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Accused W.Va. deputies back on limited duty

May 01, 2001

Accused W.Va. deputies back on limited duty



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


Berkeley County Sheriff Randy Smith announced Monday he has reinstated to limited duty three deputies who had been on administrative leave after being indicted last January on charges they beat a Hedgesville, W.Va., man in January 2000, sending him to the hospital for 10 days.

In their limited assignments, the deputies will serve court papers and will be armed and in uniform, Smith said.

Smith took the action because of new information developed by his department about the incident, which has been handed over to two investigators reviewing the matter in depth, he said.

"I don't think the allegations are true,' Smith said of the indictments. "New information that's been uncovered leads me to believe the basis for indicting the deputies was inaccurate and misleading at best. The entire case is based on nothing but rumor, innuendoes, hearsay and lies." He would not say what new information his officers have uncovered.

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Deputies Ron Gardner, Chris McCulley and John Van Orsdale Jr. each were indicted on three felony charges and two misdemeanor charges related to the Jan. 17, 2000, incident.

In the incident, the alleged victim, Todd Rankin, had fought with a Hedgesville man, Larry Schroyer, at Schroyer's home, and then left, according to the sheriff's office. Deputies caught up with Rankin at the Hedgesville Post Office and allegedly beat him so badly he suffered a cracked rib and a lung that was 70 percent collapsed. He spent 10 days in the hospital.

The deputies have each pleaded not guilty to the charges of malicious battery, unlawful assault, conspiracy to inflict injuries, misdemeanor battery and failure to perform official duties.

The new information Smith claims he has will be shared with a new grand jury that will meet May 15, said Mineral County Prosecuting Attorney Lynn Nelson, who is serving as a special prosecutor in the case. Nelson said he is uncertain whether he will make a recommendation whether to proceed with the case or dismiss it. He doesn't know what the new information is, he said.

"I'm going to ask (the grand jury) if they want me to proceed with this matter," he said. "I'm representing the interests of the citizens of Berkeley County, so I'd like to hear from the citizens of Berkeley County."

Martinsburg attorney Laura Rose, who represents Rankin, went to the grand jury in January and the jurors indicted the deputies Jan. 10, 2001, after Rose's appearance.

Rose said two special investigators have done a good job uncovering the facts. But another avenue for Nelson to explore if he wants more independent information is to have the grand jurors investigate it. They can issue subpoenas, which the special investigators cannot, she said.

"I think an independent investigation is critical to the truth," she said.

She added: "I don't think there's anything new" that should lead to the cases being dismissed.

Smith said he believes Rankin could have hurt himself in the fight with Schroyer or in the woods, running away after the fight. Smith's deputies did have to force an unwilling Rankin into custody, but they did nothing more than is required in such situations, he said.

Rose said Smith is just protecting his own officers, regardless of the facts.

"When this happened, Sheriff Smith said 'If they're guilty, I'll drive them to the jail myself,'" she said. "Well, he'd better fill up his gas tank."

Rankin and prosecutors have reached a plea agreement on the incident at Schroyer's house that led to the alleged beating. He had been indicted on unlawful battery, a felony. He pleaded no contest to misdemeanor battery. He has maintained his innocence, however.

Rankin is currently serving time in jail on DUI and fleeing charges. The plea agreement allows him to serve six months and a day handed to him in the battery case at the same time as his other jail time.

Nelson will meet with the grand jury May 15.

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