HOPEWELL – A judge ruled Wednesday that a Hopewell city councilor is liable for money he was accused of taking from a GoFundMe account he started for the family of an eight-year-old Hopewell girl murdered last year.
General District Court Judge Craig Dunkum of Henrico County awarded Brionna Taylor $5,600, plus court costs and interest, in her claim against Dominic Holloway Sr. Holloway, who represents Ward 7 on council, has 10 days to decide if he will appeal the decision.
Taylor’s daughter, P’Aris Mi-Unique Angel Moore, was shot to death Dec. 30, 2022, as she played with friends outside an east Hopewell residence. Holloway, a reported relative of the family, started the account to help the family pay for the funeral and other expenses, and at one point had raised more than $15,000.
Dunkum made his ruling following a trial that took several tense turns, particularly during his exchanges with Holloway. Most of that tension focused on Taylor filing her pleadings by the Sept. 22 deadline Dunkum set for her and Holloway not filing his defense pleadings by the judge-imposed Oct. 10 deadline.
Holloway told Dunkum he missed the deadline because he never got a copy of Taylor’s paperwork as had been decreed by the order. Therefore, he added, he could not defend himself against what he has not seen.
Tension in the courtroom
The testy moments, however, came when Dunkum asked Holloway about contacting the General District Court clerk to get a copy of that paperwork.
Holloway said he called the clerk’s office to inquire about copies but was told by the person who answered the phone that he could not receive one. Such documents are considered public records in Virginia once they are filed in court.
Dunkum asked Holloway several times if he identified himself as a person involved in the case. Each time, Holloway gave a different answer, prompting Dunkum to show some impatience.
“But you didn’t say, ‘I’m the defendant,’ or ‘I’m a party in the case,’ or ‘I’m the one being sued?’’ the judge asked.
“No,” Holloway replied.
Dunkum recessed the court for 15 minutes to allow Holloway to review Taylor’s bill-of-particulars. When court reconvened, Holloway asked for a further delay of 10 days in the case “because there are a lot of papers for me to look at.”
Dunkum immediately rejected Holloway’s request, then admonished him for not following through with the clerk’s office about getting a copy of the indictment.
“I don’t believe anyone in the clerk’s office would not give out that information,” Dunkum told Holloway. The documents, he noted, are public records, “and anyone in this courtroom would be able to get a copy.”
An especially tense moment came when Dunkum reminded Holloway that he could have gone ahead and found in Taylor’s favor since he never filed his grounds for defense. “But I’m bending over backwards in an effort to be fair to you,” he said.
“If you’re being fair,” Holloway said, “then you’d give me more time.” He later said that if Dunkum wanted to go that route, that was fine with him “because I took an oath and swore before my Lord to tell the truth, and my faith is very important to me.”
Dunkum also took issue with receipts Holloway claimed were from the U.S. Postal Service emailed to him alerting when he was getting mail. Holloway claimed he had not received any notification that Taylor was sending him copies of her pleadings.
Dunkum said the copies were hard to read; therefore, he could not allow them into evidence. He also admitted that USPS “was not 100% foolproof” in delivery.
Taylor testified that she put copies “in a plain envelope” with two stamps to cover postage, and she put them in her personal mailbox “with the flag up” for her postal carrier to pick up.
“I did not take a picture of myself putting the envelope in the mailbox,” she said.
Talking and over-talking
Dunkum also verbally sparred several times with Holloway over what he perceived as Holloway attempting to speak while the judge was talking.
“You need to listen,” Dunkum told him one time. “You have a tendency to speak when I want to speak.”
Holloway was not the only one to be admonished for speaking out of turn. Dunkum also had to call Taylor down once for it.
“Everybody likes to get ahead of me,” he said with a slight smile. “Please don’t.”
Dunkum asked Taylor about discrepancies in her pleadings about money totals. Taylor replied that she initially asked for the $5,600 because “that’s what he told me out of his own mouth” what was left in the account. Asked by the judge for clarity on the amount she was seeking, she confirmed the $5,600 amount.
Taylor testified she had relied on Holloway to keep her informed about what was being spent from the account. She said he told her that the $5,600 that was left in the account went to child support that he needed to pay.
Holloway had previously denied he said that, but he did not mention that denial in court Wednesday.
After the trial, Taylor left without making a comment. Immediately after court ended, Holloway was booked on a charge of embezzlement by a public officer for allegedly misrepresenting an almost $700 charge on the Hopewell city clerk’s credit card. He was released on a $7,500 bond. Progress-Index reporter Bill Atkinson was called to testify before the grand jury about the facts in his investigative story about the charge. Atkinson’s testimony about his reporting on this topic adhered to Gannett’s standards on protecting sources and followed our Principles of Ethical Conduct For Newsrooms.
Dunkum was appointed to hear the case after Hopewell General District Court Judge Peter Eliades recused himself because Hopewell City Council funds part of the local court’s budget. Should Holloway opt to appeal the case to Circuit Court, it is expected that a judge from outside the Sixth Judicial Circuit would be brought in to hear the case.
Bill Atkinson (he/him/his) is an award-winning journalist who covers breaking news, government and politics. Reach him at [email protected] or on X (formerly known as Twitter) at @BAtkinson_PI.
This article originally appeared on The Progress-Index: Judge finds Hopewell councilor liable in GoFundMe civil suit
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