Former Sheriff Pleads Guilty to Using Excessive Force in the Pursuit of a Bank Robbery Suspect

960877_padlock_1.jpgA former Jefferson County sheriff was recently sentenced to just over one year in prison for using excessive force while arresting a bank robbery suspect. Sheriff Robert Shirley was sentenced in federal district court, and faces 18 months of supervised release in addition to the time in prison. Shirley initially faced up to 10 years in prison, but his guilty plea to the charge of deprivation of rights under color of the law may have led to the reduced sentence.

Back in December 2010, Shirley, his deputies, and officers from other departments got involved in a high-speed chase after Mark Haines allegedly tried to rob a City National Bank, which ended with Shirley kicking Haines in the head upon arresting him. Haines had reportedly left his vehicle with his hands raised in surrender, only to be pushed against the bed of his truck by some of the accompanying police officers. Shirley then climbed onto the truck and kicked Haines repeatedly, supposedly with “deliberate and sadistic intention to inflict injury.”

Shirley was later charged with using excessive force, and Haines also filed a civil lawsuit against Shirley. However, the civil suit was dismissed because individual officials cannot be named defendants, but rather the entity that the official represents must be named. At the time, Shirley represented the Jefferson County Commission. Because Haines failed to cite a policy that the Jefferson County Commission should have followed, the judge in the civil case found that Haines did not adequately establish that the County Commission was liable. It is unknown whether Haines will file a new civil lawsuit holding Shirley accountable. At present, Haines is serving a prison sentence of 225 months for robbing a BB&T bank.

This case illustrates why it is important for all criminal suspects to have experienced West Virginia criminal defense attorneys representing them. On paper, Haines does not look like an innocent who would elicit sympathy. Yet Haines was the recipient of very unjust behavior. If Shirley treated Haines with excessive force, then it is possible he engaged in other improper behavior during the arrest. Many times evidence can be thrown out in a criminal trial if the defense attorney can show that it was gathered improperly — such as if it were obtained without a search warrant, or if the suspect admitted to information without being read his rights, or if a police officer tampered with an aspect of the investigation. Whether such evidence is considered may be the difference between a criminal suspect being convicted and exonerated.

All criminal suspects are guaranteed a right to legal representation under the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution. If the criminal suspect does not have the means to hire one outright, the court will appoint a public defender. Regardless, it is extremely important to find a competent, experienced criminal defense attorney. Not only should the attorney work to defend you from the charges, but he or she should also keep you fully informed as to what is taking place, and be willing to listen to you with regard to how you want to proceed in your case.