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Council asks mayor to seek settlement in police lawsuit

February 24, 2005|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - A possible settlement is in the works in two lawsuits filed against the Charles Town Police Department over a hunting incident in 2002 on the Huntfield property, officials say.

Charles Town City Council member Matt Ward said Tuesday an insurance lawyer for the city recommended that city council members seek to settle the suits.

Although Ward said he believes the police department acted properly in the incident, officials are concerned about the cost of pursuing the case further in court.

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Tuesday night, City Council members authorized Mayor Randy Hilton to settle the cases with two cash awards of up to $15,000 and one of up to $17,000, Ward said.

Ward said he was not sure which plaintiffs would receive up to $15,000 and which one would get up to $17,000.

In one of the lawsuits, it is alleged that patrolman R.E. Kerns and his father, Kevin Kerns, used "aggressive, assaultive and outrageous" behavior when William W. Vanorsdale of Berkeley Springs, W.Va., and Chad A. Sipe of Hancock were coming out of some woods at the Huntfield property on Nov. 11, 2002.

The men were told by one of the men to get on the ground "or I'll blow your head off," according to the suit, filed in Jefferson County Circuit Court.

Kevin Kerns held a gun to the back of Chad Sipe's head and tied up Vanorsdale with a harness that was retrieved from a truck, the suit alleges.

Kevin Kerns then sat on Vanorsdale and told Vanorsdale if he moved, he would "split (his) your head open," the suit alleges.

When Vanorsdale and Sipe asked R.E. Kerns and Kevin Kerns whether they were police officers, Kerns and his father told the men not to worry about it, according to the suit, prepared by Martinsburg attorney Laura Rose.

Neither of the men were in uniform and Vanorsdale and Sipes were in "genuine fear of their lives," the suit said.

In the second lawsuit, Robert A. Unger of Berkeley Springs, who was hunting with Sipe and Vanorsdale, claims three Charles Town Police Department officers and Kevin Kerns acted "as a mob" when they arrested him.

Unger was seeking up to $1 million in his suit, also filed in Jefferson County Circuit Court, and Vanorsdale and Sipe were each seeking $1 million.

The Huntfield property, about a mile south of Charles Town, is where a development is being constructed that will have more than 3,000 homes.

Martinsburg attorney Paul Taylor, who represents Unger, said Tuesday it appears a settlement will be reached in his client's case, although he and the city still need to verify the settlement amount.

Rose, who represents Vanorsdale and Sipe, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Named as defendants in the suit involving Unger were R.E. Kerns, Kevin Kerns, C.A. Kutcher, R.J. Jenkins, who no longer works for the department, and the police department.

The defendants in the Vanorsdale and Sipe lawsuit were the same except Kutcher is not named in that case.

After the lawsuits were filed, Charles Town Police Chief Mike Aldridge expressed disbelief over the allegations.

"It's not within our character to do something like that," Aldridge said in a previous interview.

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