CHARLES TOWN – In a close finish, voters on Tuesday sent Robert E. “Bobby’’ Shirley to a second term as sheriff, despite the federal charges against him related to a bank robber’s arrest in 2010.
Shirley won more than 50 percent of the vote compared to almost 49 percent for Republican Earl Ballenger, according to unofficial results.
Shirley won 10,620 votes to Ballenger’s 10,216 votes. Another 106 voters chose a write-in candidate in the sheriff’s race.
The Jefferson County native has more than 30 years’ experience in law enforcement — and a track record of success with voters. In May, just weeks before his indictment, the 60-year-old Middleway resident prevailed over former two-term sheriff Ed Boober in the Democratic primary, taking 65 percent of vote.
Shirley has long downplayed the accusations against him.
“You can indict a ham sandwich – an indictment is [just] an accusation,” Shirley said just after he entered his not guilty plea in the federal courthouse in Martinsburg, according to an Associated Press report. “There’s two sides to the story, and there’s a whole lot more to the story. I look forward … for the truth to get out.”
Shirley first was elected in 2008, two years after he retired as a lieutenant with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office. He later worked as lead security adviser for the federal Customs and Border Protection Advanced Training Center in Harpers Ferry.
Ballenger, making his first try at public office, ran unopposed in the spring primary. He retired in 2009 after 24 years with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department.
The 64-year-old Millville resident and Harpers Ferry High grad served in the Army in Vietnam and also has worked for the CIA.
Shirley’s trial originally was set for August, but then delayed until Jan. 22.
Bill Ihlenfeld, the U.S. Attorney for Northern West Virginia, has said that there is both eyewitness testimony and video to show that Shirley used unreasonable force in the arrest of now-convicted bank robber Mark Daniel Haines in late 2010.
Shirley also faces a charge of falsifying records as part of a federal investigation into the 2011 incident.
Officials say Haines, 42, tried to rob a bank in Ranson on Dec. 27, 2010, then led officers on a high-speed pursuit before surrendering in a field in Berkeley County.
In a civil suit filed earlier this year by Haines, he alleges that Shirley and 14 other, unnamed law enforcement officers violated his civil rights during his arrest by punching him, kicking him in the head and stomping on him once he was safely in custody. Haines is serving a federal prison term of 19 years in Allegany County Detention Center in Cumberland, Md.
Now with Shirley re-elected to a second term, the stage could be set for an unusual turn of events.
If Shirley is convicted and couldn’t serve out his term as sheriff, then the five-member Jefferson County Commission would have the job of determining Shirley’s successor, according to Jake Glance, a spokesman for Secretary of State Natalie Tennant. There’s no provision for a special election, he said.
Already, the charges have altered Shirley’s work as sheriff. In June, his request to be allowed to continue to carry his firearm while on duty was rejected.