From today’s Register-Herald:
Greenbrier jury says no to felony charge for deputy
LEWISBURG — After meeting nearly six hours Tuesday, a special grand jury rejected two possible felony indictments against a Greenbrier County sheriff’s deputy accused of severely beating Prosecutor Kevin Hanson and instead returned a true bill on a less serious misdemeanor charge of battery.
Deputy Kevin Lee Sawyers, 37, now faces the same charge originally filed against him last August before State Police upgraded the misdemeanor to a felony charge of unlawful wounding, defense lawyer Tom Czarnik said.
“The special grand jury rejected the more serious felony charges of malicious wounding and unlawful wounding,” Czarnik said afterward. “I will be asking for an early trial for my client before the May 13 primary.”
Sawyers was charged with battery after allegedly beating Hanson for more than four minutes in the driveway of his estranged wife’s Lewisburg home. Sawyers, a seven-year deputy who returned home last year after serving in Iraq, had previously filed for divorce from his wife, Amy Sawyers, who is employed as a legal assistant for Hanson.
Hanson said in September that he was at the house to pick up a dog to care for it over the weekend. He said he did not start the fight.
He spent several days in a local hospital recovering from his injuries, which included a broken nose, separated shoulder, bruises and lacerations, according to police.
Hanson, who first won office in 2001, is currently campaigning for re-election.
Special prosecutor Dan Dotson of Braxton County said Tuesday the misdemeanor trial for Sawyers will now likely go forward despite the setback on the felony charge.
The grand jury also rejected a misdemeanor simple assault charge against Sawyers, which carries the lightest possible sentence, he said.
“Do I agree with the decision? Probably not. But I respect the decision the special grand jury made today,” Dotson said. “The matter will likely go to trial now because he really doesn’t have anything to lose.”
While grand jury proceedings are private, Dotson did comment when asked why the special panel was out for such a lengthy period of time.
“Because of the nature of both the victim and the defendant, this was not a typical special grand jury. There were a lot of facts that were diametrically opposed and also a bunch of side issues that are not normally present,” Dotson said. “I did not want to be accused of not wanting to put everything there was about the case out there in the open.”
After Chief Circuit Judge James J. Rowe announced the decision of the nine-woman, six-man special grand jury in open court, the defendant was called to the front of the courtroom.
“I would like to proceed with the arraignment, but because of the nature of the alleged victim (Hanson), it is inappropriate for me to do so,” Rowe said.
Rowe said he will ask the state Supreme Court to appoint a special judge to hear the case.
Sawyers has been on paid administrative leave since his arrest.
Sheriff Roger Sheppard said a battery charge or conviction would not make Sawyer ineligible for duty as a deputy, but another legal problem could preclude him from coming back on the force.
“He’s still under a protective order and can’t possess a firearm,” Sheppard said. “That’s now the big hold-up before bringing him back on the force.”
Court records indicated Amy Sawyers filed a domestic protective order against Kevin Sawyers shortly after the August incident. She was present during the alleged fight, but no charges were filed against Kevin Sawyers in regard to her.
Czarnik said he was ready to “try this case tomorrow,” and looks forward to a jury trial.
“The felony charges could not be won,” he said. “And I don’t expect anyone to win the next one, either.”
Sawyers remains free on $2,500 bond and faces up to a year in jail if convicted.