Note: Since this post was posted I spoke with an elected prosecutor who requested that I insert the caveat that these prosecutors are the exception rather than the rule. I would agree with that perception since there are several prosecutors of whom I think highly. Of course, it is no surprise that there are cops and prosecutors out there who do bad things. None of us have yet attained perfection, we are all sinners. My main point herein is that despite the proven existence of some bad eggs, the system will almost-unconsciously protect their own. But these are relatively isolated incidents and are not necessarily indicative of West Virginia’s cops and prosectors statewide. But, as you will see, and as will be detailed in Part 2, these incidents weave a tangled web in several key jurisdictions. Also, I made one correction to the post. I previously incorrectly stated that the charge of wanton endangerment with a firearm is a misdemeanor, when it indeed is a felony charge. – JHB 10/2/08.
Note 2: I also spoke with a judge – uninvolved in any of these matters – who commented that these problems are due to ineffective prosecution. It’s correct that it’s not the judge’s fault that a sweetheart deal is made, or that a person is never charged at all. And some have attempted to construe my commentary as applying to the presiding judges. That is not correct. Judges do not make those decisions – usually. – JHB 12/15/08.
For some reason, newspapers don’t like to report scandal and corruption on behalf of cops and prosecutors in southern West Virginia. There are a couple of cases in this past year that I think are noteworthy that most people have no idea about.
There was an assistant prosecuting attorney in Pocahontas County named Anthony Tatano. A “Criminal Complaint” was filed in March of this year charging him with stealing trust fund proceeds belonging to minor clients of his resulting from a personal injury case. The criminal complaint can be found here. I have been unable to find even one article about this from Pocahontas County or any other newspaper in the state. He was charged, but never really arrested. You see, cops and prosecutors are not held to the same standard as the rest of us.
He was charged with a misdemeanor, but if you look up the statute he was charged with, West Virginia Code Section 61-3-20a, “Embezzlement by misuse of power of attorney or other fiduciary relationship,” the statute doesn’t say whether the penalty is a misdemeanor or felony. It just says, “guilty of the larceny thereof.” Okay, so we look to the basic larceny statute for the penalty. Well that just depends on the value of the goods stolen. If they are over $1,000, its a felony. If its under $1,000, its a misdemeanor.
Well this criminal complaint conveniently doesn’t mention how much money was stolen from the children, but given the fact that this was proceeds from a personal injury settlement that were supposed to be collecting interest until the children turned age 18, I can’t image the funds were less than a mere thousand dollars. In fact, I have yet to hear of any personal injury case that was settled for less than one thousand dollars.
So the cops were essentially forced to charge him – because the family was probably complaining and they wanted their money, and because you can’t argue with bank records – but they charged a misdemeanor and remained silent on the amount of funds that were embezzled.
Then, the record goes completely silent until yesterday. An article appeared in the Pocahontas Times, titled “Magistrate Court September 25, 2008.” The article was basically a summary of everything that happened in Magistrate Court in the past week. Buried at the bottom of the text was the following:
Anthony Tatano, of Marlinton, appeared in court on the 19th on a charge of obtaining money under false pretenses. He was released on $1000 bond. On Monday Tatano pled guilty to two previous charges both embezzlement, before Magistrate Miller. On each offense, he was sentenced to six months home confinement, to be served concurrently, fined $250, and assessed $159.53 in court costs.
There was no mention of him being an assistant prosecutor. Was he fired? Did he resign? The state bar website still indicates that his license is active – though I can’t imagine that disciplinary action would not be taken for embezzling client trust funds (especially children). Many lawyers get federal indictments and go to federal prison for this. But not in Pocahontas County. You get a sweetheart deal that nobody even knows about.
This is the standard for prosecutors in southern West Virginia. The law doesn’t apply to them. They are better than you. They know the cops. They are the law. Talk about double standard….
Then there is the case of former deputy Robert Alkire, II. Some of his scandal was actually reported in the Charleston Gazette – but believe it or not, wasn’t even mentioned i the Pocahontas Times (at least not on their website). However, even with the Charleston Gazette, the record goes completely silent.
Deputy Alkire, II, was the son of the Sheriff of Pocahontas County. So he goes to his significant other’s home in his patrol car and with his department-issued firearm. He gets into a “domestic dispute” and fires the pistol during the argument. The authorities show up. The Sheriff shows up.
Is he arrested and taken to the regional jail like Joe Blow would have been? No, of course not. He was taken to the hospital for “medical treatment.” Poor little Sheriff’s son threw a hissy fit and fired his gun, so he obviously had a medical problem that needed emergency treatment. But he was placed on paid administrative leave once the public found out what had happened. Then they decided that had to charge him with something, so they charged him with one count of wanton endangerment with a firearm – a felony – and set bail at a mere $3,000.
Go ahead and try to find another felony charge in the state where a gun was discharged and the defendant was only given a $3,000 bond.
A special prosecutor was appointed – Dan Dotson. Now Dan Dotson is an assistant prosecutor from Braxton County, and he likes to be a special prosecutor. He asked to be appointed to this case, and he also asked, and was appointed, to the Sawyers case in Greenbrier County.
But Dotson soon got the opportunity to reap what he had been sowing. As I detailed in a prior post, he was subsequently arrested in his own little domestic incident, which was reported by the Register-Herald here. But even from his jail cell, he was claiming that he was still “on the job” and that he was just “staying out of the office for a while until [he could] take care of other matters.” Yeah…sure.
Anyways, the Charleston Gazette publishes an article titled “Braxton prosecutor still on the job.” The article states that Dotson plans to go forward with both the Pocahontas case involving Alkire and the Greenbrier case involving Sawyers. But the article also says this:
Pocahontas County Sheriff’s Deputy Robert Alkire II pleaded guilty several weeks ago to misdemeanor brandishing a weapon, Dotson said. Alkire, son of Pocahontas Sheriff Robert Alkire, was arrested for a Nov. 30 incident in which he was charged with firing his department-issue pistol unsafely.
Well if Alkire has already pled guilty, then what is there to go forward with? And did you catch that? Alkire already pled guilty? To a misdemeanor? Where was the article about that? Good luck trying to find it. He got a sweetheart deal because he is a cop and because his father is the Sheriff. He got out of a felony firearms charge without it ever having been presented to the grand jury, then was allowed to quietly plead to a misdemeanor brandishing charge (thus allowing him to continue working as a cop and possessing a firearm). Then everything was completely buried by the authorities. Poor Joe Blow would have had the book thrown at him. He would have been charged with a felony gun crime and would have had his name plastered throughout the papers. But this guy gets a misdemeanor plea with essentially no penalty and no bad press. Like I said, the law does not apply to cops as it applies to you and I – they are the law.
So what happened to Alkire? Let me give you a hint. Say you have a cop who is pretty much forced out of a county where he scandalously shot his service pistol during a fight with his girlfriend while on duty. What would that cop do to be able to continue making a living. What law enforcement agency would actually hire him and give him another gun and badge? Here’s your hint: it’s somewhere in the Greenbrier Valley, and it is a city police department in a town that nobody wants to drive through because the cops are widely viewed as incompetent perpetrators of a small-town speed trap.
That’s right, our very own City of Ronceverte Police Department. If you don’t believe me, take a look at this. That is a link to the City of Ronceverte Police Department where he is listed as a deputy. They also note on their web page that he is equipped now with an assault rifle, ballistic armor and a Glock pistol. Oh great, just what the poor residents of that town need. All this for a town with only 1800 residents. And people wonder why nobody wants to drive through Ronceverte when you can go around it….
And whatever happened to Dan Dotson’s criminal charges? I wasn’t surprised to find out that a google search did not reveal any articles regarding the resolution of his charges. Like I said, he gets the benefit of a double standard here, just like Alkire and just like Tatano, and this most likely is all the information you will find on the resolution of his case. (I’m not a reporter, I’m a busy attorney, so yes, my investigation was limited to googling things).
And there is much, much more. So consider this Part 1.
– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney