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Berkeley Co. background checks to be reviewed after charges go unnoticed

December 20, 2007|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Procedures for checking criminal histories of Berkeley County employees are being reviewed after felony charges filed against a former building inspector went unnoticed until after he was fired.

Daniel W. Lyons of Berkeley County pleaded guilty to two of the three felony cases against him on file in Berkeley County Circuit Court. Both pleas resulted in misdemeanor convictions, according to court records.

In 2000, Lyons entered a guilty plea for failure to pay child support in the amount of $17,782. In 1997, Lyons entered a guilty plea to failure to file a sales tax return, and the third felony case was dismissed, records show.

Berkeley County Commission legal counsel Norwood Bentley III confirmed that the background report on Lyons performed in January 2006 by now-retired Berkeley County Sheriff's Department Capt. K.C. Bohrer did not list the allegations filed in circuit court or the convictions that resulted.

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"That doesn't show up," said Bentley, who agreed the additional criminal history might have dissuaded county officials from hiring Lyons.

Bohrer, now with the Frederick County Sheriff's Department, acknowledged in an interview Tuesday that his procedure for conducting the background checks entailed reviewing magistrate court records.

In his tenure with Berkeley County, Bohrer said he pushed for implementing a background check process when the county didn't have one in place.

Though most allegations are initially filed in magistrate court, a grand jury seated in circuit court can directly indict an individual on a charge based on evidence presented through sworn testimony, according to state law.

Sheriff W. Randy Smith on Thursday said he addressed the apparent oversight in background check procedure, but added that federal law still prevents his department from conducting more thorough investigations that he completes for criminal justice jobs.

Lyons applied for a job in the county engineering department in December 2005 and was hired in late January 2006 and fired less than a month later, according to a West Virginia Human Rights Commission complaint he filed in February, 2007. At that time, Lyons listed a Hedgesville, W.Va., address, but he could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Lyons said in the complaint that the Berkeley County Commission treated him in a "disparate manner because of a perceived disability (arthritis),"

Lyons said a doctor's notations on a physical examination form completed for the job was viewed as a liability by county officials. The form listed "no squatting and no climbing ladders" as an accommodation, which Lyons said was written along with a statement that he was "acceptable for all work."

In his complaint, Lyons said he told the doctor the arthritis was caused by post-surgical scarring that stemmed from an old knee injury when he was a police officer.

Bentley said this week that he had advised the County Commission earlier this year to settle the case rather than continue what he believed would be an uphill legal battle.

"(The plaintiff) wanted $10,000 and I didn't agree to that," Bentley said.

In addition to the $4,000 payment to Lyons, the county in September 2007 agreed to participate in workforce training related to the hiring and firing of individuals with disabilities.

The cost of the training wasn't immediately clear.

"I would argue that the training was good training," Bentley said. "We would have done that sooner or later anyway."

Circuit Court officials this week could not verify whether Lyons had paid the child support he owed within the five-year period he was given in November 2000. No record of payment of $10,872 owed by Lyons when he was sentenced has been recorded in circuit court, but county officials said Lyons could have made payments through the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.

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