Calls for Morris to resign

Published 1:18 pm Wednesday, September 28, 2016

After charges that he assaulted stepson


By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

Arrest warrants issued against Del. Rick Morris describe the legislator allegedly having punched his 11 year-old stepson in the stomach after rousing the child from sleep, hitting the boy with a belt and wooden spoon, throwing a hose at him and making the child stand in a corner over a three-day period, causing the boy to run away from home.

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The boy was allegedly told to lie about his bruises by his mother during a school physical because she was afraid of losing her children as a result, according to an arrest warrant.

The warrants also describe Morris’ wife allegedly being grabbed by the neck and pushed, leading to bruises and a temporary cast on her ankle. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Morris, 47, who represents parts of Isle of Wight and Surry counties, was charged last week with a total of four felony counts of cruelty and injuries to children, three felony counts of child endangerment, three misdemeanor charges of domestic assault involving a minor, two misdemeanor counts of domestic assault on an adult female family member and two misdemeanor counts of assault and battery of a family member. He has been released on bond.

State Republican legislative leaders called for Morris’ resignation.

The Virginia House of Delegates Speaker William J. Howell, R-28th, and others issued the following statement Friday.

 “We are deeply concerned by the charges against Delegate Rick Morris.  While we all believe that individuals are innocent until proven guilty and entitled to their day in court, these are serious and troubling allegations.  Accordingly, we have asked Delegate Morris to resign his seat effective immediately.  He needs this time to focus on his personal and family life and we pray for the comfort and healing of everyone involved in this situation.”

 “We are reminded now of the importance of preserving the public’s trust and the expectations, obligations, and duties that come with the privilege of serving in the House of Delegates.  Legislators are expected to conduct themselves in a manner that is above reproach and consistent with the honor and dignity of this body.  We take seriously our responsibility to preserve the integrity of this storied institution, and while we deeply regret having to do so we are compelled to ask for Delegate Morris’s resignation in order to protect the House of Delegates.”

Repeated efforts to reach Morris’ office for comment about the charges or his political future were unsuccessful.

According to the arrest warrants, the incidents occurred between Dec. 23, 2015 to Sept. 16 — with the latest incident being the one where the boy ran away from home after being hit with a belt and wooden spoon.

All of the incidents occurred at the family home, located in the 300 block of Babbtown Road, according to Suffolk spokesperson Diana Klink.

During an introduction in June at Isle of Wight Academy’s graduation, Morris was described as living on a farm in Suffolk with a “blended family” of nine children.

Morris represents the 64th District, which includes parts of Isle of Wight and Surry counties as well as portions of Sussex and Prince George counties and portions of Franklin and Suffolk. He took office in 2012 and is currently serving his third term in the General Assembly.

The House of Delegates committees that Morris serves on include Militia, Police and Public Safety and Courts of Justice.

Morris also served on the board of the Voices for Children CASA of Southeast Virginia, a group of volunteers who represent abused and neglected children in court.

If convicted of a felony, Morris would not be eligible for legislative office, according to the Virginia Constitution, but he is not barred from finishing his term, which ends in 2017.

The cruelty and injuries to children charge fall under labor and employment regulations in the Code of Virginia and is a class 6 felony.

The offense states, in part, that it is unlawful to permit a child to be endangered or allow a child to be overworked, tortured, tormented, mutilated, beaten or cruelly treated.

A class six felony is punishable by one to five years in prison at the discretion of a jury, confinement in jail by no more than one year and a fine of no more than $2,500, either or both, if tried without a jury.

This isn’t the first time Morris has had domestic issues.

In 2013, Morris was embroiled in a contentious divorce in Isle of Wight Circuit Court with a prior spouse, who alleged Morris committed adultery and had a child with another woman.

According to court documents, Morris countered his ex-wife’s arguments by alleging that the former spouse had been verbally abusive, had inflicted emotional distress and mental cruelty and that he was forced to leave the marital home.

The divorce was granted on the grounds of adultery and Morris was ordered to pay his ex-spouse $72,000, spread out over a series of payments.

During Morris’ first campaign for office in 2011, it was revealed that he was charged with assault and battery in 2000, but those charges were dismissed in Virginia Beach General District Court.

While serving as delegate, Morris, is most recently known for his six-minute speech on the House floor earlier this year equating abortion with slavery. Morris drew applause from fellow Republicans and condemnation from Democrats for his speech, in which he said “Our national sin is the murder of our unborn children, and evil is alive …”

Morris has also been known as a champion of transparent government, and had introduced legislation making it a crime for government officials to willfully withhold information from the public in violation of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. The bill passed the House, but was killed in a Senate laws committee.

In 2014, Morris took a dispute over being refused a dunk tank at the Isle of Wight County Fair to the Virginia Attorney General, citing a violation of the First Amendment. The attorney general agreed, stating that banning political speech in public venues was unconstitutional. County fair officials relented, but have now placed all political booths in a tent for non-profits, which is one of the more lightly visited areas of the fair.

In 2012, Morris was instrumental in getting VDOT to consider a viable traffic alternative during stud installation on the James River Bridge. In September of that year, VDOT closed both the JRB and the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel on the same weekend for the stud installation and paving in the HRBT, leading to immense regional traffic congestion. Morris’ suggestion reduced traffic disruption on the JRB for the remainder of the project by installing crossovers at approaches to the draw span.

A retired Naval officer, Morris runs his own military law firm in Virginia Beach.  {/mprestriction}