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Board rules Martinsburg officer can be suspended, eligible for pension

July 17, 2010|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- A Martinsburg Police lieutenant would be suspended from the force until Oct. 15, at which time he would have 20 years with the department and become eligible to receive a retirement pension, if a hearing board's decision is accepted by the officer and the city.

John Sherman Jr., 46, who has been on paid administrative leave since August 2009, would have to resign or have his employment terminated on Oct. 15 to receive the pension, according to City Attorney Floyd M. "Kin" Sayre III.

Sherman could not begin to receive the benefit until age 50, according to his attorney, Barry P. Beck.

Sherman was placed on paid administrative leave after he was charged with assault in an incident at Martinsburg Church of Christ along Tuscarora Pike. He entered a no-contest plea in February to one misdemeanor count of battery and was fined $500.

Sherman was given a termination notice April 9 by City Manager Mark Baldwin and now-retired police department Capt. Barbara A. Bartley, officials have said. Sherman appealed the termination and requested his case go before the hearing board.

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Beck said Friday that he and Sherman were reviewing the decision. He would not say if he planned to file an appeal.

Sayre said Friday that the city had not made a decision regarding a possible appeal.

An appeal by either party must be made to the Martinsburg Police Civil Service Commission within 10 days of receipt of the written decision, Sayre and Beck said. The decision was delivered Wednesday, according to the board's legal counsel, Sarah Hinkle.

Beck said he was pleased that the hearing board recognized Sherman's nearly 20 years of "honorable service" to the police department and the officer's desire not to lose his retirement pension "that he's worked so hard to earn."

If the suspension until Oct. 15 goes into effect, Sherman no longer will be on paid administrative leave, but he will be compensated for accrued leave, Sayre said.

A circuit judge ruled last month that the City of Martinsburg had formed a proper hearing board to review the city's decision to dismiss Sherman, who had filed a civil action claiming the board was improperly composed because it did not include an officer of his rank.

Martinsburg Police Lt. Glenn Macher, who initially was appointed to the hearing board along with Sgt. Matthew Zollinger and Patrolman James Everhart, recused himself from the board at Sherman's request, according to the lawsuit.

The only other lieutenants in the department were ineligible to serve on the board because one was acting as police chief when the termination notice was given and the other lieutenant was the internal investigations officer for Sherman's case, Sayre said.

Upon Macher's recusal, the city opted to appoint a city resident, William Gain, to the board. That decision was upheld in a ruling by 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Gina M. Groh, who presided in the case.

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