The Virginia attorney general's office and state Republicans have misled the public about a plea deal offered to a former sheriff's deputy who was convicted of attempting to solicit a minor for sex, according to court documents obtained by The American Independent Foundation.
On December 16, 2021, Loudoun County sheriff's deputy Dustin Amos posted a message to Whisper, an anonymous social media platform, reading, "Keep this cop company at work today!" Hundreds of miles away in Minnesota, an undercover detective who was conducting a sting operation saw the post. The detective struck up a conversation with Amos and posed as a 15-year-old in private messages with the sheriff's deputy. At one point, Amos replied, "15 damn your young but that's hott."
Amos then began asking the undercover detective about her sexual preferences and sent a series of explicit messages, including a photograph of himself in his underwear. Later in their conversation, which continued for several hours, Amos told the detective, who repeatedly identified herself as a 15-year-old high school student, that she should travel from Minnesota to Virginia to meet him.
"Let's meet in person and you can see my name and agency," Amos wrote in a private message.
The sheriff's deputy continued messaging with the detective for five hours, and at one point sent her a video of himself masturbating in his car, Virginia Assistant Attorney General Cynthia Paoletta told a judge during Amos' bond hearing last December.
The detective informed the NOVA-DC Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force the next day, and state police arrested Amos outside the county jail, where he was on duty. He was charged with two felony counts of soliciting a minor using an electronic device and agreed to plead guilty to the first charge if Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares' office dropped the second charge.
On March 24, NBC 4 Washington reported that Amos had accepted a plea deal from the Virginia attorney general's office, and on March 28, the state politics newsletter Virginia Scope covered the story. In response, Victoria LaCivita, Miyares' director of communications, wrote an email to the newsletter's author, Brandon Jarvis with the subject line "Correction Needed" in which she claimed the plea deal story was "completely incorrect."
"There was no 'deal' offered," LaCivita wrote on March 28. "There is a difference between pleading guilty and being offered a 'plea deal' – they are not the same thing. This individual plead[ed] guilty to the charge without a disposition or plea deal. Secondly, the investigation and analysis of this case, as well as the major decisions regarding what charges to bring, were made under former Attorney General Herring."
But according to publicly available court documents, Paoletta signed a plea agreement with Amos and his attorney on March 3 — long after Herring left office.
These details have not stopped Republicans in Virginia from denying that it was Miyares' own office that offered Amos a plea deal in the case.
In response to a Virginia Democratic Party press release that cited NBC4's reporting, Republican Party of Virginia Chair Rich Anderson tweeted that it was "Reckless for Dems to traffic in partisan lies about plea deals w/ zero legal proof."
On March 27, the Virginia GOP's official Twitter account posted a thread "debunking" the claims, which the party called "another complete lie coming from the desperate @vademocrats."
Last November, Republicans swept Virginia's elections for governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general. During his campaign, Miyares, a former state delegate, accepted $2.6 million from a Republican group that encouraged supporters to "stop the steal" by attending a rally outside the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.
Miyares and Virginia Republicans have also attacked Democrats for being "soft on crime." Miyares in particular has targeted Democratic prosecutors' use of plea deals in criminal cases both as a candidate and as attorney general, which he argues are often excessively lenient.
Loudoun County was the center of one of the most contentious moments of last year's election. Three weeks before Election Day, the Daily Wire, a conservative news site, revealed that a student at Loudoun County Public Schools committed two acts of sexual assault, the second after having been transferred to a new school for committing the first.
The father of one of the students said that school administrators had tried to cover up the assaults because the male offender, who was found guilty, was wearing a skirt and had entered a girls' bathroom to assault his daughter.
During his campaign for Virginia governor, Glenn Youngkin seized on the cover-up allegations, promising he would direct Miyares to open an investigation into the school district once elected. Soon after Youngkin and Miyares won their respective races, Miyares announced he would use his post to direct the Virginia attorney general's office to investigate Loudoun County Public Schools.
"We're obviously aware of some pretty horrific cases," Miyares said last November. "If there's anything that I want to bring back to the forefront in this process are the victims."
He added: "When prosecutors are making plea deals on child rape cases, over the objection of the family, I have a serious problem with that."
Miyares' office did not respond to an inquiry for this story.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.