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W.Va. deputies plead not guilty to charges of beating suspect

January 26, 2001

W.Va. deputies plead not guilty to charges of beating suspect



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W. Va. - Circuit Court Judge Christopher Wilkes Friday agreed to appoint a special investigator to collect information on the incident that led to the indictment of three Berkeley County Sheriff's deputies for allegedly beating a Hedgesville man one year ago.

Ron Gardner, Christopher McCulley and John Vanorsdale, Jr., each pleaded not guilty Friday to three felony charges and two misdemeanor charges stemming from a grand jury indictment Jan. 10.

All charges were related to the alleged beating of Todd Rankin at the Hedgesville post office parking lot Jan. 17, 2000.

Mineral County Prosecutor Lynn Nelson, handling the state's case, joined with defense attorneys Kevin Mills, David Camilletti and Craig Manford in seeking the special investigator. Sheriff Randy Smith had persuaded the FBI to investigate.

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"There was never an independent investigation done on the charges against Mr. Vanorsdale," said Mills, Vanorsdale's attorney. In an interview after the arraignment, Mills said the FBI would only investigate to determine if more investigation is needed.

"We want a full investigation," he said.

Martinsburg attorney Laura Rose represented Rankin on charges of DUI and fleeing, for which he is serving time in the Eastern Regional Jail. She testified before the grand jury, explaining how her client had spent 11 days in the hospital with a fractured rib and punctured lung after his encounter with deputies.

"The more people looking for the truth the better," she said of the new investigation.

Mills also raised questions in court about whether the grand jury was assembled properly. He wants all records on the process leading to the indictment.

"That's a standard defense tactic," Rose said.

The trio of officers was bolstered by more than a half dozen police officers, several in uniform, all sitting together.

"It's a show of support," said Lt. K.C. Bohrer. "If the facts are as they appear, they did nothing wrong."

Trials were set for the three deputies this summer and fall.

Berkeley County Sheriff's Deputies Ron Gardner, Christopher McCulley and John Vanorsdale, Jr. Friday pleaded not guilty to:

  • One count each of felony malicious battery
  • One count each of felony unlawful assault.
  • One count each of felony conspiracy to inflict injuries
  • One count each of misdemeanor battery
  • One count each of misdemeanor failure to perform official duties
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