Director charged with domestic battery in Florida

McDaniel

CHARLESTON — Stephen S. McDaniel, director of West Virginia's Division of Natural Resources, has agreed to enter into a pretrial diversion in St. Johns County, Florida, after he was charged with assaulting his ex-wife at her home in St. Augustine on April 6.

St. Johns County Sheriff 's deputies arrested McDaniel on April 6 and charged him with misdemeanor battery, which is called domestic violence in the arrest report filed in St. Johns County Court.

McDaniel formally was charged by way of information in St. Johns County Court on Tuesday.

The officer who wrote the arrest report said the woman believed McDaniel was going to kill her during an argument that became physical after McDaniel visited bars in downtown St. Augustine on April 6.

After he returned from Florida, McDaniel met with Gov. Jim Justice and other staff and described the incident, Brian Abraham, the governor's general counsel, said Friday. Abraham couldn't recall the exact date the governor and staff met with McDaniel.

"He offered to resign to the governor, and the governor didn't feel that was necessary based on the way events were explained to our office," Abraham said.

Abraham recalled that McDaniel told the governor and staff that he had made "some kind of attempt to keep (the woman) from screaming" during a disagreement that became too loud for the neighborhood they were in.

Abraham said McDaniel made his attorneys available to the governor's office.

"He didn't want to cause any embarrassment to the governor's office, but we felt as he described the events occurring — the fact his spouse or former spouse was also not pursuing prosecution or didn't want to prosecute — and we had been advised the matter was going to be dismissed and expunged and didn't feel that it was necessary to accept resignation," Abraham said.

McDaniel was booked at the St. Johns County Jail at 4:37 a.m. April 6 and he posted bond April 8, according to court records.

On his arrest report with the sheriff's office, McDaniel's occupation is listed as "director" and his employer is "WV Division of Nat. Resources."

On Thursday, McDaniel entered a deferred prosecution agreement, in which he neither declared his innocence nor pleaded guilty to the charge against him. The agreement, which was filed in St. Johns County Court, put McDaniel on a one-year pretrial diversion arrangement. He will have to complete a batterer's intervention program and have no contact with the victim.

The agreement prohibits

McDaniel from having guns in Florida, but he will be allowed to have guns "as a condition of his employment within the state of West Virginia" in the agreement approved by Judge Charles Tinlin.

The court records don't indicate whether the woman has a residence or any ties to West Virginia, where McDaniel will be allowed to have a gun while at work.

McDaniel also is prohibited from consuming alcoholic beverages or any other "mind-altering substances," according to the agreement.

If McDaniel doesn't violate the agreement, the charge against him will be dismissed, according to the agreement. The terms of the agreement allow the possibility for the charge to be dismissed within nine months.

The woman told police she and McDaniel were married for 16 years before their divorce, and they were dating as of April 6, Deputy Benjamin Brown wrote in the arrest report.

In the arrest report, McDaniel's home address is listed in St. Augustine, and it's a different address from the victim's home. The arrest record indicates McDaniel has a Florida driver's license and his birthplace is Clarksburg, West Virginia.

Abraham said Friday that McDaniel has a West Virginia driver's license, which he obtained the day after Justice hired him as DNR director in February 2017. McDaniel gave up his Florida driver's license, and the information in the police report likely came from a police database search, Abraham said.

The victim was at her home in St. Augustine when McDaniel showed up after drinking in downtown St. Augustine, and he was angry because the victim had refused to pick him up, Brown wrote in the report. McDaniel accused the woman of cheating on him and started an argument with her.

At some point, the verbal argument escalated into a physical one, Brown said.

"The victim stated the incident was a blur, but (McDaniel) had the victim on the bed, was on top of her with his knee pressing down on her left forearm," the deputy wrote in the report. "The victim stated her hair was in her face when the defendant placed one hand on her mouth and nose, causing her to have some trouble breathing."

The victim didn't know which hand McDaniel used to restrict her breathing, but she said his hand was on the left side of her face, holding her down, Brown said. She didn't lose consciousness during the incident, Brown said.

After McDaniel got up, he picked up a lamp and began shaking it.

" The victim believed (McDaniel) was going to kill her," Brown said.

Brown said the woman was "shaken up, crying and appeared to be terrified." She had a bruise on her left eye, a laceration under her upper lip and red marks on her neck, the deputy said. She declined medical treatment.

Brown asked her if she believed if McDaniel was capable of killing her, and she hesitated and then declined to answer the question, he wrote.

Officers made contact with McDaniel at his home in St. Augustine, and he waived his rights and agreed to answer questions from them.

McDaniel, at his residence in St. Augustine, told police that he went to St. Augustine bars and drank that night, "but then later stated he did not drink," Brown said.

McDaniel said he asked the woman for a ride back to his house, but she declined. He said he took an Uber to her home, where a verbal altercation ensued.

"McDaniel stated he never became physical with her, but she began throwing things around the house," Brown said. "The defendant stated he put his hand over her mouth to prevent her from screaming. The defendant once again denied a physical altercation occurred."

Reach Lacie Pierson at lacie.pierson@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1723 or follow @laciepierson on Twitter.

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