Sen. Joe Morrissey, D-Richmond. (Photo by Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)
Sen. Joe Morrissey, D-Richmond, won a two-year restraining order this week against a Rockingham County man with ties to a far-right militia who had filed a Freedom of Information Act Request with his office.
The bizarre case involved a violent tweet, a threatening phone call and a long-running feud between the defendant and Morrissey’s biggest political donor, Nexus Services, a Virginia-based company that has faced repeated accusations of exploiting vulnerable immigrants.
Retired District Judge Gene Woolard also found the defendant, David Briggman, guilty of a misdemeanor charge of using profane or threatening language during a phone call, but said he denied prosecutors’ request for an active jail sentence to reduce the likelihood the case would be appealed.
“God help another judge hear all this,” Woolard said as the five-hour trial concluded.
Morrissey’s entanglement with Briggman began in early 2020 after a Nexus employee forwarded him a post Briggman made on Twitter about Del. Kathy Tran, D-Richmond, who had announced she was expecting her fourth child. “A Louisville Slugger would be a great tool to enable a post-birth abortion of your bundle of joy!” Briggman wrote about Tran, who became the focus of outrage and online threats after video went viral of her presenting a bill in 2019 that would have loosened restrictions on late term abortion.
Morrissey testified he sent the post and a psychological profile of Briggman prepared by Nexus to the Capitol Police.
Briggman, a former employee of Nexus, has been in a public battle with company since quitting in 2017, publicizing negative information about their business operations, which have drawn nationwide scrutiny for charging immigrants high monthly fees to wear GPS ankle monitors in exchange for arranging their release from ICE detention centers. Briggman has also made derogatory and occasionally violent social media posts about the company’s executives.
Likewise, the company has pursued a range of legal actions against Briggman, including taking him to court for allegedly stealing paper towels and a surge protector from the company.
In that case, an associate employed by Morrissey made an unsuccessful bid to serve as a private prosecutor against Briggman, which both Morrissey and Briggman testified this week was the only time they had previously encountered one another.
They were reunited in September 2020 after Briggman said he learned through a civil lawsuit filed by Nexus in Florida that the company had prepared a psychological profile and provided it to Morrissey.
In an effort to obtain a copy, Briggman filed the Freedom of Information Act request with Morrissey’s office. A phone call followed — Briggman and Morrissey each claim the other initiated it. And Briggman and Morrissey each claimed the other proceeded to swear and make violent threats.
Morrissey’s version of events was backed by two employees in his office, both of whom said Briggman initiated the call and one of whom said she heard Morrissey’s side of it and did not hear him say anything threatening.
Briggman’s lawyer, John Bauserman, countered that Morrissey’s testimony could not be trusted given his history of criminal convictions and disbarment for lying. Bauserman also questioned Morrissey’s motivations in bringing the case given his political connections to Nexus, which donated $32,000 to his campaign for Senate — more than any other single donor, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.
“Mr. Morrissey is not entitled to any benefit of the doubt,” Bauserman said.
To bolster the case for the protective order, three people connected to Nexus testified that they had faced ongoing harassment by Briggman. One Rockingham couple that lives near Briggman and helped repossess a truck on Nexus’ behalf said they found a ski mask, hand cuffs and weapons in the vehicle and that after the vehicle was taken, he spied on them and a horse they own was shot by an unknown person.
Nexus’ vice president of risk management, Erik Schneider, testified that Briggman had posted a surreptitiously taken photo of him on Facebook that he considered threatening. (Briggman countered that the photo had been sent to him and the caption was merely a reference to Schneider’s 2004 appearance on “Dog the Bounty Hunter.”) Schneider also testified about a post in which Briggman edited his face into a violent clip from Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining.”
Morrissey took the stand and noted Briggman’s stint as president of the Virginia Oath Keepers, which he described as a “domestic terror organization.” The organization’s website says they are independent of the national militia of the same name, whose members have been investigated in connection to the Jan. 6 uprising at the Capitol.
Briggman, meanwhile, acknowledged the social media post about Tran but called it protected “political hyperbole” and noted the Capitol Police did not pursue charges against him. And he flatly denied menacing Nexus’ employees, possessing a ski mask or shooting horses.
He said that before Morrissey sought charges against him, he had filed charges against Morrissey in relation to the same incident, accusing Morrissey of using the court system to retaliate. Briggman’s case against Morrissey is scheduled for a hearing in Shenandoah County next month.
Briggman struggled to control himself as he testified, prompting repeated admonishments by his own lawyer to answer questions without offering additional commentary and refrain from interrupting the judge.
Both the commonwealth’s attorney, who prosecuted the criminal charge, and Morrissey’s lawyer, who represented the senator in the request for the restraining order, referenced Briggman’s conduct in the courtroom in their closing arguments.
“All I can say is, can you imagine what he’s like in the general public if he doesn’t like you? He can’t even control himself here,” said Paul Gregorio, who represented Morrissey.
Briggman’s lawyer, meanwhile, called his client’s Facebook posts despicable, but said they were just “stupid, silly jackass political rhetoric.”
Judge Woolard said his disagreed, calling the posts disturbing. He said he hoped Briggman would “learn to shut his mouth every so often” but that “I can’t make him change” and “anger management would be a waste of time.”
He said any violations of the punishment should return to him. “I wouldn’t subject another judge to this,” he said.
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