Two wrongs, but rights remain

On the evening of Dec. 27, 2010, Mark Daniel Haines was engaged in a dangerous enterprise; that much we can agree on.

Haines, of Harpers Ferry, was on the run from Jefferson County Sheriff Bobby Shirley following a failed attempt to rob a bank in Ranson, and thereafter led sheriff’s deputies from both Berkeley and Jefferson counties on a dangerous high-speed chase until police flattened the tires of his pickup truck with stop strips.

It’s what happened next that forms the basis of Haines’ recent civil complaint against Jefferson County sheriff’s department officials, including Shirley, whom he charges with using excessive force and committing assault and battery during the arrest of him that night.

Videotapes of the arrest show two separate incidents wherein Shirley inserted himself into the arrest effort, once when he apparently strikes Haines with his foot from the bed of his pickup truck and again when he apparently stomps on his face as officers force the seemingly-already handcuffed man to the ground. The images make for disturbing viewing. Equally troubling is the tasering by deputies of Haines, who at one point on one of the videos can be heard imploring them to stop. The man sounds like he is in agony. Indeed, hospital records indicate he suffered a number of injuries, including facial fractures — a broken nose, a broken sinus cavity and a broken eye socket.

We strongly disagree with the opinion that to question the sheriff’s alleged actions is tantamount to condoning Haines’ lawlessness. That’s hocum. His misbehavior was deserving of punishment and he got that recently in an order from U.S. District Judge John Preston Bailey, who sentenced Haines to 225 months in prison, three years probation and ordered him to make restitution.

In fact, Bailey’s decision should serve as an example about drawing distinctions. As part of his ruling, he would not be swayed toward a lesser sentence for Haines, despite viewing the videos of his arrest and beating; he recognized correctly that his apparent treatment at the hands of the sheriff’s department had no bearing on how he should be punished for his robbery convictions.

Equally then, to come to the conclusion that Shirley and sheriff’s deputies might have crossed a line during their arrest of Haines is no condonation of Haines’ behavior. As a lawbreaker he deserved what he got last month — in Bailey’s courtroom. As a citizen, he retains every right to ensure that his legal protections are assured. What crimes he committed don’t diminish those protections, the same as his alleged treatment by police has no bearing on the severity of a legal remedy against him.

All that said, while the video images are troubling, they do not tell the full story of Haines’ arrest, only parts of it. Haines has initiated this complaint, but the sheriff’s department deserves the opportunity to give its account of that night.

The complaint clearly has another dimension for Jefferson County residents — voters overwhelmingly nominated Shirley in last month’s primary election and the general election is less than six months away. It’s unlikely Haines’ complaint will be heard before the election this fall, meaning this cloud will hang over the sheriff’s re-election efforts and voters, who must consider whether to return him to office in the face of these allegations. Haines’ criminality should have no bearing on that decision.

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