A new lawsuit claims Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano and his office mishandled a child molestation case by missing a key deadline and then offering a plea deal that upset the family of the victim.
In 2021, defendant Ronnie Reel was originally charged with sodomy and aggravated sexual battery against an 11-year-old boy. After prosecutors missed the deadline, Reel accepted a plea deal in September 2021 for misdemeanor assault and battery. With time served, he was released from jail.
Reel, 36, was arrested on July 13, 2021, for the alleged assault against the young boy, which took place just days earlier. He was indicted in February 2022 with a trial date of Sept. 12.
The judge in the case ordered prosecutors on March 18 to provide evidence that the state had collected against Reel to his defense attorneys by April 29.
According to court documents that were filed with the complaint, the commonwealth attorney’s office did not meet that deadline.
Later, a prosecutor sent an email on Aug. 10 to the defense attorney about obtaining a search warrant for Reel’s DNA to be used as evidence.
The commonwealth attorney’s office asked for a continuance of the case on Sept. 1 but was denied and turned over all evidence to defense attorneys. On Sept. 9, a Fairfax County judge ruled prosecutors could only use evidence turned over before the April 29 deadline.
Sources unrelated to the case told WTOP that changes in evidence often happen as more information is gathered before court dates and other deadlines.
According to the filed complaint, the commonwealth’s office described the judge’s decision limiting evidence as a novel ruling and that they acted immediately by securing a plea agreement.
However, the plaintiff, through his mother, claimed in the suit that the prosecutors failed to contact them for input on the plea deal — a violation of the Virginia Crime Victim and Witness Rights Act.
The suit also states that because Reel was not convicted of a sex crime he will not become a registered sex offender and the victim is not entitled to services available to victims of sexual assault.
The complaint argued that a similar lapse in the commonwealth’s attorney’s office had occurred months earlier in another child sex crime case, where the charges were ultimately dismissed.
The suit is asking for compensatory and punitive damages “in such amounts as shall be shown at the time of trial,” according to the lawsuit.
In response to a request for comment about the suit, the Descano’s office said, “The CA’s office handles thousands of cases per year and we’ve instituted policies to ensure our prosecutors meet our high standard of professionalism and seek the best outcome for victims.”