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Special prosecutor sought by lawyer

February 07, 2001|By BOB PARTLOW

Special prosecutor sought by lawyer



MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - An attorney whose grand jury testimony led to the indictment of three Berkeley County sheriff's deputies charged with beating a suspect has called for a special prosecutor to investigate what she believes to be a second, related incident of excessive police force.

"We need a special prosecutor," Martinsburg attorney Laura Rose said this week. She called on Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely to appoint an outside investigator.

"She has an obligation to request an investigation that is not tainted by the political process," Rose said.

"Your office appears to be actively involved in defending local law enforcement regardless of the accusations made against them," Rose wrote Feb. 1.

Games-Neely said her office was trying to determine how best to conduct an investigation and would not be rushed.

"Laura fails to understand one basic principle: We have to do an investigation before we can have a prosecutor," Games-Neely said. "Can we be objective? Sure we can, but we need an investigation first."

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She said the State Police would be a logical investigating agency, but that agency has been named by Rose as being involved in the second alleged beating.

The trouble began Jan. 17, 2000, when Todd Rankin was stopped by sheriff's deputies in the parking lot of the Hedgesville Post Office after leaving the home of Larry Schroyer, with whom he'd had a fight.

Rose said she told grand jury members a month ago that Rankin was beaten by the deputies and went to the hospital that night with a fractured rib and punctured lung. He spent 10 days in the hospital.

In early February - the date is in dispute - deputies arrived at the home of Paul and Wilma Rankin, Todd Rankin's parents, and tried to serve him with a warrant for malicious wounding, based on the fight with Schroyer.

They started to arrested Rankin, but his parents came home, according to police reports. Rose said 10 county sheriff's deputies and state troopers used pepper spray and bodily force on the parents, who were arrested for obstructing police. The charges are pending. Police reports confirm the use of pepper spray.

Rose contends officers arrived at the Rankin house to administer another beating to Todd Rankin. She alleged that the first three officers to arrive wore no badges and had no paperwork. Before it was all over, 10 sheriff's deputies and state troopers and one police dog were on the scene, she said. Todd Rankin escaped by hiding in a manure pile, she said.

"You mean to tell me it took 10 officers and a police dog to handle two older people, neither of whom is very big," Rose said.

She wrote Berkeley County Sheriff Randy Smith last week, asking him to arrest officers K.C. Boher, Mark Spessert and Daniel Steerman over the incident. He declined, as did Games-Neely in a letter to Rose.

"I don't think the use of pepper spray is an excessive use of force," Smith said. "I've seen an 80-pound woman give more trouble to an officer than a 300-pound man."

Games-Neely said Rose's information has come from the Rankins.

"What she has to say means nothing to me," Games-Neely said. "She isn't a witness or victim."

She said a special prosecutor raised the issues before the grand jury last month and jurors refused to indict anyone.

Circuit Judge Christopher Wilkes will appoint a special investigator into the alleged beating of Todd Rankin. Games-Neely said that person might do a parallel investigation into the latest allegations.

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