Barbour County Sheriff John W. Hawkins addressed rumors circulating in the community during Tuesday's Barbour County Commission meeting.
"With all the rumors going around the county, I wanted to officially tell you tonight that the civil petition that was filed against me was dismissed today," Hawkins said.
Hawkins did not speak specifically to the exact nature of the petition, but said that a civil hearing took place at 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday in Harrison County.
A woman filed the petition against Hawkins in Randolph County. A hearing was originally scheduled on the petition for May 24 in Randolph County, but the case was shifted to Barbour County instead, according to court representatives.
Barbour Family Court Judge Beth Longo then recused herself from the case because it involved the county sheriff, according to her office.
Last week, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals appointed Judge Cornelia A. Reep of Doddridge and Harrison Counties Family Court to rule on the petition, according to a Supreme Court representative.
"The petitioner felt that they couldn't meet the burden of proof so they decided before the hearing to dismiss the petition. So that's a done deal," Hawkins said at the commission, adding that he hopes the situation "dispels all the rumors going around the county."
He said that the rumors about him involved "being arrested and different things..."
"I appreciate your all's support individually as this, going on for the last three weeks, it's been kind of tough on my family," Hawkins said.
Hawkins suggested that the commission look into how business is conducted in the future to ensure that similar allegations don't happen again. The way he feels this can be done is through the use of in-car cameras and recorders.
"This could happen to anybody, it could happen to any law enforcement officer, it could happen to you all, it could happen to anyone. It's a shame," Hawkins said to the commissioners.
Obtaining in-car cameras and recorders to be placed on the uniform of the officers would require funding. Hawkins agreed to acquire a cost estimate for the proposed project and report back to the commission to find a way to come up with the necessary funding to move forward.
"We don't have two officers (patrolling together) so we need something to protect these guys. We're going to have to provide them with the equipment to protect them. They do a good job for us," Hawkins said.
The sheriff said that doesn't think the officers would be as vulnerable as him because they're "not a political person."
"I feel it was politically motivated," Hawkins said about the civil petition.
He said that anyone about to be indicted in a court system could file an action against the officer.
"So we do have to deal with the public, unfortunately, because of staffing. We have to deal with them on a one on one basis a lot," Hawkins said.
Commission President Phil Hart also suggested a GPS unit. "So that if something happened, they could at least track them and see," Hart said.
Hawkins said that GPS units had been used before, but were taken out because they report through cell phones and Barbour County, at the time, didn't have as many cell phone towers.
"But unfortunately, when he's out on the road and doesn't have cell phone coverage, if something would happen to the officer, we couldn't locate him. I couldn't justify that for an officer's safety issue, because it wasn't an everyday, every place instrument," Hawkins said.
According to Hawkins, it wasn't a very expensive project and he had been paying for it out of his own funds. He also said he wants to look back into it and possibly begin using them again.
"If we get stuck transporting a female prisoner by ourselves, anything can be alleged. If that camera's in the backseat it protects them," Hawkins said.
Hawkins proposed using two cameras: one in-car camera would show everything happening to the front of the officer's vehicle and the other in-car camera would record in the direction of the backseat. The officers would wear a microphone that would record audio back into the vehicle, even outside the range of the camera's view.
The cameras also would be tamper-proof, locked away with a key that the officer could not access for the purpose of damaging or altering the video or audio. Prosecuting Attorney Leckta L. Poling said that because the equipment would be tamper-proof, it would hold up as evidence in court.
"It's definitely, I think, an asset in protecting the officers as well as the individuals that have to be transported," Poling said.
Poling also mentioned a current case where a West Virginia State Trooper used an in-car camera as evidence. In that situation, two people placed in a police car for about 45 minutes were discussing an alleged crime, what they did, and how to cover it up, she said.
Another way the cameras and recorders could be beneficial is with recording permission when an officer requests to search a person's vehicle, officials said. A West Virginia law was changed last January regarding the consent to search a vehicle, now requiring that the consent be recorded or written.
"When we apply for a grant, we'll look at it and get some funding," Hart said about the equipment.
Contact Melissa Toothman by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.