Former Jefferson Co. sheriff pleads guilty to civil rights violation, faces up to 10 years

January 14, 2013|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD |
  • Former Jefferson County Sheriff Robert E. "Bobby" Shirley
File photo

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Former Jefferson County Sheriff Robert E. “Bobby” Shirley pleaded guilty Monday to violating the civil rights of a bank robbery suspect in December 2010.

Shirley, 61, who could face a maximum of 10 years on the charge, is to be sentenced by Chief Judge John Preston Bailey in U.S. District Court. A sentencing hearing date has not been set, according to Shirley’s attorney, Kevin D. Mills.

Shirley also could be fined up to $250,000 and be ordered to serve three years of supervised release following any incarceration.

Shirley’s sentence “may be impacted by his conduct while on pretrial release, in which it is alleged that Shirley attempted to influence the testimony of one of the government’s witnesses,” according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Northern District of West Virginia.

Shirley will remain free pending sentencing, but has been placed on home confinement and was required to turn over all of his firearms.

“In light of new evidence that came to light last week, Mr. Shirley elected to change his plea and accept the new restrictions on his bond,” Mills said Monday in a statement after his client’s change-of-plea hearing. “This decision was made by Mr. Shirley for what he feels will be the best long-term interests of his family, former constituents and for himself.”

Shirley, who resigned Friday as a condition of a plea agreement, entered the guilty plea to the felony charge before Magistrate David J. Joel in U.S. District Court in a 25-minute hearing.

Jesse W. Jones, who served as chief of staff under Shirley, is expected to be formally appointed to manage the sheriff’s department Thursday by the Jefferson County Commission, which is expected to advertise and seek applicants for the position, officials said Monday. Applicants must be registered members of the Democratic Party member, residents of Jefferson County and high school graduates. 

Shirley’s one-sentence resignation letter delivered to Commissioner Patsy Noland Friday evening was attached to the plea agreement filed with the court.

After standing before Joel to formally enter the guilty plea, Shirley hesitated a few seconds before answering Joel after being asked if he was pleading guilty on his own free will because he was guilty of the charge.

“Yes, sir,” Shirley finally responded.

In exchange for the plea to deprivation of rights under color of law, a second charge — destruction, alteration or falsification of record in a federal investigation — was dismissed.

The U.S. Attorney’s office also agreed that the plea agreement would “dispose of any and all outstanding charges and that the government will not supersede the indictment with additional counts.”

Shirley is accused of kicking and stomping Mark Daniel Haines after a December 2010 police chase and falsifying records during a subsequent investigation.

Haines is serving a 19-year sentence for bank robbery.

FBI agent Dave Rauser testified in Monday’s hearing that Shirley’s actions were captured on video by dashboard cameras from various police cruisers that were involved in the pursuit of Haines.

Rauser testified that the video footage shows Shirley climbing in the back of a white pickup truck when Haines was being apprehended and kicking Haines “four or five times” while he was being apprehended. In his investigation, Rauser said he also learned that Shirley moved an officer who was handcuffing Haines aside in order to kick him.

When Haines fell to the ground near Shirley’s feet, he stomped on the man’s upper body, possibly his head, one or two times, Rauser testified. Haines was handcuffed when he fell to the ground, Rauser testified.

Rauser confirmed Haines received multiple bodily injuries, including a broken nose and ruptured orbital bone.

Rauser said it was his understanding that “a significant portion of the injuries received by Mr. Haines ... at the time of his arrest were due to those actions taken by the defendant.”

Court documents say he suffered scrapes and bruises on his face and back during the beating, as well as a hemorrhage in his right eye, and a broken nose, rib and eye socket.

The injuries were inflicted after police caught up with Haines in a two-county chase that started when Haines attempted to rob City National Bank in Ranson, W.Va., according to court documents.

By pleading guilty, the government said Shirley agreed that while acting under the color of law, he deprived Haines of his right to be free from the use of unreasonable force by a law enforcement officer.

The falsifying records charge stemmed from allegations that Shirley falsified an entry in a Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department use-of-force report with the intent to obstruct the federal investigation of the assault, according to U.S. Attorney’s office.

“It’s unfortunate when a member of the law enforcement community exceeds the scope of his authority and inflicts injuries upon a helpless person,” U.S. Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld II said in the news release. “The best way to deal with bank robbers like Mark Haines is through the criminal justice system, and not by the use of unnecessary violence.”

A civil lawsuit filed by Haines in federal court against Shirley and several other police officers who responded in pursuit still is pending.

The criminal case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul T. Camilletti and investigated by the FBI.

Staff Writer Richard F. Belisle contributed to this report.

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