Grand jury indicts three W.Va. deputies

January 10, 2001

Grand jury indicts three W.Va. deputies

By BOB PARTLOW and DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writers, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W. Va. - A Berkeley County grand jury Wednesday indicted three sheriff's deputies on five counts related to the alleged beating of a Hedgesville man a year ago.

A special grand jury indicted Sgt. Johnny Vanorsdale, Cpl. Ron Gardner and Deputy Christopher McCulley on charges of felony malicious assault, felony unlawful assault, felony conspiracy to inflict injuries, misdemeanor battery and misdemeanor failure to perform official duties.

The indictments were related to injuries sustained by Todd Rankin, 25, on Jan. 17, 2000. Rankin spent 10 days in the hospital with a collapsed lung and fractured rib.

The three deputies "did feloniously, maliciously, and unlawfully wound and cause bodily injury to Todd Rankin by beating him resulting in a collapsed lung, with the intent to maim, disfigure, disable or kill said Todd Rankin," read the most serious of the charges in the indictment.


"It's totally unfounded," Vanorsdale said Wednesday afternoon. "I've been a deputy for 10 years and never had anything like this. I wish I could tell you more, but I really can't. The three of us have decided not to say anything until we have time to figure this out. It's sad."

Sheriff Randy Smith, who has been in office 11 days, has taken the officers off the road and given them administrative duties. Smith said he stands by the officers.

"This is the first time that police officers have ever been indicted in Berkeley County, but I absolutely think, from what I know, that they did nothing illegal," Smith said. "I'm not saying something didn't happen. But I am saying I don't think it was anything wrong.

"To be indicted by a grand jury for just doing your job, that just sets a bad precedent for the rest of police in West Virginia," he said.

"I used to have a lot of respect for law enforcement," said Rankin's attorney, Laura Rose. "I would tell people I wouldn't have their job for a million dollars, two million."

Rose spoke to the grand jury Wednesday morning before it made its decision. She had sought for months to bring official attention to the case, she said.

Martinsburg Police arrested Rankin on Sept. 13, 1999, on charges of driving under the influence of alcohol and fleeing the scene.

He pleaded guilty and was sentenced about a month ago to from one to five years in jail, Rose said. He is serving the time now.

Between then and Jan. 17, 2000, Rankin lost his license to drive, Rose said. He was working in the Hedgesville area for Larry Schroyer, whom she described as an independent roofing contractor. Schroyer could not be reached for comment.

Schroyer would drive Rankin to his Hedgesville-area home every night after work, and Rankin would then walk to the nearby house of his sister, who took him home, Rose said.

On Jan. 17, 2000, Schroyer and Rankin got into a fight at Schroyer's home. The reasons are in dispute.

Schroyer called emergency services personnel, who went to his trailer at Cherry Run Mobile Home Village.

"Schroyer had a cut with a large amount of blood above his eye and severe swelling," according to the police report filed with the paperwork charging Rankin with malicious wounding. He also had swelling on his right arm, which he alleged had come from warding off blows from a shovel. Schroyer also alleged Rankin had damaged his car and home.

Rankin left the house and walked three to five miles to the home of his brother Paul Rankin, Jr., according to his brother. Paul Rankin, a member of the Hedgesville Volunteer Fire Department, responded to the call to Schroyer's.

While there, he was paged by his wife and hurried home. Paul Rankin was driving his brother home when deputies pulled them over at the U.S. Post Office at Hedgesville, he said.

"They told me to get out of the truck and stand by the back and not look back," Paul Rankin said Wednesday.

He said Wednesday he didn't see or hear anything, but Rose alleged that he told her investigators he heard a "thump." The officers put his brother in the police car and drove away.

Rose said Todd Rankin was taken to the Sheriff's Office, and a deputy was told to take him to the jail. The jailers would not admit him because he looked so bad, Rose alleged. He was taken to the hospital, where he stayed until Jan. 27, according to a hospital record.

According to his hospital report, he told doctors "he had been struck in the face and back with a blunt object." He complained of "acute shortness of breath and pain in his left neck."

On Feb. 1, three deputies went to Rankin's parents' house to serve him with a warrant charging him with malicious wounding.

Rankin hid in manure to avoid giving off his scent to a police dog, Rose said. Days later, he was charged with obstructing a police officer on Feb. 1, a charge that's still pending, as are destruction of property charges related to the Jan. 17 allegations.

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