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Ferguson is interim Barbour sheriff

Officials: Hawkins’ resignation letter labeled ‘privileged’

February 22, 2014
By Melissa Toothman - Staff Writer ( , The Inter-Mountain

PHILIPPI - The Barbour County Commission on Friday appointed an interim sheriff to replace John Hawkins following his sudden resignation Thursday after pleading guilty to a mail fraud indictment in federal court.

Sgt. Philip G. Ferguson was appointed for a period of up to 30 days to serve as the interim sheriff until the Barbour County Democratic Executive Committee submits three proposed Democratic replacements to the Commission by March 7.

Commissioner Jedd Schola told The Inter-Mountain that Ferguson was selected by the Commission because he is the senior officer of the Barbour County Sheriff's Department.

County Commission President Tim McDaniel told The Inter-Mountain Thursday night that, until an officer was appointed, Chief Deputy Brett Carpenter would be in charge.

The Commission met Friday afternoon in special session at the Barbour County Courthouse to promptly appoint an emergency replacement for Hawkins, as required by law.

"We cannot do our deposits," Schola said just moments before Friday's late-afternoon meeting began.

Fact Box


May 7, 2012

Brittany Mae Keene alleges that on this date Barbour County Sheriff John Hawkins sent her a text message containing a "veiled threat to have her indicted."


May 11, 2012

Keene files a domestic violence

protection order petition in Randolph County against Hawkins.


May 30, 2012

Keene is arrested on one felony count of receiving stolen property and two misdemeanor counts of transferring stolen property after being named in a sealed indictment.


May 31, 2012

Keene enters a not-guilty plea to charges in the indictment.


June 5, 2012

Keene withdrew her request for the order for protection.


June 9, 2012

Keene claims in a story published in The Inter-Mountain that her arrest was intended to keep her silent. Keene said she filed the petition for protection because Hawkins allegedly threatened to have her indicted and also threatened her with death if she spoke publicly about what she said was a non-consensual sexual relationship between them.


June 12, 2012

Barbour County Prosecuting Attorney Leckta Poling and Circuit Judge Alan D. Moats recuse themselves from Keene's felony case after The Inter-Mountain article is published.


June 15, 2012

Hawkins takes to social media to deny allegations made by Keene.


July 7, 2012

Poling shares via The Inter-Mountain that the FBI was alerted months earlier about Keene's allegations against Hawkins.


July 18, 2012

Keene's bond is modified. The court rules she had to check in with Community Corrections three days a week and be randomly drug tested one of those days each week.


July 25, 2012

Keene's attorney files a motion to dismiss the charges against Keene claiming "outrageous government misconduct."


Aug. 17, 2012

The indictment against Keene is dismissed in Barbour County Circuit Court.

No new indictments have been handed down against Keene.


April 9, 2013

Hawkins files a false insurance claim describing an accident, saying he was distracted and was driving too fast off of Jerusalem Run Road and drove off the road and struck a tree.


July 18, 2013

Keene files a federal civil lawsuit against Hawkins claiming he sexually assaulted her and then threatened to kill her if she told anyone. The suit names Barbour County as a co-defendant.


July 22, 2013

News of the lawsuit breaks, and Hawkins and his family again use social media to respond.


July 24, 2013

Keene's attorneys claim they have obtained incriminating text messages, emails and Facebook messages to back up their claims.


Aug. 1, 2013

Hawkins is sued in Barbour County Circuit Court for a statement he posted on his Facebook page.


Aug. 8, 2013

Hawkins formally denies charges that he sexually assaulted Keene.


Oct. 15, 2013

Hawkins and Prosecuting Attorney Leckta Poling each respond to audit findings during a Barbour County Commission meeting.

The Barbour County audit reports for the 2010-2011 and the 2011-2012 fiscal years showed the sheriff's department's concealed weapons fund was used to purchase alcohol, flowers and gift cards for departmental staff and deputies.


Dec. 9, 2013

Barbour County Commissioner Phil Hart questions during a public meeting whether Hawkins is neglecting his duties in relation to property estates and settlements.


Feb. 11, 2014

A federal judge grants, in part, the Barbour County Commission's motion to dismiss charges brought against it in a federal civil lawsuit that names the commission and Sheriff John Hawkins as codefendants.


Feb. 20, 2014

Hawkins pleads guilty to one felony count of mail fraud before U.S. Magistrate John S. Kaull in the Elkins office of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia.

"We really can't do anything without the sheriff because he's the treasurer of the county."

Commissioners also accepted the resignation of Hawkins during the special meeting. According to the meeting minutes, Hawkins' resignation was effective at 5 p.m. Thursday.

The Inter-Mountain requested a copy of the resignation letter, but Schola said the letter was determined to be "privileged information" by Hawkins' legal counsel, Harry Smith. Schola said the resignation letter was only one sentence long, and he would consult the Commission's lawyer, Keith Gamble of the Morgantown law firm Pullin, Fowler, Flanagan, Brown & Poe, about The Inter-Mountain's request for a copy. The newspaper has prepared a Freedom of Information request to the country Friday requesting a copy of the document.

Schola later said he was advised by the Commission's lawyer against providing a copy of the letter.

Prosecuting Attorney Leckta Poling, who also attended the special meeting, requested that a financial audit be completed as quickly as possible, according to the meeting minutes. Commissioners then informed Poling that they already had contacted the West Virginia State Auditor's office. An auditor is scheduled to arrive at the Barbour County Courthouse Monday to begin financial checks in the wake of Hawkins' exit.

Hawkins pleaded guilty to one felony count of mail fraud Thursday afternoon before U.S. Magistrate John S. Kaull in the Elkins office of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia.

As part of the plea agreement, Hawkins, 47, agreed to immediately resign as sheriff of Barbour County and relinquish his West Virginia Law Certification. Hawkins also agreed not to serve in any law enforcement capacity in the future.

The plea stemmed from an incident in which Hawkins staged a motor vehicle accident, ultimately filing a false insurance claim with the assistance of one of his law enforcement officers, whose name has not been released.

Hawkins has been released pending sentencing. A presentence investigation is being conducted. The sentencing date has not yet been set.

According to an order setting the conditions of Hawkins' release - obtained through the online Public Access to Court Electronic Records System - Hawkins cannot violate any federal, state or local laws while on release; must advise the court, pretrial service office or supervising officer before changing his residence or telephone number; and cannot leave the Northern District of West Virginia prior to his sentencing hearing.



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