Prosecutor releases information about investigation into former deputy
Prosecuting Attorney Donna Price confirmed Friday night in a media release that an investigation into a former sheriff's deputy is ongoing. The former deputy is accused of "inappropriate conduct," the release said.
Price said in the media release that the investigation specifically targets Lt. B. C. Totten. She did not specify the particulars of the alleged inappropriate conduct in the media release.
The release also said that she was made aware of the alleged conduct early in her term which began in 2009. Later, the release said, she initiated a full investigation when two other individuals made essentially the same complaint against Totten.
Price said she contacted the West Virginia State Police to conduct an investigation, as well as William Ihlenfeld, US Attorney, Northern District, to advise him of "the possibility of federal implications the investigation may reveal."
Lt. Rob Simons, of the Elkins Detachment of the West Virginia State Police, has been investigating the case.
Simons was not available for comment either Monday or Tuesday.
The prosecutor also said she had sought the advice of the West Virginia Prosecuting Attorneys Institute "regarding the need for a special prosecutor to handle the matter."
"In furtherance of their advice, I recused myself as the Prosecutor handling the matter and a Special Prosecutor has been appointed," Price said in the release.
Philip W. Morrison, II, Executive Director of the West Virginia Prosecuting Attorneys Institute, confirmed Monday that Price had asked his advice, and he had affirmed her belief that she had a conflict and that she should seek disqualification.
Judge Joseph Pomponio, the 11th Circuit's Chief Judge, signed the order to appoint Carl Harris, Fayette County's prosecuting attorney, as special prosecutor on October 17, 2011.
Bill Parsons, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney in Fayette County, said Tuesday morning that his office had no comment except to say, "Our policy is we don't comment on matters that are pending investigation."
Price did not explain why she commented on the case months after she had been recused as prosecuting attorney, except to say in the media release that "the investigation is now at a point where I can confirm, without jeopardizing the integrity of the investigation, that an investigation is being conducted by the West Virginia State Police and the FBI."
"Why now?" asked Pocahontas County Sheriff David Jonese Monday. "This has been going on for months. I can't understand why the timing is now."
Jonese said only a former sheriff's deputy is under investigation, not his whole department, as the media release stated,.
The sheriff said that not only had his department complied with requests from outside investigators, it had also secured the services of the Raleigh County Sheriff's Department to conduct an internal investigation. That investigation, he said, has not yet turned up any evidence that other officers had engaged in unprofessional conduct.
Totten was hired in 1998 as a jailer and corrections officer. In 2001, he became a deputy sheriff, left that position in 2007, and then returned in 2008. Last spring, Totten attended the FBI National Academy. Jonese said the FBI conducted a background check on Totten before he was admitted to the federal training academy.
The former deputy was placed on administrative leave with pay last fall, pending the outcome of the investigation, and subsequently resigned from his position at the sheriff's department.
Price's media release, which was sent to this newspaper at 11:14 p.m. Friday, said the circumstances surrounding the necessity of the investigation are "very sensitive and the protection of the victims and their privacy has been a priority for me as well as the investigating officers."
"I have maintained the position that I have no tolerance for those entrusted to protect us who abuse their positions and authority causing you, the public, to lose faith in our system of justice," Price said in the release.
Price did not respond to a message left at her office Monday morning.
In an interview with Channel 59 from Ghent, Price said the investigation surrounding the former deputy was for "horrendous" crimes.
"I would rate these right at the top," she told the television station.
Ironically, complaints from Totten, led, in part, to an investigation into Price's conduct as prosecuting attorney. That investigation is also ongoing.
Price is the subject of Office of Disciplinary Counsel charges that allege failure of competence and diligence, allege failure to expedite litigation and achieve fairness to opposing party and counsel, as well as impartiality and decorum and alleged misconduct.
A nearly 60-page statement of charges includes complaints from Totten. Those charges say in January, 2011, Totten sent a letter to Judge Joseph Pomponio protesting that a defendant charged with a felony drug violation was allowed to plead to a misdemeanor. Price told Totten that the defendant would be a confidential informant against another suspect, the statement of charges said; however, the statement of charges continues, charges against that defendant were dismissed without testimony from the first.
Totten's complaints against Price continue in four other felony drug-related cases. In two of those cases, defendants were allowed to either plead to misdemeanor charges or plead to one count of a multi-count indictment. The other two cases were dismissed, complaint said.
The ODC charges also said that Monica Acord, of the Child and Youth Advocacy Center in Lewisburg had asked that Price be replaced as special prosecutor in a Greenbrier County case involving a police officer accused of having sex with a minor girl. The statement of charges said an investigation by the CYAC and the West Virginia State Police had been completed in 2009. Acord spoke with Price on six occasions regarding the progress of the case "with no success in getting the case moving forward," according to the statement of charges.
Acord eventually asked for another special prosecutor.
The ODC charges against Price could result in her law license being suspended or revoked by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. The ODC is a prosecutorial and investigative body.
A spokesperson at the ODC said Monday that three more complaints have been lodged against Price. Those complaints are not formal charges and could not be made public.
Price said in January that the charges against her were political in nature and said she would not "run from" them.
"I obviously contest a large amount of it," she said in January.
Pamela Pritt may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org