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Deputy fired in flap over court order

April 06, 2000|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Berkeley County Sheriff Ronald Jones has fired a deputy who is facing a charge of assaulting his girlfriend.

Jones said Wednesday he fired Richard L. Burrell on March 29 because "he can't function as a deputy sheriff, he can't possess a firearm," under a family violence final protective order obtained against Burrell by his girlfriend.

Burrell, a sheriff's deputy in Berkeley County for almost five years, had been on administrative leave with pay.

On March 7, Berkeley County Magistrate Ruth Donaldson issued 180-day protective orders to Burrell and his girlfriend, Jeanette Renee Holben. Each accused the other of assault stemming from a physical confrontation on Feb. 27, according to court records.

They each face one count of domestic battery.

David Joel, Burrell's attorney, is disputing Jones's interpretation of the protective order and is questioning the firing.

There is a provision in protective orders that says: "Respondent shall refrain from using or possessing a firearm or other weapon while this protective order is in effect."

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Donaldson did not put her initials on the line in front of this provision when she issued the order, Joel said. "If the magistrate didn't initial it, it's not in effect."

On March 29, the day Burrell was fired, he and Holben asked Donaldson to withdraw the protective orders, which she did. On her request form, Holben wrote, "Richard and I have talked."

Criminal charges against Burrell and Holben are still pending.

Jones disagreed with Joel's assertion. The sheriff pointed out another provision on the protective order, which Donaldson did initial. It says: "Respondent is hereby informed that possessing any firearms or ammunition while a protective order is in effect may be a federal offense for which a person who is convicted may be imprisoned for up to 10 years."

"If I would allow (Burrell to carry a firearm), I surely would be violating the law," Jones said.

"I just tried to do things the way I felt they should be," he added.

Donaldson was not in her office Wednesday and was unavailable for comment.

Dawn Warfield, a West Virginia deputy attorney general, said a magistrate does not have to impose the prohibition on firearm use and possession. "Under state law, it doesn't say it's mandatory," she said.

A section on protective orders in the state law lists 13 terms a protective order can include, and one of them is the prohibition on using or possessing a firearm.

Joel has asked for a Civil Service hearing on the firing. As of Wednesday afternoon, one had not been scheduled.

Burrell is one of two plaintiffs remaining in a federal civil rights suit against Jones, who is accused of permitting various types of harassment and discrimination to occur in the department.

Burrell, who is black, has alleged that Jones, who is white, and other members of the sheriff's department discriminated against him because of his race, according to the suit.

On Wednesday, Keith Wheaton, who is representing Burrell in the federal case, said he may file a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, accusing Jones of retaliating against Burrell.

Jones said he wasn't surprised to hear that, but added, "It's not my intention to try to get rid of anybody."

A trial in the federal case is scheduled for late July.

The criminal cases against Burrell and Holben are still pending, but an appearance date has not been set.

Earlier this month, Berkeley County Circuit Court Judge David Sanders approved Magistrate Sandra Miller's request to be disqualified from hearing the cases because she knows Burrell.

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