A Virginia state trooper is under a citizen complaint after perjuring himself in her criminal trial and alleging to colleagues in public afterward that she was “a Nazi” because her aggressive questioning at trial flustered him.
Abigail Tulis, a Chattanooga native residing overseas, faced trooper Brandon Frye over his reckless driving charge against her in a Smyth County general district courtroom in Marion on Feb. 27.
The judge refused to acknowledge her attack on the sufficiency of the instruments and the lack of evidence against her, but did allow her to present part of her case focusing on officer competence and whether Mr. Frye knew how to fill out his form, the Virginia uniform summons, and whether he knew the difference between “naming” something and “describing” it.
After the hourlong trial, Abigail, 27, was in tears. Passing near the security section at the courthouse side entranceway, she overheard men talking around a corner.
Trooper Frye likened her to “a Nazi” because he had been unable to see what she had been driving at, and said he could not understand the question. Abigail had argued that the charging instrument was inadequate because it failed to allege specific factual evidence and provided no narrative as to the alleged crime, thus failing to provide her due notice in respect of her rights to due process.
Abigail confronted the beefy officer with his pistol and striped gray pants outside in the cruiser parking area and demanded if he had indeed called her a Nazi to another person. Words were exchanged. She was in tears, and when I emerged I found her sobbing and gasping for air on the sidewalk in front of the courthouse.
As I had the car key, I let her in and she sobbed. “I’m not going to just stand there and let them f–k me like that. I was just trying to defend myself and that’s why he called me a Nazi because I didn’t just go along with it and get screwed over.”
“After I exited the court, I was standing in the court and I was crying, and there was a hall around the corner so I couldn’t see who it was. But it was two people talking, and one of them — it sounded like Officer Frye — said “That was a Nazi after me,” and then he said, ‘I didn’t understand what she was getting after,’” because Abigail was showing the court that he disregarded the form by naming the charge rather than describing the alleged crime, denying her due process by providing her a narrative of her alleged crime in factual terms evoking the requirement of the statute.
Determining to return to the court, I went through security. As I was gathering my watch, glasses, pens and coin purse from the X-ray machine, I saw Officer Frye speaking with another officer. He turned to leave. I called after him, “Officer Frye, did you call my daughter a Nazi in public?” He turned, came up to be sternly, and demanded, “Come with me. I am taking you to the commonwealth attorney’s office. You are wanted there. Come with me.”
Asking no question, I followed him to the door on the second floor of the building to the DA’s office. “Am I under arrest?” I asked. He said no. I asked, before we went in, to find a water fountain. Following his directions, I left him. When I returned to the prosecutor’s office, he had disappeared. I spoke with two women behind the glass. After 10 minutes in the foyer, I learned no one had sought me and no one had any interest in me personally or my daughter’s case.
Not even Jill Kinser Lawson, assistant commonwealth attorney, who had prosecuted Abigail, with whom I spoke through the glass, had any need of me.
Given that he had perjured himself on the stand so strongly that Judge Lee, it occurred to me that Trooper Frye had sent me on a fool’s errand, perhaps as a joke, fearing no consequence, even though I wore my press badge. It’s also possible he was hoping to get me alone so that he could file a false criminal charge against me, alleging verbal threat.
To sting back, Abigail and I traveled east in our rental car 30 miles to the trooper HQ in Wytheville. We declared we had come to file a complaint. We sat at a table surrounded by three troopers, Abigail next to me. Abigail got control of her emotions, finally. We each made brief statements about our treatment, then turned to pen and paper and wrote out what happened. My text took four pages of pink paper. The sergeant promised the matter would be investigated.
Repeated denial of due process in kangaroo court
Abigail and I spoke almost daily 10 days prior to her trial while she was in the Netherlands, in Paris prior to catching a jet at Orly, and upon her arrival in Chattanooga. A homeschool girl who had had 3 years of mock trial, she was in familiar territory in preparing for her defense. The question before her was evidence and we worked through the accusations on determining the essential elements of the alleged crime and what each part of each element is.
The state has to prove three elements in reckless driving and the state in her case failed to meet the requirements of meeting these elements. But it didn’t matter because Judge Travis Lee, a young jurist who fuddled an explanation of the distinction between “overrule” and “sustain,” did not require the state to meet the beyond a reasonable doubt standard.
He denied Abigail her counsel of choice (me), even though Abigail pressed him as to the effect of his repeated comment that only licensed lawyers can assist as counsel or represent a person in court.
The commonwealth attorney, a female of bulky build wearing a tight African cat-designed dress, and the judge thwarted Abigail’s efforts to obtain respect for her due process rights as she asserted all of her liberties under the Virginia and Tennessee constitutions.
The judge determined that trooper Frye had not met the requirements for convicting Abigail on reckless driving. But, not to disappoint his familiars and favor a stranger, he found her guilty of a “lesser included offense” improper driving. He also fined Abigail the maximum fine of $500 about $80 in court costs.
Because he’d denied her request for an evidentiary hearing, she’d been unable to evaluate the state’s evidence. That made her vulnerable to ambush testimony. Trooper Frye perjured himself by saying she’d been traveling 50 mph. The judge made much of this alleged fact.
In his concluding statement, Judge Lee says his was “not an easy decision” but that 50 in a 70 mph zone is “a dangerous speed” and that it is “dangerous to be below the posted limit” and “dangerous to be playing with the radio.” He highlighted the “dangerousness of this conduct” because ““Some people are on the road doing 120 mph, even 140 mph, and it’s extremely dangerous to be doing 50,” he said.
The case shows how unused to real defense such courts are, and how hostile they are to anyone actually defending common law and constitutional rights.