WARREN COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE
200 SKYLINE VISTA DRIVE · FRONT ROYAL, VIRGINIA 22630
Mark A. Butler, Sheriff
Vehicle Pursuit (Update) – Event date: April 02, 2022
This is an update to the Community Briefing dated April 16, 2022 pertaining to the ongoing investigation of the events related to Mr. Ralph Ennis and his contacts with the Warren County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) that occurred in the County of Warren, Virginia between March 11 and April 02, 2022.
Contrary to an earlier media report, the first time the WCSO had contact with Mr. Ennis was on the morning of March 11, 2022. On that day, Ralph C. Ennis (age 77), was entered as a Silver Alert — missing and endangered person by the Pennsylvania State Police. Active attempts to locate him confirmed his cellular phone was active at 10:24 AM, and moving southbound along Interstate 81 from the City of Winchester into Warren County. This information was broadcasted to WCSO deputies, who began vigorously checking various areas throughout the county in an attempt to locate Mr. Ennis and his silver 2020 Ford Ranger pickup truck with a Pennsylvania registration, starting in the area of the Riverton Commons shopping center.
The broad area search continued until 12:30 PM, when WCSO Deputy C. Anderson located Mr. Ennis’ unoccupied Ford pickup in near Chester Street and Main Street in the Town of Front Royal. The Town of Front Royal Police Department was notified, and WCSO Sergeant C. Brown located Mr. Ennis at the Main Street Pawn at 12:40 PM.
According to the WCSO report of this incident, Sergeant Brown spoke with Mr. Ennis and he seemed confused and was aware of his current location, although not sure of the town he was in. Sergeant Brown made contact with the adult son of Mr. Ennis, who resides in Staunton, Virginia and informed the son of the situation. The son advised he was willing to pick up his father at approximately 06:30 PM. Sergeant Brown, acting out of concern for Mr. Ennis and not wishing him to remain unattended for six hours, self-elf-initiated contact with the Virginia Department of Social Services and advised them of the situation. Sergeant Brown requested to have Mr. Ennis brought to social services and was informed social services would not be able to facilitate this due to their staffing shortage.
Sergeant Brown continued to seek a viable and safe solution for the care of Mr. Ennis after his family was unable to pick him up in a timely manner. Sergeant Brown spoke with a local businessman who graciously offered to let Mr. Ennis stay at his shop until family arrived to assume care for him. Sergeant Brown then contacted Social Services and advised them that a safety plan for Mr. Ennis was developed, and he had a temporary safe and supervised place to remain. This was coordinated with both social services and the family of Mr. Ennis. The Pennsylvania State Police was notified at 01:51 PM of the safe recovery of Mr. Ennis and he was removed from the alert system.
Major Jeffrey Driskill recognizes Sergeant Cade Brown, Deputy Chris Anderson and his canine partner Rooster, the many assisting deputies and the 911 Communications Center dispatchers for their steadfast and professional efforts in locating Mr. Ennis on March 11, 2022. “This office has a proud and proven track record of responding to the urgent need to locate missing and endangered persons, particularly our seniors” stated Major Driskill. This year alone, the WCSO has spent hundreds of manhours searching for, finding, and assisting persons who are missing, endangered, suicidal and sometimes have no one to properly care for them. According to Sheriff Mark Butler, some of these efforts have involved the coordinated efforts of many, many mutual aid partners “that provide a deeply caring and human response to the need of persons who require our help the most.”
There was no further contact with Mr. Ennis by the WCSO until the early morning pursuit of Mr. Ennis by the WCSO deputies, with assistance of the Town of Front Royal Police Department on April 02, 2022 at 01:21 AM. Major Driskill confirmed Mr. Ennis subsequently was in the care of two local hospitals and hospice between April 2, 2022 and the early morning hours of April 15, 2022 when the WCSO was made aware of his death in the care of Blueridge Hospice of Winchester, Virginia.
The WCSO wishes to confirm several very important facts to ensure the public is aware Sheriff Mark Butler and his office are not only being as transparent as possible, but they are being proactive in every legally acceptable manner. This corrects an inaccurate and misleading media report as well as misinformation on social media.
Not only has the Sheriff’s Office welcomed the criminal investigation being conducted by the Virginia State Police, this office had already contacted the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office and requested a special prosecutor be assigned in assisting the state police, which was confirmed by Mr. John Bell as a best practice for legal scrutiny. The WCSO was also the agency first requesting the autopsy of Mr. Ennis, which was initiated a short nine and half hours after his death.
Sheriff Butler recognizes this incident will generate public interest, and perhaps scrutiny; however, wants to ensure the community his office is doing their due diligence under the law. This includes the internal administrative review of the pursuit, traffic stop, and the arrest contact by WCSO deputies with Mr. Ennis in accordance to its policies and procedures. To achieve this in an objective and fair manner, Major Driskill confirms that the WCSO will convene a Board of Inquiry to review the use of force related to the detention of Mr. Ennis. This board of inquiry is intended to review all facts or information to resolve an allegation of misconduct in the event of a police shooting, death, or serious injury of an officer or citizen killed or injured incident to any law-enforcement actions.
The board of inquiry will consist of five senior, command staff officers, to include a nearby law enforcement agency or the state police. When empaneled, the board will review all the facts and make a recommendation pertaining to any disciplinary action to the Sheriff. The board chairman shall write, in a memorandum to the file, a summary of the proceedings, names of board members, and the board’s recommendations and findings.
Sheriff Butler reminds the public he will refrain from judgement until all the facts have been gathered and evaluated by those tasked with its review, including the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Virginia State Police, and the Commonwealth Attorney’s office.
The WCSO has placed one deputy on paid administrative leave and one deputy was re-assigned to administrative duties, which Major Driskill cautions is not an indication of wrong-doing or fault on behalf of any personnel. It is an accepted professional practice to safeguard personnel, the public, and the process itself. Major Driskill states this is a matter of personnel, and nothing further can be disclosed at this time due to the ongoing concurrent investigations.
Approved for release on April 24, 2022: Major Jeffrey Driskill, Sr., Major