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Judge dismisses charges in VanTol case

March 10, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - A judge has agreed with Nancy VanTol's lawyer that Shepherdstown, W.Va., officials took too long to pursue a case against her and the case should be dismissed.

Jefferson County Circuit Judge Thomas W. Steptoe Jr. handed down the decision Tuesday, said VanTol's attorney, David Camilletti.

Camilletti said Steptoe's decision means the town of Shepherdstown is prohibited from pursuing charges against VanTol, a Shepherdstown businesswoman whose arrest more than a year ago led to allegations of excessive force by a police officer.

"He decided that the one-year rule applied," Camilletti said.

Camilletti asked Steptoe on Monday to dismiss the charges against VanTol because it has been more than a year since VanTol was arrested and a trial has not been held.

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VanTol was charged through Shepherdstown's municipal court. When someone is charged through a municipal court, a trial must be held for them within a year, Camilletti said.

To make the case for throwing out the charges against VanTol, Camilletti had to appeal the case to Steptoe.

Attorney Ralph Lorenzetti was acting as a Shepherdstown prosecutor in the case. Lorenzetti declined to comment on Steptoe's ruling Tuesday other than to say the town disagrees.

VanTol, who lives in Frederick, Md., could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

Lorenzetti told Steptoe on Monday that the state worked hard to bring the case to trial quickly. He told Steptoe about one continuance in the case and that no one objected to it.

VanTol was arrested Aug. 30, 2002, following a traffic stop in which Shepherdstown Police officer Charles Lynch pulled her over on High Street for a burned-out headlight.

Shepherdstown Police Chief Charles Cole said following the arrest that VanTol was charged after she refused to obey instructions from Lynch three times and fled from him on foot. Lynch caught VanTol after a short distance, Cole said.

VanTol was charged with failure to obey a police officer, interfering with police and defective equipment.

An eyewitness to the traffic stop said VanTol never refused to do anything when she was stopped. After VanTol got out of her car and started walking toward the Blue Moon Cafe on East High Street, Lynch "took her down aggressively," Luke Collins said.

Cole later concluded in a 70-page report that Lynch did not use excessive force. Cole based his conclusion partly on the fact that VanTol would not get back into her car after being asked more than once to do so during the traffic stop.

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