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Democrat in Alleged ‘Revenge Porn’ Case Running For House Seat

Bynum-Coleman speaks at podoum
Bynum-Coleman speaks at a press conference ahead of the 2019 elections. (Ben Paviour/VPM News)

A Chesterfield Democrat who accepted a plea deal in an alleged “revenge porn” case has filed paperwork to run for the House of Delegates.

In an interview, Sheila Bynum-Coleman said she would stage another bid for the seat vacated by Del. Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights), who is running for governor. Cox defeated Bynum-Coleman by about 4.5% in 2019. Bynum-Coleman said the district would be more competitive with Cox out of the mix and redistricting on the horizon.

“This time will be different because I'm not running against someone who's been in office for 30 years,” Bynum-Coleman said. 

Bynum-Coleman later hedged in a Facebook post after this article was published, saying she had yet to make up her mind on whether she would run for the seat.

If she moves forward with the bid, the 47 year-old will have to convince voters to see past a plea deal she signed last month in which she effectively admitted to distributing nude photos of another woman.

Prosecutors said the woman was allegedly sleeping with Bynum-Coleman’s husband. They said Bynum-Coleman threatened the woman via text message and showed the photos to a manager at the business where the woman and Bynum-Coleman’s husband worked. 

Similar nude photos of the woman were also found on a stop sign outside the business, according to Robert Cerullo, a special prosecutor in the case who also serves as Powhatan County’s deputy commonwealth’s attorney, and who has referred to the case as alleged “revenge porn.”

Bynum-Coleman pleaded not guilty to one of two misdemeanor charges related to posting photos on a stop sign. Cerullo agreed to drop the charge. 

But in the agreement, Bynum-Coleman accepted that the facts presented by prosecutors were sufficient to find her guilty of the second count of the same charge of disseminating photos of another with the intent to coerce, harass or intimidate someone in a state of undress. That charge related to sharing the photo with the business manager as well as the alleged victim, with a threat to share it with a teacher of the woman’s son. 

Cerullo and Bynum-Coleman’s attorney agreed that the court would “withhold a finding of guilt” one year from the November 5, 2020 agreement if Bynum-Coleman performed 200 hours of community service. She agreed to perform those hours with the Mentoring Youth and Adults in America Foundation, a Richmond-based nonprofit, according to a letter the organization’s co-founder, Mario Haskett, submitted to Cerullo. 

In an interview, Bynum-Coleman denied any wrongdoing.

“I'm not guilty,” Bynum-Coleman said. “Entering into a plea agreement was the better option as to going into a trial and having my children and my family be put on trial in such a public manner.”

At the same time, Bynum-Coleman appeared to suggest her alleged actions were warranted.

“The supervisor specifically asked me to bring him the photos -- he told the police he asked me to bring him the photos --  to show that his employee violated their policy,” she said.

Bynum-Coleman will face competition from fellow Democrat Katie Sponsler, a U.S. Air Force veteran who lost to Cox in 2017. Colonial Heights City Councilor Mike Cherry is seeking the Republican nomination.

Rich Meagher, a political science professor at Randolph-Macon College, said Bynum-Coleman would face steep hurdles. 

“Whenever anyone is involved in a case with the term ‘revenge porn’ -- I mean, that’s not exactly a good recipe for a political campaign,” Meagher said.

Bynum-Coleman was the first Black woman to serve on the Virginia Board of Contractors; her tenure ended in June.

Editor's Note: This article has been updated to include reaction from Bynum-Coleman to this piece's publication.