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Virginia corrections supervisor promoted after alleged choking incident

Sign: "No Trespassing Department of Corrections: This Is A Tobacco Free Facility"
Crixell Matthews
VPM News File
A sign sits in front of a Virginia Department of Corrections Facility.

Another state employee flagged the promotion for lawmakers. Now he says he’s being punished for his actions.

Dwayne Turner, a Virginia Department of Corrections supervisor who allegedly choked an incarcerated person in 2018, was promoted last year to assistant warden, according to an internal email obtained by VPM News. Turner’s salary also increased by at least $33,000 since 2019, rising to more than $72,000 last year, according to state salary records compiled by the website Open the Books.

Turner’s promotion prompted a separate investigation into another VADOC employee who calls himself a whistleblower.

Investigations into the incident

Video footage obtained by the Richmond Times-Dispatch showed Turner, then a supervisor at Keen Mountain Correctional Center in Buchanan County, placing his full hand on the neck of a fully restrained incarcerated person in 2018. The person filming the incident abruptly pivoted away to a wall, leaving it unclear what happened next.

An internal investigation cleared Turner of wrongdoing. But Brian Mitchell, a former investigator who looked into the case, told the Times-Dispatch that Turner had choked the man, and provided the newspaper with the video footage that it published in 2021.

After the footage publicly surfaced, VADOC told the Times-Dispatch it would refer the case to Buchanan County prosecutors to review.

Buchanan Commonwealth’s Attorney Gerald Arrington told VPM News in an email he’d asked Virginia State Police to conduct an independent investigation into the 2018 incident.

“At the conclusion of their investigation, my office met with Special Agent [J.J.] Kite to discuss the allegations, his investigation, and ultimately made the decision not to pursue charges,” Arrington wrote. He did not respond to questions about what the investigation surfaced.

In a statement, VADOC spokesperson Kyle Gibson said the 2018 incident had been thoroughly reviewed.

“Those investigations revealed no evidence of choking,” Gibson said. “Additionally, the inmate involved in the incident never indicated that he was choked.”

Gibson declined to make Turner available for an interview or to share copies of its investigations. The spokesperson said the restrained man didn’t report any injuries from the incident.

An email to lawmakers

Corrections Lt. Kelsey Haley forwarded the email announcing Turner’s promotion to lawmakers and Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration on Dec. 21. Haley sent the email from his state account with the subject line “Blatant VADOC corruption.”

The next day, the department placed Haley on paid pre-disciplinary leave for allegedly violating department policy, where he has remained for months. On Monday — 10 days after VPM News inquired about the case — Haley said he met with department staff and was told he was now also accused of excessively visiting sites like Facebook and Amazon while on the job. Haley called the accusations “ridiculous.”

Haley didn’t see the alleged choking incident firsthand. But in an interview with VPM News, he argued Turner’s promotion was part of a broader pattern of rewarding bad behavior and that his actions were protected by Virginia’s whistleblower laws.

“They use discipline as a tool to retaliate against employees,” Haley said. “But when people are actually deserving of discipline, they don't get it because they're part of the good ol’ boys system.”

Haley and VADOC have been at odds since October 2020. That’s when Haley said he filed an internal complaint related to alleged abuse of overtime and document falsification by several co-workers at the Virginia Correctional Center for Women in Goochland.

Two days later, one of Haley’s colleagues filed their own complaint. It claimed he regularly showed favoritism toward certain employees and used derogatory language, allegedly calling female co-workers “bi--hes, c--ts, and wh--es,” according to an investigative report prepared by VADOC and obtained by VPM News.

Haley told VPM News the claims were “absolutely false,” arguing the department deliberately overlooked interviews where co-workers praised his professionalism and said they’d never heard him use that language.

Several other employees, however, corroborated the complaints, according to the investigative report. The department demoted Haley two ranks, cut his pay and transferred him to a different facility.

After going through the state’s employee dispute resolution process, Haley filed a case in Goochland Circuit Court, which was dismissed. He then appealed to the state court of appeals; a hearing date has not been set.

VADOC spokesperson Gibson said the department has a policy of not commenting on “ongoing administrative matters.”

Haley said he had mixed feelings about working for VADOC again, where he said he’d have a “target on my head.”

“But at the same time, if I were to just go somewhere else, the department would essentially win,” he said. “They would get away with this corrupt system that they've had going for over a decade.”

Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.
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