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Sheriff sued by Rankins

February 13, 2002

Sheriff sued by Rankins



By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A lawsuit that Martinsburg attorney Laura Rose says she filed in U.S. District Court Tuesday alleges that members of the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department conspired with other members of the department and the West Virginia State Police in an attempt to kill a Hedgesville, W.Va., man.

Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely is named as a defendant in the suit along with former Berkeley County Sheriff Ronald Jones and the Berkeley County Commission.

County Commission President Howard Strauss declined to comment Tuesday night, saying he had not received any notification of the suit.

According to a copy of the suit obtained Tuesday, three sheriff's department officers who went to the home of Todd Rankin on Feb. 12, 2000, were aware of a prior incident in which Rankin claimed he was beaten by three other deputies.

The officers who went to Rankin's home Feb. 12 realized that "those deputies might be pursued if Todd Rankin sought medical attention and he survived to testify against them," the suit said.

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"In other words, defendants sheriff's department and the three individually named defendant deputies to this lawsuit knew and understood that dead people don't make good witnesses," the suit alleges.

The suit alleges deputies K.C. Bohrer, Mark Spessert and Daniel Steerman approached the Rankin residence "in a hostile manner and in an attempt to frighten, scare and provoke Todd Rankin" so he would attempt to run.

The deputies delayed the arrest of Rankin for at least 15 minutes, the suit said.

Rankin never offered any resistance to the officers, the suit said.

The deputies called for back-up help, which resulted in four more deputies responding to the scene and four state troopers who have been previously identified in other situations involving excessive use of force, the suit alleges.

The suit was filed on behalf of Wilma Rankin and Paul Rankin, Todd Rankin's parents. Also a plaintiff in the lawsuit is Brittany Rankin, Todd Rankin's sister.

The suit alleges Bohrer, Spessert and Steerman assaulted both Wilma and Paul Rankin at their house on the night of Feb. 20 and discharged "capstun" into their eyes. The "physically combative acts" occurred in front of 11-year-old Brittany Rankin, who was crying out for the police to not take her parents away, the suit said.

The deputies charged Wilma and Paul Rankin with obstructing an officer. The Rankins were later acquitted of the charges.

The suit claims Bohrer, Spessert and Steerman charged Wilma and Paul Rankin with obstructing to justify their "negligent" acts and in doing so, violated the Rankins' equal protection and due process guaranteed by the state and U.S. Constitutions.

The suit does not seek a specific amount of money.

Last June, a Berkeley County Circuit judge dismissed charges against the three deputies who were accused of beating Rankin.

Todd Rankin suffered a collapsed lung and a broken rib on Jan. 17, 2000, and Rose contended that deputies inflicted the injuries after they stopped Paul Rankin Jr.'s truck as he drove his brother home.

Two court-appointed investigators concluded, however, that Rankin probably had been hurt during a fight earlier that day.

Circuit Judge Christopher Wilkes granted a special prosecutor's request and dismissed five counts each against Sgt. John Vanorsdale Jr., Cpl. Ron Gardner and Deputy Christopher McCulley.

Games-Neely downplayed the lawsuit.

Games-Neely said Rose was given access to a Berkeley County grand jury to address the alleged beating of Rankin, but that was not good enough.

"I'm not playing her little games," Games-Neely said Tuesday night.

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