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Prosecutor: FBI alerted to sex claim

Poling met in 2011 with teenager alleging relationship with sheriff

July 7, 2012
By Brad Johnson and Melissa Toothman Staff Writers , The Inter-Mountain

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the West Virginia State Police were contacted nearly a year ago about a Philippi teenager's claims of sexual misconduct by Barbour Sheriff John Hawkins, Barbour County Prosecuting Attorney Leckta Poling said.

Poling told The Inter-Mountain she met with the then 17-year-old Brittany Mae Keene last August. In addition to Hawkins, Poling said Keene claimed to have had consensual sexual relationships with two other local law enforcement officials.

Poling said Keene claimed she began the relationship with one officer when she was 16, and he paid her $1,200 a week to have sex with him daily.

"(Keene) said she liked riding around in cop cars and that she liked cops," Poling recalled during a recent phone interview with The Inter-Mountain.

In a petition for a domestic violence protection order Keene filed May 11, she alleged Hawkins raped her last July in a county-owned trailer at the Barbour County Fairgrounds. She later claimed he had her indicted on a felony charge in retaliation for the filing.

Keene subsequently dropped her petition.

While it is The Inter-Mountain's practice not to name victims of alleged sexual assault, Keene has asked to go on record.

Poling said Keene's current version of the alleged incident is inconsistent with what she said in August.

"The story was different from what she said later," Poling said, noting Keene had indicated she and Hawkins had consensual sex in July 2011, the week before her Aug. 5 interview with the teen.

Paul Harris, the Wheeling attorney who has taken over Keene's defense in the indictment case, responded to Poling's assertion.

"It's my client's contention that this event that happened in July 2011 was not consensual," Harris said.

Harris replaced Keene's court-appointed Philippi attorney, Justina Helmick.

Hawkins, through his attorney, Richard Shryock of Elkins, declined to comment on this new information from Poling.

Poling, however, said she wants to ensure the public is aware of her position with regard to this case.

"I would never prosecute anyone out of spite," Poling said. "This is my legal license on the line."

Poling said she met with Keene Aug. 5, after being contacted by Keene's probation officer. The officer also had been told by Keene of the alleged relationships, Poling said.

Keene previously told The Inter-Mountain the probation officer had moved her regular check-in appointments to Grafton, to limit her contact with Hawkins.

Keene shared the information in the August meeting because "she wanted to make sure everyone was aware of it," Poling said.

That prompted Poling's contact and initial involvement in the case, she said.

Poling said she passed along the information she gathered from her 2011 meeting with Keene to the West Virginia State Police and the FBI, and she later was contacted by both agencies for follow-up interviews.

Poling indicated she is sharing this information publicly now because she did "what I was supposed to do."

"At this point, I feel obligated to defend my office and myself, to let people know that we didn't turn away a 17-year-old," Poling said.

Poling said she told Keene she would forward the information to authorities.

"I said I would get in touch with her and gave her a phone number," Poling said. "I told her, if she felt in danger, to contact 911."

Keene told The Inter-Mountain in June that the FBI has possession of both her cellphone and computer. She claimed Hawkins initially contacted her through Facebook, and he had called and texted her many times.

The Inter-Mountain has been told by representatives of the FBI and the West Virginia State Police that the agencies can neither confirm nor deny whether there is a current investigation of the Barbour County Sheriff's Department.

Poling said she believes Keene was contacted by the FBI and state police, but noted no criminal charges have been brought against any of the law enforcement officials in question.

Poling initially failed to disclose to The Inter-Mountain that outside law enforcement officials had been contacted to report Keene's allegations. Instead, she released the following statement in late May:

"Because of the vicious and malicious rumors circulating about law enforcement in Barbour County, Prosecuting Attorney Leckta L. Poling reports that no law enforcement officers in Barbour County have been arrested, no criminal charges have been filed against any law enforcement officers and no charges are pending," the release stated. "To continue to foster rumors and innuendoes is only hurting law enforcement and preventing them from serving the public. ... Various reports of arrests to social networking sites and media sources are untrue."

In a June 9 article in The Inter-Mountain, Barbour County Commission President Phil Hart also weighed in, saying, to the best of his knowledge, the Sheriff's Department is not being investigated.

Keene maintains otherwise and claims fallout from her speaking publicly about her allegations resulted in her arrest in late May.

Keene was named in a Barbour County Grand Jury sealed indictment on May 29, 18 days after she filed the petition for a domestic violence protection order against Hawkins. She was arrested the same day as the indictment.

Poling and Circuit Judge Alan D. Moats voluntarily recused themselves June 11 from the felony indictment case involving Keene.

In a press release at the time, Poling stated she recused herself to "maintain the integrity of the court system and confidence of the public in these matters due to a perceived appearance of impropriety raised publicly in the Elkins Inter-Mountain by the defendant, Brittany Mae Keene."

Poling also recused herself from a misdemeanor underage consumption charge pending against Keene.

On June 15, after declining for weeks to comment about the situation, Hawkins took to his personal Facebook page to deny Keene's allegations.

In an interview with Keene in June, she told The Inter-Mountain she met with Poling last August and informed the prosecutor about her alleged sexual relationship with Hawkins.

Keene said Poling told her, "If if bothers you, get counseling."

Keene also claimed Poling informed Hawkins of the August meeting, and Hawkins then began to threaten her with violence and even death if she went to the authorities again.

Poling denied informing Hawkins.

"I did not disclose that meeting to any of the officers," Poling said.

Poling said she had been subpoenaed to testify about the August meeting in the petition for the domestic violence protection order hearing, which was scheduled for June 5. However, it was never held, as Keene withdrew the petition.

Keene filed the petition against Hawkins in Randolph County. A hearing originally was 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.

The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals then appointed Judge Cornelia A. Reep of Doddridge and Harrison Counties Family Court to rule on the petition, according to a Supreme Court representative.

On June 5, Hawkins said at a Barbour County Commission meeting that "the civil petition that was filed against me" had been "dismissed" that afternoon in Harrison County Family Court.

Keene said, because of the alleged threats, she had been staying at Women's Aid in Crisis in Randolph County when she filed the petition.

The May 29 indictment charged Keene with one felony count of receiving stolen property and two misdemeanor counts of transferring stolen property. The indictment alleges Keene came into possession of two guitars stolen from Haven of Hope Church on or about March 22 or 23.

According to the indictment, the two guitars - a Takamine acoustic, with electric pickup, and an acoustic Ovation - are valued at more than $1,000. The indictment alleges Keene knew or had reason to believe the guitars had been stolen. Keene allegedly sold the Takamine guitar to Hank's Discount and Pawn Shop.

The Ovation guitar was allegedly transferred by Keene to Lynn Marie Moore.

According to the documents requesting the appointment of a special prosecutor in the case, "the state has a recorded statement taken from the defendant wherein she admits that she drove a juvenile to the location near the church and he returned with the two guitars and that she took one of the guitars to Hank's Pawn Shop and got $50 and she gave the other guitar to a Lynn Moore to try and pawn for her."

Former Randolph County Circuit Judge John Henning of Elkins has been appointed by the state Supreme Court to preside over the felony case against Keene, after the recusal of Moats. Henning now serves as a senior status judge and has been "recalled for temporary assignment to the circuit court of Barbour County," according to a June 19 court filing.



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