Conflict of Interest Prevents Ohio County Prosecutor From Overseeing Case Against a Wheeling Police Officer

police_cruiser.jpgAn Ohio County Prosecutor will not be involved in a case against a Wheeling police officer due to a conflict of interest. The reasons given for not having Prosecutor Scott Smith involved in Officer Matthew Kotson’s case — in which Kotson has been accused of sexually assaulting two women — is because Smith’s office has long had a close working relationship with the Wheeling police department.

Kotson is accused of assaulting two women during different times. One woman later visited the Wheeling police department on Thanksgiving Day with the charge that Kotson had assaulted her that morning. Kotson allegedly went to her home and began making unsolicited sexual advances, which did not stop despite the woman’s pleas. Kotson allegedly followed the woman into her bathroom and pushed her against the wall before sexually assaulting her. Later, while not admitting to sexual assault, Kotson allegedly admitted that he visited the woman’s house and touched her in a sexual manner.

Statements by other women conformed to Kotson’s accuser’s claims. Each women with a prior relationship with Kotson alleged that he made aggressive sexual advances on multiple occasions. One even claimed that Kotson held her down and forced her to take part in nonconsensual sex three separate times. Kotson has been put on unpaid leave, and the police department is looking into disciplinary action. Meanwhile, the Ohio County Magistrate arraigned Kotson on four counts of second-degree sexual assault. Kotson was able to post a $40,000 bond to secure his release.

Prosecutor Smith does not know whom the West Virginia Prosecuting Attorneys institute will try to get in his place, but they normally try to find prosecutors in a neighboring county. Smith noted that the process is common, and that Ohio County prosecutors handle several other matters that originated in other counties. Besides a special prosecutor, a magistrate is also expected to work on Kotson’s case.

The Wolfe Law Firm supports the West Virginia Prosecuting Attorneys’ actions. Integrity in any criminal case is important, especially when a person’s freedom (or even his or her life) is at stake. Even though one would think that a West Virginia criminal defense lawyer would like to see the prosecutor be lenient on the criminal suspect, it shouldn’t be under suspicious circumstances, such as if the prosecutor were a close friend or colleague of the suspect. In order for the criminal justice system to function, people need to believe that it works. That means the evidence was gathered without police violating Constitutional protections. It also means police officers can be held properly accountable for their unlawful actions, whether during the course of employment or in private. And it means that all conflicts of interest are discovered and removed before the case gets underway.

Integrity of the process is what separates the United States criminal justice system from that of many other countries. Here, it is not guilty until proven innocent; any prosecutor must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. At the same time, no criminal suspect should get breaks based on his or her position in society alone. Unfortunately still happens far too often. Fortunately, that is not the case with the Kotson matter.

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