Ex-sheriff alleged to have tried to ‘influence’ witness
MARTINSBURG — Federal prosecutors will seek a prison sentence for former Jefferson County Sheriff Robert “Bobby” Shirley, who pleaded guilty Monday in U.S. District Court to using excessive force during the 2010 arrest of a bank robber.
The admission came as part of a plea bargain in which federal prosecutors agreed to drop the charge that Shirley altered official records to impede an FBI investigation into the incident. He had faced up to 30 years if convicted on all counts stemming from the police beating of Mark Daniel Haines — who is currently serving a 19-year prison sentence in Maryland — and the alleged cover-up. Haines had led officers on a high-speed chase prior to his arrest on Dec. 27, 2010.
Shirley, 61, now faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and three years of supervised probation.
“On behalf of the government, we will be asking that the court impose a term of imprisonment,” said U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld in an interview Tuesday. “We will not be recommending any type of an alternative sentence [such as home confinement], though his attorney has the ability to seek that.”
Federal prosecutors allege that, while on pre-trial release, Shirley attempted to influence a person who was going to be a witness against him at trial, Ihlenfeld said. While new charges have not been brought against him, prosecutors note that “His sentence may be impacted by his conduct while on pre-trial release,” said Ihlenfeld, who noted that no new charges have been brought against Shirley.
Kevin Mills, Shirley’s lead defense counsel, did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.
The federal probation office is expected to draw up a pre-sentence report, which will recommend a range of sentences for Shirley. Prosecutors have agreed that they will both recommend a sentence at the lower end of the sentencing guidelines and recommend that the sentence be further reduced so long as he takes responsibility for his crime and abides by his plea agreement.
At Monday’s hearing, FBI Special Agent Dave Rauser, who investigated the incident, testified that he had determined that Shirley had kicked Haines somewhere on his body four to five times while standing in the back of a pickup truck against which Haines had been restrained.
Rauser, who said Shirley had pushed another officer aside in order to administer the kicks, also testified that he had determined that Shirley had “applied one or two stomps to the upper portion of [Haines’] body, possibly his head,” during a time when Haines was subdued and in custody.
Responding to a question from Mills, Rauser said Shirley had caused “a significant portion” of Haines’ injuries, which he said included a broken upper jaw, a broken rib, an eye hemorrhage, and several cuts and bruises. Rauser acknowledged that some of the injuries sustained by Haines had been caused by other officers.
“It’s unfortunate when a member of the law enforcement community exceeds the scope of his authority and inflicts injuries upon a helpless person,” said Ihlenfeld, whose subordinate Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Camilletti prosecuted the case. “The best way to deal with bank robbers like [Haines] is through the criminal justice system, and not by the use of unnecessary violence.”
At Monday’s plea hearing, U.S. District Magistrate David Joel asked Shirley if he was admitting his guilt of his own free will and because he was, in fact, guilty of the crime, Shirley paused a number of seconds before responding.
“Yes,” he said.
Shirley was released to return home where he will remain under confinement and electronic monitoring until his sentencing hearing, which has not yet been scheduled. He was previously required to turn all his registered firearms over to the U.S. Probation Office and to take a leave of absence from his position of sheriff. He tendered his resignation on Monday.
Harry Waddell, Haines’ attorney in a related civil suit, said that many of Shirley’s admissions made in the plea bargain will decide several previously contested issues in the civil case.
“It’s over as far as the center of the case against Shirley is concerned,” Waddell said. “He pleaded guilty to the use of excessive force. In most civil cases, you have three things [to prove]: liability, causation and damages. He has admitted liability. Since it also includes bodily injury element, he has also admitted that what he did caused the damages. The only question left about the ex-sheriff is how large will the damages be.”
Shirley’s civil counsel has declined to comment on pending litigation.