W.Va. sheriff indicted on federal rights charges

June 5, 2012 - 10:15 PM

WHEELING, W.Va. (AP) — A federal grand jury on Tuesday indicted a West Virginia sheriff on charges stemming from an alleged beating in 2010.

U.S. Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld announced in a news release Tuesday that Jefferson County Sheriff Robert Shirley is charged with one count of deprivation of rights under the color of law for allegedly assaulting and kicking a person on Dec. 27, 2010, in Berkeley County. Prosecutors said Shirley is also charged with falsifying records during a federal investigation of the incident.

If convicted on both counts, the 60-year-old Shirley faces up to 30 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.

Shirley's attorney, Kevin Mills, said the case stems from the apprehension of a dangerous bank robbery suspect — now in prison — and that his client "will be entering pleas of not guilty to both counts."

The indictment comes a week after Mark Daniel Haines, a Harpers Ferry man serving a prison sentence for bank robbery, sued Shirley and 14 unidentified law enforcement officers whom he says beat him severely after a failed heist and vehicle chase through Jefferson and Berkeley counties in December 2010.

In the civil suit, Haines, currently an inmate at Maryland's Allegheny County Detention Center, says Shirley repeatedly kicked Haines in the head and stomped on his face while other officers threw him to the ground and against a cruiser, punched him and shocked him with stun guns.

Shirley's attorneys said in a statement last week that the sheriff denies the inmate's allegations. And on Tuesday, Mills criticized federal prosecutors.

"We're a little bit surprised the civil rights division from Washington, D.C., has gotten involved in this case and is making decisions about how law enforcement officers, including Sheriff Shirley, would conduct themselves when chasing a violent, serial bank robber who has fled the scene of a robbery," Mills said.

A message left with the West Virginia State Police was not immediately returned. Representatives at the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office and the FBI in West Virginia said no one was available to comment.

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Associated Press writer Vicki Smith contributed to this report from Morgantown, W.Va.