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Delegate accuses deputies of stalking him, local attorney

March 29, 2002|BY SARAH MULLIN

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

A Berkeley County, W.Va., delegate Thursday accused the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department of stalking him and a local attorney who has filed two lawsuits against the department.

Rep. Larry Faircloth, R-Berkeley, said during Thursday's Berkeley County Commission meeting that on two separate occasions in the Kmart parking lot off W.Va. 9 he encountered deputies who appeared to be following and harassing him.

Berkeley County Sheriff Randy Smith said the deputies were patrolling the area because of an increase in vandalism and destruction of property in the parking lot.

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Faircloth alleged the most recent incident, which he said occurred last Friday at 1:30 a.m., was set up by the Sheriff's Department to trap him and Martinsburg attorney Laura Rose.

Rose has filed two lawsuits in federal court against the sheriff's department alleging officer misconduct.

Faircloth said Rose told him she believed deputies were following her.

Rose did not attend the meeting and declined to comment when contacted after the meeting.

Faircloth said Rose told him she felt she was being followed and wanted a witness to verify it, Faircloth said.

Smith said Deputy Ron Gardner, an officer named in one of the lawsuits, was patrolling the parking lot when he saw Rose and Faircloth in the northeast corner of the lot.

He said when Gardner saw who it was he left the area.

Faircloth said he and Rose then drove down to Miller's Chrysler-Plymouth-Jeep car dealership off Kelly Island Road to see if the deputy would follow, and he said the deputy did follow them.

Smith said Gardner did not follow them, but he drove down Kelly Island Road as part of his patrol and then drove past the car dealership.

A car was recently vandalized at the dealership, Smith said.

"I have no doubt Deputy Gardner ran into Faircloth and Rose but was it intentional, was he stalking them, following them, harassing them? No. He was doing his job," Smith said.

"They're playing games," Faircloth said.

Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely, who also is named in one of the suits, said the deputies are doing exactly what county officials want them to do - patrol in a high-crime area.

"These guys don't have time to stop and come to these county commission meetings. I have five officers sitting here that could be doing better things," she said.

Smith said if somebody is in a suspicious area, officers are obligated to investigate the situation.

He said the department has responded to 260 calls in that immediate area so far this year.

He also said that in the course of a year, a deputy will put 1 million miles on a cruiser.

"You're going to run into us and we will run into you," Smith said.

The first incident occurred in the same area about two weeks ago around midnight and only involved Faircloth, Smith said.

Faircloth, who was waiting to deliver papers to someone, said Gardner was the deputy involved.

Smith said Deputy Richard Nelson, not Gardner, responded to an alarm at the old Lowe's building next to Kmart.

Smith said Nelson saw a vehicle in the parking lot and proceeded to check it out. When he saw it was Faircloth, he left the area.

Smith brought both deputies into the meeting in order to show Faircloth the physical similarities between the two men.

Faircloth said he may have mistaken Nelson for Gardner.

"The thing that would worry any police officer is that Rose and Faircloth are making themselves untouchable by the police," Smith said.

"I don't think it was any mere coincidence," Faircloth said.

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