A Chesterfield County patrol officer was arrested Friday on charges of soliciting a minor online for sex, just four days after another county officer was suspended for his alleged activities with a white supremacist organization.
Chesterfield Police Chief Jeffrey Katz, at a Friday news conference to announce the arrest, said department personnel are angry and outraged and “reeling with sadness and frustration.”
As Katz announced the arrest of officer Simeon Isaiah Crispin Steers-Smith, 30, of Richmond, the Hanover County Sheriff’s Office issued a brief news release about the case. The Sheriff’s Office and members of the Southern Virginia Internet Crimes Against Children and FBI Child Exploitation task forces jointly arrested Steers-Smith after executing a search warrant.
He was charged with three counts of using a communications system to “facilitate certain offenses involving children.”
Katz said the officer is alleged to have made an online solicitation to a task force officer posing as an underage child.
“As far as we know, he didn’t make any contact with a minor — he was speaking to another officer,” the police chief said.
“Like anyone else engaged in grossly despicable behavior, he will be brought before the criminal justice system for trial,” Katz said. “I am both disturbed and disgusted by the actions alleged, and I’m going to say clearly and unequivocally that there is no place for such conduct by anyone in our agency, in our profession or, frankly, in our community.”
He added: “Mr. Steers-Smith’s arrest comes at the end of the week in which we have begun the process of terminating another employee for activities on behalf of a known white supremacist organization. Mr. Steers-Smith’s conduct serves to compound [the department’s] justifiable feelings” of anger and sadness.
The department employs more than 700 people, the chief noted, and “there will be individuals who make decisions that they clearly should not.” But Katz said he hopes this week will make clear how he “will deal with those who run afoul of our department and community standards.”
Katz said he could not discuss his specific concerns about the officer accused of white nationalist and white supremacist ties until after the officer’s five-day due process period concludes, which Virginia law mandates.
“We will honor that person’s due process rights; that’s the right thing to do,” he said.
The department has not named the officer, but he was identified as Daniel Morley by the group that first made the allegations: a Colorado branch of antifa, a national movement of far-left-leaning militant groups whose name is shorthand for anti-fascists. Morley worked as a school resource officer at L.C. Bird High School.
Katz said earlier this week that he has recommended that the officer be fired.
“As soon as we were able to validate the information that we received from a third party, that’s when we made the decision to remove him,” he said.
When asked about the department’s screening process for incoming officers, and whether it needs to be tightened, Katz said: “We would all like to think that the background investigative process is an end-all, be-all, fail-safe [system] and we never have someone that’s going to have an indiscretion. It’s not. It is generally a good indicator of what we can expect from someone in terms of their performance and the character of their past.
“But as I said, when you have 700 people [of] free will over a period of 25- and 30-year careers, there are going to be people that are going to make mistakes,” Katz added. “The overwhelming majority of people that do this job, do it nobly and honorably, and I honor their sacrifice. But I do think we have a responsibility [to ensure] that the people that we’re deploying into the community reflect the standards of the department and community.”
The chief said he made clear from his first day on the job that he would tolerate “mistakes of the mind” — simple mistakes, or slip-ups, that people make every day. “There are the things that we learn from and grow wiser from, and we get better,” he said.
But Katz said he will not forgive “mistakes of the heart,” or errors in judgment that the person making them knows are bad choices, and “you’re just kind of taking your chances.”
“Those are not survivable in this police department,” said Katz, who became chief at the beginning of 2018.
Steers-Smith, who was hired in May 2017, is being held at Chesterfield County Jail without bail.
In an interview earlier this week, Katz said the department has reviewed the work of the officer accused of white supremacy and, so far, “nothing has come up in terms of, has that ideology permeated his official office? At this point, we don’t have any evidence of that.”
Katz said he asked department officials a couple of weeks ago to review formal citizen complaints made against officers for racial bias, and it “revealed no trends, patterns or concerns to this end.”
Chesterfield Commonwealth’s Attorney Scott Miles said Tuesday on Twitter, in response to another Twitter user’s query, that he personally ran a search of all the officer’s pending cases, and instructed his chief deputy to flag all the officer’s cases for immediate supervisory review.
Miles tweeted that he found only one pending felony prosecution case of which Morley was the primary officer, and he has directed the prosecutor handling that case to notify that defendant’s attorney that the charge will be dropped.
When asked by email for elaboration on his review of Morley’s cases and the specific case his office was preparing to drop, Miles provided a screenshot of the defendant’s case as listed in the online Virginia Supreme Court case management system.
The defendant, a white woman, is charged with her third drunken driving offense within five to 10 years. Her case is due in court next week.
When asked to discuss further, Miles referred to his tweets, but added, “We’re reviewing all of our closed case files for cases in which he was the primary officer. My staff did a first pass over the 2013 cases today. We anticipate this process will take us a couple of weeks to complete.”
Katz said he understands why the county’s chief prosecutor is reviewing the cases.
“I know they have the responsibility of pursuing cases that they feel would provide justice to the community, and if there’s a concern about what’s in the heart of the person bringing the charge, I think it merits review,” the chief said. “It’s up to them as to whether or not to pursue it.”