Deputy accused of malicious wounding
HUNTINGTON -- Cabell County Sheriff's Deputy Christopher Burgess has been indicted on a single count of felony malicious wounding from an early morning incident, April 7, at his apartment in Rotary Gardens just outside Huntington eastern city limits.
Burgess has not been arrested. A summons will be issued for his appearance at arraignment June 12 before Cabell Circuit Judge Alfred Ferguson. Such a move is customary for many criminal defendants.
State Police Sgt. G.N. Losh described the April 7 incident as a physical confrontation between Burgess and his girlfriend. He said physical contact led to the victim falling down a stairwell, which contributed to her injuries that required medical treatment for multiple broken bones.
Cabell County Sheriff Tom McComas generally agreed with that description and referred to her injuries as "very substantial."
"It doesn't matter if it's a deputy, a trooper or whatever, you can't cross the line of violating the law," Losh said. "In law enforcement, we treat domestic violence as a serious issue."
Burgess has been on paid, administrative leave and was forced to surrender his service weapon since April 7.
That will continue until a three-member, department disciplinary panel meets to consider the situation and issue a recommendation, McComas said. It will include an appointee from the sheriff, the Deputy Sheriff's Association and a third member agreed upon by the other appointees. It could convene as early as next week.
"If I had the option, the minute that I was made aware of the indictment, I would have preferred that he had gone from a paid to an unpaid status," McComas said. "But that's not what's allowed or required by law."
Cabell County Prosecutor Chris Chiles cited the ongoing nature of the case Friday in declining specific comment. He said the indictment was the product of a joint investigation between the West Virginia State Police and the Cabell County Sheriff's Office. A State Police investigator presented the prosecution's evidence to the grand jury earlier this month.
In addition to the joint investigation, the incident also prompted the quick filing of a domestic violence petition. McComas said those proceedings were moved to Wayne County at the direction of the state Supreme Court of Appeals, and a judge there upheld the victim's petition and extended it for 180 days.
The petition has since been appealed to Wayne Circuit Court. McComas, knowing Burgess' case would be presented to this month's grand jury, said he felt most comfortable waiting for the indictment before moving forward with a convening of the disciplinary panel.
McComas supported the eventual strategy, which held off filing criminal charges in magistrate court in favor of presenting the case to an independent group of grand jurors.
"The law enforcement community has to have 'A,' the respect, backing and support of the community," McComas said. "If the officers investigating it would have charged him with crime 'A,' then someone might have perceived that he would have got special treatment rather than a 'normal person.'"
Burgess, a Huntington native, was hired in October 2008 after serving previously with the Lexington Police Department in Kentucky. Attempts to contact him were unsuccessful.
The Sheriff's Office, through Cabell County 911, received the initial call for help and conducted the on-scene investigation. The State Police inquiry followed upon the victim making direct contact with and filing a complaint with the local detachment.
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Michael Shane Couch, 43, of Prichard, was indicted in relation to the death of Deborah Lynn Rakes.
The victim, 52, died March 17 when Couch's van crossed the center line and crashed head-on into her car on 5th Street Hill in Huntington. Court filings state an on-scene paramedic noticed Couch's breath smelled of alcohol and told police he appeared intoxicated.
The indictment, unsealed Friday, charges Couch with driving under the influence causing death, third-offense driving under the influence and third-offense driving under the influence because of DUI convictions.
State records indicate Couch hasn't had a valid driver's license since July 30, 1996. The March 17 crash marked his fifth drunken driving arrest since late 1997, four of which stemmed from vehicle accidents.
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