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Woman files lawsuit against Berkeley County sheriff's deputy

January 29, 2013|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthewu@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W. Va. — A woman has sued a Berkeley County sheriff’s deputy, claiming she had to spend a night in jail after the officer had her arrested in January 2012 for a crime she did not commit.

Sheriff’s Deputy Morris Stewart did not return a message left Monday requesting comment about the lawsuit, which was filed Friday on behalf of Lisa L. Bennett of Martinsburg by Charles Town, W.Va., attorney Peter A. Pentony in Berkeley County Circuit Court.

Berkeley County Council, which is responsible for funding the sheriff’s office, also was named as a defendant in the lawsuit. The civil action asks for a judgment against the deputy and the county, seeking unspecified compensatory damages, including lost wages, pre- and post-judgment interest and costs, as well as punitive damages.

The county council’s attorney, Norwood Bentley III, said Monday he had yet to review the lawsuit and declined to comment about the allegations.

“I did have knowledge it was probably going to be filed,” Bentley said.
 
One misdemeanor count of unauthorized use of a vehicle filed against Pentony’s client was dismissed on Oct. 2, 2012, in Berkeley County Magistrate Court, according to court documents.

Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Stephanie Saunders informed the court in October that the victim in the misdemeanor case could not be located for the hearing and then-Magistrate Joan V. Bragg granted Saunders’ motion to dismiss the case, according to court documents.

Saunders declined to comment further about the case on Tuesday.

Christopher J. Prezioso, Bennett’s defense attorney in the magistrate court case, said Tuesday that he would have presented a defense that his client “was the wrong Lisa Bennett” had the case not been dismissed.

The complaint filed in magistrate court by Stewart alleges the suspect took her boyfriend’s 1993 Mercury Cougar from 43 Hobart Circle on Aug. 26, 2011, after the couple had an argument and then broke up, according to court documents.

Morris said in the complaint that the man asked his girlfriend to move out of his residence and that she apparently took his vehicle after he left for work, according to court documents.

The man told the deputy that he saw his ex-girlfriend drive past his workplace along U.S. 11 in his vehicle and called police to report the incident, according to court documents.

Bennett, meanwhile, asserts in the lawsuit she does not know the man who filed the complaint about the unauthorized use of his vehicle and that she has resided in Martinsburg with her husband and children for about six years.

Bennett was arrested at her home on Jan. 26, 2012, and taken to Eastern Regional Jail in Martinsburg, where she spent the night in jail. She was fingerprinted and forced to sit for a mug shot, according to the lawsuit.

Bennett says the arrest left her humiliated, embarrassed and emotionally upset and that she missed work and incurred legal expenses for her criminal defense, according to the lawsuit.

Bennett claims that the deputy was provided a description of the suspect indicating the woman wanted for the crime had “brown red hair and brown eyes,” but Bennett’s drivers license indicates she has blue eyes, according to the lawsuit.

“Deputy Stewart never contacted (Bennett) to obtain information,” Pentony said in a seven-page complaint.

Bennett contends her constitutional rights were violated and alleges the deputy was negligent in his investigation of the crime.

“Deputy Stewart, while in the performance of his duties ... swore out a criminal complaint which was erroneous, which contained material misstatements and misleading statements and which contained omissions,” Pentony said in the complaint.

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