VIRGINIA BEACH — Political ads run by Del. Cheryl Turpin of Virginia Beach during her campaign against Rocky Holcomb in 2017 are at the center of a lawsuit filed by Scott Presler, a conservative activist and vice-chairman of Virginia Beach Young Republicans.
The lawsuit also names Daniel McNamara, who was Turpin’s campaign manager, as a co-defendant.
It all started with a selfie
According to the lawsuit filed July 20 in Virginia Beach Circuit Court, Presler is accusing Turpin of knowingly running false campaign ads that paint Presler, a private citizen, as “a leader of a local hate group” who had “worked with and invited Neo-Nazis and white supremacists to speak” at rallies he had organized.
The lawsuit also claims Turpin used an impromptu selfie of Presler and Holcomb taken at a December 2016 campaign event to smear Presler and Holcomb as a racists. The photo was used in an ad that labeled Presler as a “leader of a local hate group.” In the lawsuit, Presler’s attorney says the claim in Turpin’s political ad is “untrue, incorrect” and “materially inaccurate.”
Turpin used that photo, among others, in campaign ads weeks before the November 2017 election.
Turpin ended up defeating Holcomb by 389 votes, and Holcomb believes the political ads at the center of the lawsuit contributed “significantly” to her win.
“It was certainly race baiting,” Holcomb said, “and now I see Turpin being sued by a private citizen for her actions, and I know that the 85th deserves better.”
Although Holcomb is not a party in the lawsuit, he is mentioned throughout the 37-page filing.
The lawsuit claims that Holcomb did not invite Presler to that event, nor did he ever work for the campaign.
In an interview with Southside Daily Friday, Holcomb said he doesn’t know Presler nor has he ever had any kind of relationship with him.
“He came on as a volunteer,” Holcomb said. “I don’t know him.”
The lawsuit also states that Holcomb and Presler do not know each other.
Holcomb said it “feels terrible” to be labeled a racist and was “one of the biggest embarrassments of my life.”
However, Holcomb clarified, “I’m not talking about my own embarrassment; I felt embarrassed for the constituents of the 85th District.”
Holcomb outspoken in his own defense
Virginia Beach Sheriff Ken Stolle said Holcomb convinced him to start the sheriff’s LGBT liaison officer program in August 2017. During his stint in the house of delegates in 2017, Holcomb announced on Facebook that he was asked to chair a committee that sought to protect history of formerly enslaved African-Americans in Virginia.
“I’ve spent my whole career in law enforcement fighting hate,” Holcomb said.
Holcomb is chief deputy of the Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office and has worked there since 1991. Before that, he served in the Marine Corps. He said representing the 85th District “was one of the greatest honors of my life.”
The 2017 campaign in question was not the first between Holcomb and Turpin. In January 2017, Holcomb won a special election against Turpin for delegate of the 85th District. The special election came after Scott Taylor vacated the seat following his election to the U.S. House of Representatives in November 2016.
When reached by email Friday, Presler provided no further comments on the case, citing legal advice that he not discuss pending litigation.
Turpin did not respond to a request for comment.