Broken door causes tiff between sheriff and county woman

October 27, 2003|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A Berkeley County woman told the Berkeley County Commission Thursday that Sheriff Randy Smith ignored her requests to pay for a door in her home that deputies damaged when they broke into it on Oct. 13 to check on a reported sick person.

Margaret Noriega, whose address in the sheriff department's report on the incident was listed as 272 Quality Terrace, said that when she complained about the damage, she was told to call a handyman and her insurance company.

Smith said Martinsburg City Police received a call that a person in a wheelchair suffered a seizure in Noriega's home. When it was determined that she lived in the county, the call was transferred to the sheriff's department.


A deputy was sent to check out the report, Smith said. When he arrived, no one responded and the door was locked.

Smith said the deputy had two choices - leave the home without going inside or break down the door to see if someone needed help.

No one was home.

Noriega said she discovered the damage when she arrived at her home.

She said she learned that one of her neighbors told the deputy no one was home that night and that he offered to help get the door open without breaking it.

Noriega said when she learned that the sheriff's department responded, she called Smith. "He wouldn't tell me what happened," she said. She said she wanted her door to be fixed.

"I couldn't go over to fix her door," Smith said. "I told her to call a handyman and to have her insurance agent call me."

Smith said Noriega threatened to sue the sheriff's department over the incident.

He said the department was conducting a criminal investigation surrounding the incident, but he would not say what prompted the probe.

Smith asked that the issue be discussed in executive session Thursday but the commissioners denied the request, saying the discussion would center on the broken door only.

The commissioners, after hearing from Noriega and Smith, voted to wait until the criminal investigation is finished, then pay Noriega whatever her insurance doesn't cover.

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