider taking people to get treatment in lieu of an arrest, officials said there is nowhere to take someone on short notice if they ask for help or are determined to be a risk to their own health.
People who cannot afford treatment at a private inpatient addiction treatment center can seek help at the county’s health clinics, said Laura Totty, director of Henrico Mental Health and Developmental Services. While the staff there can give an immediate medical assessment for walk-in patients without insurance or covered by Medicare or Medicaid, they are often told to come back for a later appointment or are sent to an inpatient facility someplace else in the state.
Recovery advocates say that not giving those people same-day access to treatment does little to reduce the risk of harm.
“There’s a big difference between an assessment ... versus access to same-day treatment and recovery support services,” said Carol McDaid, a health policy lobbyist and co-founder of the McShin Foundation, which is a recovery community organization based in Richmond. “Most people need the latter. They already know they have a problem.”
While local law enforcement officials have said they believe arrests can help allow addicts to detox somewhere safe and facilitate their recovery, some advocates have questioned whether that will truly help them in the long run if they are later convicted of a felony.
After a recent visit to Fairfax County with other Henrico officials, Deputy County Manager Tony McDowell said something like a large wing of a publicly run treatment center there that has detox and withdrawal-management facilities and personnel could give local police another option after finding an addict who had overdosed or asked for help.
The Richmond Behavioral Health Authority and Tucker Pavilion at Chippenham Hospital have similar detox facilities, but there are often a limited number of beds that are not usually available without advance notice, a county social worker said at one of the Roundtable committee meetings in September.
In addition to also looking at new regulations for addiction recovery housing organizations, the Henrico committee’s co-chairs directed various members to study the idea of a public treatment and detox center further and report back in November.
“This seems to be a gap that everybody agrees would be helpful to fill in,” McDowell said. “I think it’ll keep people from getting arrested and steers them toward treatment when that’s appropriate.”
Waugh was arrested last summer on a warrant for failing to appear in court on a drug possession charge from earlier in 2018.
After serving four months in the Chesterfield County Jail, a county grant paid for him to move into a recovery home operated by True Recovery RVA for 30 days. The help got Waugh on his feet. He determined he’d pay it forward by dedicating himself to his own recovery and to helping others.
It’s been hard work. Though he quit using heroin for several years starting in 2005, he had continued drinking and taking other narcotics — telling himself it wasn’t as bad.
“I was at a point where I still felt like heroin was my problem,” he said. “I hadn’t come to the realization that it’s all a problem and that for me to get better I had to stop using everything. I wasn’t there yet.”
Waugh was only a few months removed from using heroin when a car he was in flipped several times, so he said he was careful with the morphine pills a doctor prescribed.
He was in a coma for several weeks after the wreck, which practically destroyed his whole body. He fractured his skull, broke nearly all of his ribs and one of his legs and crushed his pelvis. He said doctors thought he would be mentally impaired.
Trouble resumed after his injuries healed and his physical therapy ended. He worked hard. He became a mechanic. He started using Oxycontin pills a neighbor offered him to manage the pain.
Waugh knew it was wrong but convinced himself he could keep things under control. When his neighbor died and Waugh’s supply dried up, he became desperate for a fix.
Five years after not using heroin, Waugh only needed to make two phone calls to find someone who’d give it to him, he said. He backslid and became homeless.
Now, Waugh has a roof over his head and is in charge of the house where he lives with about a dozen other men in recovery.
Waugh said he has eased back into working on cars, getting over his fear of returning to muscle-straining labor that causes his body to ache. A big motivation for him is that his longtime girlfriend, who is also in recovery and currently living in Binghamton, N.Y., is pregnant. His hope is for her to move back to Virginia.
Although Waugh is making recovery work for him, the homes don’t work for everyone. Two Henrico judges said they are not sure if they can necessarily trust them as an alternative to jail.
Dunkum and Marshall are leery of referring or releasing defendants to recovery housing organizations because they are less secure than jails and have been unregulated by the state until this year.
“As a judge trying to decide whether to send someone to a facility other than a traditional jail, I would want it to at least be minimally secure — which means people can’t come in from the outside and bring drugs to the people who are there,” Dunkum said.
In 2018, Ted Helseth, 26, was found dead of a drug overdose off the side of a rural Chesterfield road two days after being expelled from a McShin Foundation addiction recovery program. Helseth had come to the program to get help, but was removed after he tested positive for cocaine and morphine use and refused to be searched for drugs.
In July, a Henrico judge sentenced a man to an active term of four years for defrauding two inmates who believed he was operating a recovery home. The man, Delmer Phillips, led a county judge to believe that one of the defendants would be moving into a recovery house Phillips did not actually own. Efforts to reach Phillips were unsuccessful.
Henrico Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Mike Feinmel said the latter case is part of a larger problem stemming from misunderstandings about recovery community organizations and what exactly they offer.
“For the past couple years, there’s been a misconception that a recovery home is a treatment center,” Feinmel said. “While it’s a valuable tool in recovery, it’s not the traditional model of what people think is a recovery program.”
Unlike inpatient addiction treatment centers, recovery housing organizations usually do not provide direct clinical or medical services. With a focus toward peer-mentoring and group therapy, people in the programs can access other services through partnerships the organizations might have with specific clinical psychiatrists or health service organizations.
With limited support from state or federal sources, the recovery organizations are not as equipped as publicly funded community services board clinics that offer more medical support. Despite that, recovery community organizations say they are better at providing shelter and a peer support network than CSB health clinics.
Through their advocacy and partnerships with local authorities, some recovery organizations are starting to get more support from the localities. In some cases, special grants to jails are being used to pay for people like Waugh to enter a recovery home after they leave jail. Henrico, for example, will give the McShin Foundation $30,000 out of the county’s general fund budget for this year.
Following the Virginia General Assembly’s approval earlier this year of a new law mandating regulations for recovery homes, the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services is working with the Virginia Association of Recovery Residences and Oxford House, a national recovery housing organization that has accredited dozens of houses in Virginia, to create official regulations and a registry of certified recovery residences.
“The goal is to make the judges feel a little more comfortable,” said McDowell, the deputy county manager on the Recovery Roundtable. “There are a lot of recovery homes popping up left and right. It’s hard to tell which ones are credible and which ones aren’t.”
David Rook, the owner of True Recovery RVA and chairman of the Virginia Association of Recovery Residences, said he still isn’t sure how many recovery homes there are in the state, as there are an unknown number of operators keeping a low profile to avoid being potentially hampered by zoning laws or neighborhood associations that might worry about having a group of recovering drug addicts living near their homes.
He said the Oxford houses in Virginia collectively have more than 500 beds, while the six member organizations under VARR have approximately 450 beds across dozens of properties.
Maria Reppas, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, said the state is working with VARR and Oxford House to develop the new regulations, but there will not be an official certification process until the work is completed. Rook said he expects the process will be completed by next summer.
Rook and other recovery advocates said local officials and the community at large need to place more trust in the organizations that are partnering with local and state officials to establish regulations.
Both Henrico officials and advocates say expectations and trust will help create a viable pathway for people to stay in recovery after completing drug court or a jail addiction recovery program.
“I think jail has its place in recovery, but I don’t think it’s the absolute solution. I think the solution is much more holistic than that,” Rook said. “I don’t think doubling down on an already failed system is the way to go.”
A Henrico County man who stabbed his estranged wife 40 times in an attack more than 20 years ago was convicted Monday of abducting at gunpoint and tying up an employee of a Chesterfield County business in January before fleeing to Florida in the woman’s car.
Michael E. Moore, 46, who in 1997 was sentenced to 20 years in prison for stabbing his estranged wife, who survived, pleaded guilty in Chesterfield Circuit Court to abduction, carjacking and felony use of a firearm in a Jan. 19 incident in which he pulled a gun on an employee of NurseSpring, a health care staffing service, before covering her mouth and binding her wrists and ankles.
Moore then left her there unharmed but stole her 2018 Nissan Versa that he drove to Florida, where he was apprehended seven days later after a traffic stop and three-hour standoff with Flagler County, Fla., sheriff’s deputies.
The victim, in her early 20s, had never met Moore before and she “really thought she was going to die,” said Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Melissa Hoy.
Just over a week ago, authorities said, Moore tried to take a service pistol from the holster of a Henrico County sheriff’s deputy who had driven Moore from Henrico Jail West to a physician’s office off Skipwith Road for a medical appointment. But the deputy managed to “lock down” Moore’s hands and take him to the ground before he could remove the officer’s gun, said Henrico sheriff’s Lt. Ray Goetschius.
Moore “reached for the deputy’s sidearm and he was able to get a hand on the grip of the weapon,” Goetschius added. “Our deputy acted fast, alone, and was able to restrain him without anything else happening.”
Goetschius said authorities don’t know how Moore intended to use the gun. He is now facing additional charges of felony assault of a law enforcement officer and attempting to possess a firearm by a convicted felon.
According to Hoy’s summary of evidence, the victim and a new employee who had arrived for a drug test were at NurseSpring’s office at 9120 Midlothian Turnpike when Moore entered on Jan. 19.
Moore left after seeing the new employee inside, but returned a short time later after that employee exited.
When he returned, he told the victim that his wife was ill and needed nursing care. The victim turned her back to retrieve a business card for Moore, and when she turned back toward him he was pointing a gun at her, Hoy said.
“She immediately started to cry, and he said he just wanted her car,” Hoy said. Her car keys and cellphone were next to her at the front desk.
Moore then walked around the desk and bound the victim’s hands. “She doesn’t know what it was, she just hears a click,” the prosecutor said.
At that point, Moore forced the woman into a small office area away from the front counter. Because the restraints Moore put on the woman were somewhat loose, he removed those before binding her wrists and ankles with a phone cord and duct tape. He also covered her mouth with the tape.
Moore then left the building and drove off in her car.
The victim managed to stand up and slightly loosen her restraints before making it out a rear door of the office. “She’s still terrified he’s around somewhere so she’s trying to be very careful,” Hoy said.
The woman was able to hop across the street to a nursing home facility, where she screamed for help and employees there came to her aid, calling police. Responding officers untied her.
When Moore was stopped in Florida on Jan. 26, he initially refused to get out of the vehicle, which led to a three-hour standoff that forced authorities to evacuate nearby homes and summon the department’s SWAT and hostage negotiation teams.
During a search of the car after he eventually surrendered, deputies found a long-bladed hunting knife in a sheath, two pellet guns that resembled genuine firearms, duct tape, a large coil of rope, a set of handcuffs, a box cutter and cans of lighter fluid.
More than 20 years ago, Moore, then 24, was sentenced in Henrico to 20 years in prison for aggravated malicious wounding in a vicious attack on his estranged wife. She survived to testify against him.
According to evidence in that case, Moore choked Lisa Moore into unconsciousness on March 22, 1996, before stabbing her more than 40 times in the presence of their 5-year-old daughter. The assault occurred at the home they had shared before separating about 10 months earlier.
After the stabbing, Moore fled to Florida in his wife’s car with their child but left her with a man he had befriended there.
Moore then took a bus to California after people in Florida recognized him from a segment of the TV show “America’s Most Wanted.” He was captured in Los Angeles two weeks later.
Moore was released from prison for that offense on Dec. 26, 2013, and he was on supervised probation until Feb. 9, 2015. Henrico prosecutors are now seeking to have all or some of the 26 years a judge suspended in that case imposed.
He is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 6 in the Chesterfield abduction and carjacking case. “The victim at this point wants to come and testify,” Hoy said.
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A Virginia teacher who was fired last year after refusing to use a transgender student’s new pronouns is suing the school board that fired him.
Peter Vlaming, a Williamsburg resident who taught French at West Point High School, was fired in December 2018 after resisting administrators’ orders to use male pronouns when referring to a freshman student who had undergone a gender transition.
“Mr. Vlaming could not violate his conscience,” a lawsuit filed Monday in King William County Circuit Court states. “And it cost him his job.”
In the summer of 2018, a student who Vlaming had in class transitioned from female to male. The student’s family told the school system about the transition and Vlaming agreed to use the student’s new, male name.
Citing his Christian faith as what prevented him from using male pronouns for a student he saw as female, Vlaming tried not to use any pronouns when referring to the student. In an incident in his classroom on Oct. 31, 2018, though, Vlaming referred to the student as “her.”
The student withdrew from Vlaming’s class because of the incident. Vlaming was suspended the next day.
Superintendent Laura Abel, who is named in the lawsuit, told the West Point School Board last year that Vlaming refused orders from administrators to refer to the student using male pronouns. Because of his refusal, Abel said, she recommended he be fired.
The decision by the School Board to fire Vlaming was unanimous. The ensuing fallout divided the town of West Point, located in King William County about an hour east of Richmond.
“Peter went out of his way to accommodate this student as he does all his students; his school fired him because he wouldn’t contradict his core beliefs,” said Caleb Dalton, a lawyer with Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian organization representing Vlaming. “The School Board didn’t care how well Peter treated this student. It was on a crusade to compel conformity. He works hard to make his students feel welcomed.
Dalton added: “He just didn’t want to be forced to use a pronoun that offends his conscience. That’s entirely reasonable, and it’s his constitutionally protected right. Tolerance, after all, is a two-way street.”
The lawsuit accuses the School Board of breach of contract and of violating his rights. Vlaming is asking for his job back and $1 million in damages.
In a statement, the school system said it plans “to vigorously defend against any claims” brought by Vlaming.
“West Point Public Schools’ primary focus is on students, staff and instruction, and we will continue to direct our energy toward maintaining a high-quality learning environment in our schools,” the district said. “The School Board does not intend to comment further on the pending litigation at this time.”
Vlaming’s lawsuit again puts Virginia in the national eye for LGBTQ rights in schools.
A federal judge ruled in August that the Gloucester County School Board violated Gavin Grimm’s rights by banning him from using the boys bathroom. Grimm’s case had risen all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and was a federal test case for transgender student rights.
The Gloucester School Board is appealing the ruling.
Dominion Energy is back before state regulators with a refreshed proposal for how it will spend millions in excess earnings, pitching a plan that backs away from contested work on some vulnerable power lines and that would introduce a pilot program for charging electric cars.
Dominion’s retooled proposal, filed this week, comes after a decision in January from the State Corporation Commission, which rejected much of Dominion’s plans for the money. The SCC cited high costs, lack of planning detail and what it deemed questionable customer benefit.
Of an estimated $918 million for the first phase, the SCC approved only $154.5 million of improvements to the physical security and cybersecurity of Dominion’s operations in Virginia.
“Dominion’s plan is expensive, so it is important that Dominion’s customers receive adequate benefit for the costs they will bear in their monthly bills,” the commission said.
Now, Dominion says its refreshed plan, at a cost of $594 million, includes input from stakeholders and proposals for the work meant to back the company’s cost estimates. The company also procured a cost-benefit analysis that Dominion says shows the investments will deliver dollar-for-dollar returns to its Virginia ratepayers.
New in the plan is a pilot program for charging electric vehicles, which would offer rebates for charging stations near multifamily residential complexes, workplaces, ride-sharing hubs and other high-frequency locations. The rebates would also help pay for upgrades to a location’s electric service, if needed for electric vehicle charging.
The plan is part of a 2018 directive approved by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Ralph Northam that allows the utility to pivot excess earnings and set future electric rates to improve the state’s electric grid.
In its criticism of Dominion’s first plan, the SCC and environmental advocacy groups homed in on costly improvements to some vulnerable power lines that Dominion said were likely to suffer outages in the event of harsh weather or other disasters.
The SCC found that the expense — $486.1 million for the first three years and $3 billion over 10 years — would cut back disruption by five minutes a year. It also found that less than 5% of customers would benefit from the improvements in the first three years.
Dominion’s new filing shows the company is stepping back from those plans for “grid hardening” and instead focusing on other projects for the first three-year phase.
“We’ve reduced the level of spending in this first phase to demonstrate the benefits,” said Dominion Senior Vice President Ed Baine. “We believe hardening these lines is very valuable and having a resilient grid is important for all of our customers, but we want to demonstrate that we are listening to the feedback.”
The plan includes investments in so-called smart meters, which will allow Dominion to better control and predict electric flow. It also includes spending on a new customer information platform — an online portal that the company says will help ratepayers better understand and manage their electricity use.
Dominion says the electric vehicle pilot will allow the company to collect data about electric vehicle charging demands and habits in anticipation of more electric vehicles on the road.
“Our customers get financial support for those investments. What we get is the ability to help manage that load on the electric grid,” Baine said.