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Former officer pleads no contest in alleged slapping incident

September 11, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A former Martinsburg Police Department officer who pleaded no contest Friday to a charge that he slapped a man in a holding cell was ordered to pay a $50 fine and all court costs.

As part of the plea bargain reached with prosecutors, Jason Fornwalt, 30, was not ordered to serve any time in jail. Fornwalt, who lives in Maryland, pleaded no contest to one misdemeanor count of battery.

"I'm glad to have it all behind me," Fornwalt said after the brief hearing. "I'm looking forward to moving on with my life."

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Fornwalt said the fact that the victim, Andre Juste, refused to testify said a lot about the case.

Berkeley County Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely confirmed that Juste, who was 22 years old at the time of the incident, did not respond to at least two requests for cooperation. Games-Neely said that Juste never contacted her office or the probation office after being asked to do so.

During the hearing, Fornwalt's attorney, Kevin Mills, said that if the case had gone to trial, he would have used an argument that the slap might have been justified.

While in the holding cell, Juste had made threats against Fornwalt, his wife and his children, Mills said. Those threats caused Fornwalt to suffer from duress, which is a usable defense in a criminal case. Fearing, however, that he would receive less than a presumption of innocence from jurors, Fornwalt decided to accept the plea bargain rather than have a jury trial, Mills said.

Fornwalt arrested Juste on several outstanding arrest warrants on July 19, 2003, and placed him inside a holding cell at the Martinsburg Police Department, Games-Neely said.

The two men yelled at each other and a camera showed Fornwalt entering the cell. The camera did not capture the slap itself, Games-Neely said.

Juste was not injured, she said.

After learning of the allegations, Martinsburg Police Department Chief Ted Anderson ordered Lt. Tim Catlett to conduct an internal affairs investigation and Lt. John McMillen to conduct a criminal investigation. An indictment returned against Fornwalt in May was a direct result of McMillen's report, Anderson said.

Fornwalt began working at the police department in 2000 and ceased working there in 2003, Anderson said.

Games-Neely said that Fornwalt was fired. Fornwalt told Circuit Judge Christopher Wilkes that he now is working as a security officer.

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