Virginia State Police Superintendent W. Steven Flaherty will retire early next year after 14 years as one of the state’s top law enforcement officials, Gov.-elect Ralph Northam announced Tuesday.
Lt. Col. Gary T. Settle, a former Rappahannock County sheriff who currently oversees the state police Bureau of Criminal Investigations, will replace Flaherty when his retirement takes effect Feb. 1.
Flaherty’s retirement comes weeks after a scathing report commissioned by the city of Charlottesville that found widespread law enforcement failures as city and state officials responded to a series of white nationalist rallies over the summer. Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas, who came under heavy criticism for his handling of the rally near a Confederate statue in downtown Charlottesville, abruptly retired from his post Monday.
Northam also announced that current Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian J. Moran will continue in that role in the new administration. Moran also played a role in the preparations for the violent Aug. 12 rally in Charlottesville, as well as a smaller, more tightly managed Confederate statue protest on Richmond’s Monument Avenue in September.
During a news conference at a Richmond fire station, Flaherty said his departure was unrelated to the events in Charlottesville, but was something he and his family had been planning “for a long time.”
“It’s just time for me to go,” Flaherty said.
During his time in the agency’s upper ranks, Flaherty was present at the Pentagon after the Sept. 11 attacks and at Virginia Tech after the 2007 mass shooting, Northam said.
“Every now and then a person steps up to serve the commonwealth of Virginia and dedicates their life to public service and to the safety of individuals in our community,” Northam said before asking for a round of applause for Flaherty.
Then-Gov. Mark Warner appointed Flaherty as superintendent in 2003, capping off a career with the state police that began in 1975.
Flaherty said he suggested it was time for him to go during meetings with Northam’s transition team. Asked what he intends to do next, Flaherty said he plans to rest up at his Caroline County farm.
“I’m elated that Colonel Settle is going to be my replacement,” Flaherty said in an interview. “He actually was a trooper-trainee when I was a sergeant at the academy. So I’ve known him his entire career.”
Settle said of Flaherty: “I would be naive to say that I wouldn’t try to mimic some of the leadership qualities that he has.”
According to a bio released by the Northam transition team, Settle began his law enforcement career in 1984 as a Rappahannock sheriff’s deputy. He joined the state police two years later, but returned to local law enforcement in 1996 when he was elected sheriff in his home county. He returned to the state police in 2000. In January of this year, he was named director of the state police bureau that oversees all criminal investigations.
The challenges facing the state agency as a whole, Settle said, are making sure law enforcement personnel have the right equipment and technology and building on relationships with federal and local counterparts.
“We’re in global policing now,” Settle said. “It’s not necessarily community-specific policing, a region or what have you. It’s not necessarily even Virginia. It’s very global.”
While the bulk of criticism for the botched response to the protest in Charlottesville has been directed at local police commanders, state police have not escaped scrutiny.
The city-commissioned report released this month by former federal prosecutor Timothy Heaphy faulted the agency for failing to adequately coordinate its response with local police, and, among other things, “inaction in the face of violence.” The violence culminated with a car driven by an alleged white nationalist plowing into a crowd of people on Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall, killing 32-year-old activist Heather Heyer.
State police refused to turn over a wide array of documents for the city-commissioned report, and Heaphy was unable to obtain the records under the state’s Freedom of Information Act.
Settle said he would “reserve comment” on the Charlottesville findings until the state police finish their own ongoing review.
“It’s very robust and in-depth and getting down into the weeds,” Settle said.
Asked for his thoughts on the reports detailing what happened in Charlottesville, Northam said “there were lessons learned” about how to prevent similar tragedies.
“As I said earlier, we just want to make sure that we can make Virginia as safe as we can and prevent a horrific tragedy like what happened in Charlottesville from ever happening again,” Northam said.
Rounding out his public safety team, Northam announced that Harold W. Clarke will stay on as director of the Virginia Department of Corrections and Andrew K. Block Jr. will continue to serve as director of the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice.
Northam named Michael T. Reilly, a former deputy chief with the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department, as executive director of the Virginia Department of Fire Programs.
Former Fluvanna County Sheriff and 2015 state Senate candidate Ryant Washington will serve with Moran as a deputy secretary of public safety, as will Jae K. Davenport, currently the deputy counsel to outgoing Gov. Terry McAuliffe.