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FBI to investigate incident

January 11, 2001

FBI to investigate incident



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The FBI has agreed to investigate the incident that led to the Wednesday grand jury indictment of three Berkeley County sheriff's deputies accused of beating a Hedgesville, W.Va., man a year ago, Berkeley County Sheriff Randy Smith said Thursday.

"I've requested an FBI investigation and the FBI has agreed to do it," Smith said. "These are allegations of police brutality and excessive use of force under the color of law, so I felt an FBI investigation was the right thing to do. All three police officers agreed with the investigation."

"I'm glad we have a third party conducting the investigation," said Martinsburg attorney Laura Rose, whose testimony before a special grand jury Wednesday was followed by the indictments. "I think it will certainly lend more legitimacy to the investigation. It should have been done in January."

A spokesman for the FBI could not confirm the investigation early Thursday evening, but did not rule it out.

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Three deputies, Sgt. Johnny Vanorsdale, Cpl. Ron Gardner and Deputy Christopher McCulley, are charged in the indictments with beating Todd Rankin, 25, who was hospitalized with a collapsed lung.

Rose has alleged Rankin was beaten after sheriff's deputies stopped his brother's truck in which he was riding Jan. 17, 2000.

A police report said Rankin was uncooperative as they attempted to investigate an altercation that occurred between Rankin and Hedgesville man Larry Schroyer earlier that evening.

Rankin spent 10 days in the hospital with a collapsed lung and fractured rib, according to hospital records.

A police report said Rankin had to be forcibly made to lie down to be handcuffed.

Smith said he believes "this case was completely mishandled." He said he believed Rose should have filed a formal complaint with some official body. Since she did not, he asked for FBI help, he said.

"I don't think anybody has ever done this before" he said of asking the FBI to investigate a case under these circumstances. "But no sheriff's deputies have even been indicted on the second-hand testimony of a person."

Rose, who represents Rankin, said she got no help from the Sheriff's Office or Prosecuting Attorney's Office with her concerns. She said she believed the matter was being investigated by a special investigative unit at the state capitol.

"I trust the grand jury a lot more than I trust the FBI," she said. "It's a great tool."

Rose said police tend to close ranks and "the FBI are still law enforcement. I still think it's good they are doing it, though."

Mineral County Prosecutor Lynn Nelson was brought into the case to avoid any potential conflict of interest. He said Thursday he didn't asked for any indictments.

"I just presented (jurors) with the information and asked them what they thought," he said.

The grand jury returned five indictments of felony assault, and conspiracy to inflict injuries and two other misdemeanors.

Vanorsdale said Wednesday the charges were "totally unfounded."

The officers will be arraigned at 3:30 p.m. Jan. 26. They will remain on the county payroll doing administrative duties until the matter is resolved, Smith said. He has said he does not believe they did anything illegal.

County Commission Attorney Norwood Bentley III said courts have given sheriffs wide latitude in handling situations such as this one.

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