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Ex-W.Va. sheriff gets 1 year for 2010 beating

May. 13, 2013 @ 11:15 PM

WHEELING, W.Va. -- A former West Virginia sheriff was ordered into federal custody Monday and will spend a year in prison for his role in the 2010 beating of a bank robber after a high-speed chase.

U.S. District Judge John Preston Bailey rejected pleas that ex-Jefferson County sheriff Robert Shirley report on his own to a federal facility, saying he was worried about the mental state of a 61-year-old public figure with three decades in law enforcement.

A retired state trooper and three community leaders testified that Shirley has long been an asset to his Eastern Panhandle community and would thrive under third-party supervision on probation. But they also said he hit an emotional low point last fall when his wife filed for divorce and a friend committed suicide.

Defense attorney Kevin Mills said Shirley has since had professional counseling, but Bailey was not swayed.

"You say last fall was his low point," Bailey said. "I'm guessing today is a lower point."

The judge also ordered Shirley to pay $1,854 in restitution to his victim, convicted bank robber Mark Daniel Haines, and to spend 18 months on probation after he is released.

The one-year sentence is less than the 33-month term recommended under federal sentencing guidelines, but Bailey said "any amount of prison time ... is going to be very difficult for him."

The beating captured on a police vehicle's surveillance video was discussed in court but not shown.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Camilletti said it showed the former sheriff kicking Haines while in the bed of a pickup, then walking around when fellow officers pulled Haines to the ground and stomping on him.

Haines suffered scrapes and bruises on his face and back, a hemorrhage in his right eye, and a broken nose, rib and eye socket, court documents said.

Camilletti pushed for a tougher sentence because Haines was considered a "vulnerable victim" under the law, but the defense countered that he provoked the violence by resisting, kicking and spitting at officers. They also cited a criminal record with more than three dozen offenses in arguing the 42-year-old Haines shouldn't qualify as vulnerable.

Haines, who was clad in orange jumpsuit, is serving prison time in Maryland. He said hearing the debate Monday "made me feel like I was on trial again." Haines also complained he received no apology when Shirley expressed regret to his friends and family.

"I was helpless. My face was broken," Haines said. "I was tased I don't know how many times. And you were the person who could have stopped it."

Haines has filed a lawsuit against Shirley and other officers. It's set to be tried this fall in Martinsburg.

Shirley choked up while apologizing, saying that while he'd done his best throughout his career, his use of excessive force on Haines was "probably the worst I ever did."

"I take full responsibility for what I've done," he said.

Shirley said all he knew was that the man had threatened bank tellers with a gun.

"I guess it's easy to look back now. Could I have stopped and turned around? Yes," he told the judge. "But that's not what people in law enforcement do."

Camilletti, however, argued that while the tellers did what they were trained to do to avoid violence, Shirley ignored his training. The video showed some officers administering the kind of blows they're trained to use, he said, but "no one was trained to stomp on his head."

Shirley was re-elected in November even as he faced the federal charges, but he resigned and pleaded guilty in January to deprivation of rights under the color of law. A second count of falsifying records was dismissed.

Friends testified that his re-election should demonstrate how valuable Jefferson County believes Shirley is, and former state trooper Steve Reckart -- now chief of police in Moorefield -- said he might not be alive today if it weren't for his longtime friend's courage.

Though Shirley is not large in stature, he said, he didn't run when people pulled weapons on the two of them.

"He was a banty little rooster," Reckart said. "He'd stay right there with us. He always had my back."

Other friends said Shirley has been punished enough and offered to take him in under their supervision while he performed community service.

Camilletti argued probation would not show the seriousness of the crime or deter others.

Bailey agreed, saying that neither the stress of the job nor Shirley's personal problems justified his conduct.

Haines had to be presumed innocent at the time of the beating, Bailey said, and Shirley had a duty to uphold the law.

"The victim was still a member of the community he had a duty to protect and serve, and he did not do it," the judge said. "Not even sworn law enforcement officers are above the law."

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